25 Feb 2012
Chile offers many diverse destinations for speleology - otherwise known as caving or potholing - which we review here in a two-part series.
This island is home to one of the most popular cave networks, enjoying the country's biggest boom in spelunking tourism. This is due to the more than 363 caves on the picturesque island, opening up 7 km of exploration into the history of the first inhabitants of Rapa Nui.
In these and other caves, archaeologists have found everything from rock paintings to traces of the first forms of agriculture on the island, with artefacts and images that tourists can appreciate on site during half-day expeditions.
Of the many options, the following four routes are the most popular:
Ana Tepahu (known as the cave of bananas): its stand-out feature is the exuberant vegetation, due to the moisture in its rocky walls.
Ana Okeke (cave of the virgins): adolescent women entered this cave for a period before their sexual initiation. The petroglyphs at the entrance are especially interesting.
Ana Kakenga (cave with two windows): a cave with a small entrance but an ample interior, ending with two windows that look out over a cliff.
Ana Kai Tangata (cave of the man-eaters): the rock paintings on the walls date to the era of the rise of the Make-Make god and the Tangata Manu ritual (a squatting figure with the head of a bird); Today, due to the filtration of underground water, a large part of the roof has caved in, causing irreversable damage to the paintings.
We recommend visiting the caves with a tour operator or local guides because spelunking alone can be unsafe. Groups should not exceed six people, in order to enjoy the caves and stay safe.
Beneath the Cordillera de la Sal, in San Pedro de Atacama, there are more than 2.5 km of caves that tourists can explore. Most of these caves are 45 million years old and were created by water.
Here, you can find million-year-old fossils - mostly of marine species - as well as some local species like owls, guanacos and foxes, which hide in these caves during the day. Some of the caves are up to 8 m tall with slopes of 20 m.
Arica: Anzota Caves
Located on the Corazones beach, remains of the Chinchorro culture have been discovered in these caves.