Climb into the Terciopelo Cave

Rate this Adventure Costa Rica Terciopelo Cave Ranger Station, Barra Honda National Park, Costa Rica

  • Activities:

    Photography, Hiking

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Year Round

  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    2 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    100 Feet

Easy Parking

Though only 19 of the 42 known caverns in Barra Honda National Park have been explored, Terciopelo Cave is the only cavern open to the public. To access it, hikers must descend 100 feet down into the throat of the cavern via a rickety metal ladder.

Riddled with stygian chambers much like the holes in Swiss cheese, Barra Honda is unique among Costa Rica's network of national parks. According to its website, the National Park's crowning glory is its 42 known caverns, less than half of which have been explored by humans. Terciopelo, named after Costa Rica's deadly fer-de-lance snake, can only be reached by way of a single aluminum ladder, which descends roughly 100 feet into the cave.

After checking in at the ranger station, hikers are usually paired up with a guide and taken (by car) to the parking area. Make sure you have a reliable 4x4 car (we had a Daihatsu and it took a few tries to get up the road). Though it's a short drive to the parking area, the road is riddled with pot holes and there's one very, very steep hill.

The parking area, which was empty when we arrived, can fit a limited number of cars, though you shouldn't have a problem. This area is not heavily trafficked (read: no crowds).

After about a half-hour walk from the parking lot to the cave entrance, each hiker is handed a helmet, then clipped into a harness. If you've requested a guide, he will descend into the cave first, followed by each individual hiker one at a time. Another guide, clipped in at the entrance (top) of the cave, is there as an extra safety precaution. He'll feed you rope as you descend and take in rope as you come up the ladder. Once your eyes adjust to the dim light, you'll notice all these spectacular dripstone formations rising and falling from the ceiling like icicles.

The guide will take you around the three chambers of the cave for about an hour (unless you request a longer tour). Many speak very limited English, so make sure to brush up on your Spanish before going so that you'll be able to learn a little bit more about the history of the cave and of the Park.

It was particularly surprising to us how much of the cave and the formations we could touch - there were no barriers or strict walkways that we needed to stick to. In fact, our guide would actually take our hands sometimes and motion for us to lightly knock on formations to hear the vibrations or hold them for balance. While you may need to touch some formations (e.g. for balance), use your discretion as these are very fragile formations and can break or become ruined by human hands/ feet.

Once you're finished and have exited the cave, it's customary to leave a cash tip for the guide. If there's no other group there, he'll take you to the nearby lookout, otherwise you can follow the signage to get there yourself.

Note: Not recommended for anyone who's afraid of heights!

Tip: After your hike, venture into Nicoya and drink the water. It has off-the-charts levels of calcium, and if you drink enough, it amounts to taking a supplement.

Pack List

  • Pick up trail maps and hire a guide at the ranger station (see location pin)
  • GPS/ Map (limited to no cell phone service)
  • At least two liters of water
  • Sunscreen
  • Snacks/ lunch
  • Cash (to tip the guide)
  • Camera and tripod (if looking to photograph inside the cave)
  • Closed-toed shoes
  • Spanish/ English dictionary
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Hillary + MattExplorer

A writer + photographer on a journey to see the world. Dreamers. Doers. And, yeah, we don't mind missing a shower or two.

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