Exploring The Green Grotto Caves And Learning The Meaning Of Runaway Bay In Jamaica

Exploring The Green Grotto Caves And Learning The Meaning Of Runaway Bay In Jamaica

Unlike the first time we were in Jamaica, this time around we decided to do some exploring. I went off on my own on a long journey to the Bob Marley house. I recently read The Hobbit to Jacob (which he absolutely loved), and so when I found out there was a series of caves – with an underground lake no less) just a few minutes away from where we were staying, we just had to take him to the Green Grotto Caves.

Caves are awesome and you should never pass one by without checking it out.

From where we were staying at the Franklyn D Resort in Runaway Bay, it was less than 10 minutes. Really easy to get to, although from Montego Bay and other resort areas it’s probably more of a trip.

The cost for getting in was $20 per adult and $10 per child over 4. The entire experience was just a bit over an hour, so a total of $50 per all three of us, plus the taxi cost for an hour-long experience.

Green Grotto Caves is not the biggest cave I’ve ever been to (hard to top Carlsbad Caverns though to be fair), although it definitely was bigger than Crystal Cave in Bermuda, but it sure had a lot of history. So I’m going to split this review into two portions – the caves themselves, and the history, which is actually pretty dark.

There were multiple caverns, each with different layouts and rock formations.

First – the caves themselves were very cool, especially for Jacob who kept imagining dwarves and goblins around every turn. There are several “rooms” filled with stalagmites and stalactites, with some open to sky. Those openings were pretty cool, because in some of them there were vines growing down from the surface. For the most part there was little claustrophobia, as the interior of both main caves (you actually walk outside in between them) was quite wide and open. However, they do make everyone wear a hard hat, because some of the openings between the caverns are pretty low and we had at least one member of our group walked helmet-first into an overhang.

The exterior portion between the caves was really cool too, as you walk through a jungle between large rock formations which look like giant ancient extinct corals. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what they were as the sea level in the area fluctuated quite a bit over the centuries.

Man I wonder if there are any rings in there…

The only somewhat-challenging portion is the descent to the actual underground lake which gives the location its name. It was about 60 curving steps in a relatively dark area (although everything is lit up). The steps weren’t in the greatest shape, and were quite narrow. But the bigger issue is that while there was a railing, it was really for adults. And it was just a railing really, without a wall, so a child could easily slip underneath and take a really nasty fall. So I just held Jacob’s hand (and occasionally Ariel’s) as we slowly made our way down. Not a big deal, but if you have small children, expect it to be pretty slow going, especially on the way down.

The green grotto itself was really cool. As a rule, anytime you can visit an underground lake – go for it. Our guide even shut off the lights when we got to the bottom (there’s a large wooden platform with a proper wall/railing around it, no one is falling into that lake) and had us try to find each other in the pitch black just by sound. Cool experience, especially for kids.

It was pitch black down here, what you’re seeing is the light from the guide’s flashlight.

Coming out of the caves our guide led us around a different way, which involved the adults doing a bit of crawling/crouching to get through. This was only for like a minute though. He also disappeared for a minute and came around another way to give us a little scare, but I noticed he had dropped off behind us. And he had been messing with Jacob about goblins and stuff after Jacob told him he was into the Hobbit, so I had a feeling he was plotting something. It was all very good-natured and fun though, the guide was great.

I was skeptical at first, but yeah the hardhat did come in handy actually.

One last thing about the caves themselves… There are bats. Many, many, many bats. They’re all above you roosting in the ceiling of the caverns. I thought they were cool, but if you’re going to freak out about bats then maybe this isn’t for you…

There were literally bats all over the ceiling of the caverns. They didn’t bother us though.

Now onto the history. And this is where it gets a little tough, because the reason “Runaway Bay” is named that, is because this is where slaves who were trying to escape would… run away to. And these caves were where they hid, and found their way out to sea through the cave system. Our guide explained that they often did it barefoot, which after traipsing around in there with our hard hats and all just added to the injustice of the whole situation in my mind. Bad enough these people were kidnapped from their homeland and made to work for cruel taskmasters, they had to run off without shoes? I don’t know, that image really stuck in my head.

Even more enraging, was learning that right next to “Runaway Bay” was “Discovery Bay” where Christopher Columbus “discovered” Jamaica – nevermind the fact that it was already discovered and populated – and then nearly immediately set up plantations to exploit the local population and bring in more people to exploit. The juxtaposition of Discovery Bay being right next to Runaway Bay just made my blood boil.

But you know, that’s how it goes. You can ignore the history and culture of places you visit and just look at palm trees and beaches, or you can immerse yourself in them and get a better understanding on how the evils of the past continue to have an effect on the present. I was very grateful to our guide for not holding back and giving us the unvarnished reality. No one in our group had any ancestors who were involved in any of this (I’m a first generation American and everyone else in our group’s family came to the US long after slavery was abolished), but this guy didn’t know that. And he still didn’t pull any punches. Good for him – and good for everyone who hears this story and understands that even in paradise – ESPECIALLY in paradise – there is often a dark past.

For Jacob this was a great experience. Especially with his imagination running wild with images of Goblin Town and Gollum’s Cave dancing through his mind. I even did the old trope of dropping my wedding ring onto the surface, picking it up, giving it to him and acting like I couldn’t see him for a minute. Caves for kids = good. Caves for kids who like JRR Tolkien or other fantasy = amazing.

Jacob really loved this experience, especially since the guide kept telling him to lead us through the caverns.

Verdict: A fun, informative, and fantastical use of the time we are given, with a dark history and cultural impact that makes it even more worthwhile and important to visit. It’s crazy how few people go here!

No way…

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