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Pomier Caves

  
   - darkometer rating:  6 -
 
An exceptional site in the Dominican Republic, this is an extensive system of underground caverns, including an amazing bat cave, though the main claim to fame of the place is its pre-Columbian petroglyphs and cave paintings left by the indigenous Taino people some 2000 years ago. 
  

>What there is to see

>Location

>Access and costs

>Time required

>Combinations with other dark destinations

>Combinations with non-dark destinations

>Photos

      
More background info: The Taino people, who dominated the land which today is the Dominican Republic, were basically wiped out through the arrival of colonialism (not least due to the enslavement initiated by Columbus himself – see also under Dominican history). And of the cultural vestiges left of them, the ones at the Pomier Caves are probably the most significant. 
  
The Taino had a culture that involved a lot of cave paintings/petroglyphs, and the meanings of this prehistoric art are still being studied. The expert guide I had at this site certainly had a lot to say about the interpretation of the various images he pointed out on the tour. I won't replicate any of this here – I'd much rather leave this to the experts. A) I wouldn't want to give away spoilers to any prospective visitors, and B) I couldn't remember all the details accurately enough to do it justice anyway. Get it first-hand instead!
  
Unfortunately, the caves are in danger. On the one hand, there's the very direct threat from the neighbouring quarry. If the caves were not a protected national park, they'd have dug them up and destroyed them already. The status of national park-hood, however, isn't as much a guarantee of safety as it may be in other countries. And it doesn't help that the Dominican authorities apparently don't have too much of an interest in these caves – irrespective of their immense archaeological value. History just doesn't sell well in this country (see also the closed history museum in Santo Domingo!). 
  
It is thus all the more important that the site gets some support through international tourists wanting to go there. That is, by doing so, you help to protect the caves. The foremost expert and champion of all protective efforts to save the site happens to be also the most qualified guide operating in the caves. And he can offer tours in English too. So by using him (see details below), you'd do a doubly good deed.  
  
For the dark tourist, the cultural and archaeology angle may not necessarily be of prime interest, though the setting may very well be. And especially the bat cave! It is full on target in terms of gothic-cliche-and-horror-film-cliche meets wildlife-watching! I couldn't recommend it more highly. 
  
Note that photography inside the caves is not easy, though. You need a good torch/searchlight and a camera that can deliver decent images at high sensitivity and has a fast autofocus working reliably in low light ... or else you have to focus manually, as I had to on several occasions (And remember: you must NOT use flash!)
  
  
What there is to see: If you arrive independently at the site, you have to go to the National Park Office first, pay your entrance fee and then you will be assigned a local guide. Only Spanish-speaking guides are available at the site itself. If your Spanish isn't up to it, you have to arrange a specialist-guided tour in English. That's what I did (see below). So I cannot report on what the locally guided tours are like. 
  
When we arrived with our specialist on the Taino cave paintings and the Pomier Caves we first went to the one cave of the system that has actually been structurally adapted for visitors. That is to say: there are steps and concrete paths leading past the most relevant spots inside. So there is no need (yet) for any dicey clambering. The most strenuous bits here are the flights of steps that have to be negotiated. 
  
Our guide pointed out various Taino cave paintings and provided some interpretation as to their meanings (as far as they are known). Birds feature a lot – especially at places where narrow passageways branch off the main cavern. Apparently you can read by the way the birds' beaks are painted, what kind of deeper cave may be found if you went down those passages. 
  
There are also a couple of petroglyphs, i.e. images carved into stone, rather than painted onto it, and some of these look particularly spooky (in the right light). 
  
Even in this well-adapted cave you already encounter the odd bat fluttering overhead en route from somewhere deeper in the cave system or on the way back from a flight outside. 
  
But it was the next cave that we then went to that provided the full-on bat cave experience. First you have to do a bit of clambering, though, as none of the other caves are in any way adapted for tourism. Once inside the main chamber of the bat cave it is actually quite easy and more or less even ground underfoot, but of course you still have to take care where you step. 
  
Soon more and more bats appear. Deeper into a large passage, they hang from the cave ceiling in their thousands and hundreds and hundreds flutter about overhead, as they get disturbed by the human intruders' lights (and sounds). Having so many annoyed bats fluttering about right above you also means you get sprayed in bat pee. So ideally you should wear something that can get dirty and have something to change into afterwards on you (or make sure you can shower and change before going anywhere else – you do not want to be smelling of bat piss when going to a restaurant or bar!).
  
On the ground, you'll see a layer of brown “soil” … you will have guessed it: this is first and foremost a layer of bat droppings. Yet it does turn into soil. And in some places you can even see some kind of grass growing in it. How they get sufficient light in such a dark cave to be so green is a mystery to me, though.
  
In one corner we were led to a kind of pit, a hollowed-out bit of limestone in which not only bat poo had accumulated .. it was full with a mass of tiny wriggling black maggots. This was getting really creepy – stuff for a 1920s surrealist silent movie ( al a “Un Chien Andalou”). 
  
Furthermore there were strange monster insects – apparently some kind of spider-like creature that has adapted especially to cave life, with a pair of the front legs elongated  into thin feelers. You could see both live ones on the walls and in corner on the ground, as well the carcasses of dead ones. 
  
To top it off, the bat cave apparently also has a resident snake that lives off dead or unwary live bats. The guide even referred to her by a given name! (Marguerite, I think it was.) When we got to her usual hiding place, she wasn't at home. But we saw some evidence of her in the form of at least three sets of shed snake skin, lying semi-translucently on the ground. Going by that she must be pretty big too. 
  
There are several further caves, and some require more extreme effort, such as squeezing through narrow gaps to get from one chamber to another, or descending down a cave with the aid of ropes. You're guaranteed to get dirty and feel exhausted. 
  
Our little group, however, did not go any deeper, as it was already afternoon and we had to get back to Santo Domingo before 5 p.m. – so we called it a day and left it at this. I cannot say if or to what degree I missed out by not exploring the caves to more extreme levels. On the one hand I would have liked to, but on the other it was probably a good thing not to risk spraining an ankle or so, given that I had to get behind the wheel of a rental car the next morning (see under Dominican Republic in general).
  
Even without the full range deep-cave spelunking experience available here, I found what I saw in just the two caves quite incredible. From a dark perspective it was of course the bat cave with all its creepy elements that was the highlight. Definitely worth the effort (and costs) having had this element added to our tour. 
  
  
Location: ca. 6-7 miles (10 km) north of San Cristobal, half that from the access road to Casa Caoba, and a good 20 miles (35 km) west of the centre of Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic.  
  
Google maps locator: [18.4677, -70.1351]
  
  
Access and costs: not so easy to get to (other than by car); not necessarily cheap. 
  
Details: To get to this somewhat off-the-beaten track site on the cheap you could first get a guagua (minibus service) from Santo Domingo to San Cristobal and then either a taxi or motorbike ride from the market in San Cristobal, provided your Spanish is sufficient to negotiate this. 
  
Or you can attempt to drive it yourself (if you want to risk taking a rental car on Dominican roads – see under Dom Rep in general!); in that case follow the directions to Casa Caoba first, then from the access road to that site simply continue straight ahead on the road from San Cristobal (Carreta Medina) until you come to a left turn, signposted “Cuevas de Pomier”. After another 2 miles or so (3 km) you come to an active quarry, where you have to turn right (also signposted) to get to the track leading to a car park by the National Park entrance. 
  
If you just turn up like this, you have to go to the National Part Office, pay your 100 RD$ park entrance fee and will get assigned a Spanish-only-speaking guide to take you round the caves – depending on how long and how deep into the cave system you go this will cost you an extra 300-1000 RD$.  
   
If you neither speak Spanish nor want to drive it yourself, then there is also an excellent, but much costlier way of getting a tour, also possible in English, by the leading expert and main champion for the protection of these caves. He is called Domingo Abreu and can be contacted at abreudomingo(at)gmail.com (or phone: 809-383-4078). 
  
When I went to the caves it was as part of a longer all-day excursion from Santo Domingo, with another expert guide (see under Santo Domingo >access & costs) and a chauffeured 4x4 pickup car. This tour also took in various sites in Santo Domingo as well as in and around San Cristobal, including the Casa Caoba. There we met up with Domingo and his two assistants/trainees to have a look around that site first, before proceeding to the caves, where Domingo took over as the main guide (see above). Needless to say such a package does come with a hefty price tag – but the quality you get this way is incomparable. 
  
  
Time required: depends on how deep down you want to go. Just seeing the first cave won't take long at all, perhaps as little as 20 minutes to half an hour. The bat cave is slightly more demanding and time consuming. But if you really want to get into properly adventurous spelunking, you'll also need more time (a few hours). 
  
  
Combinations with other dark destinations: The caves are not far from San Cristobal, so a trip out there would naturally combine best with a visit to the abandoned Casa Coaba ex-Trujillo mansion and also the one in San Cristobal itself, Castillo de Cerro. All of these sites can be done in a single excursion from Santo Domingo.
  
See also under Dominican Republic in general. 
  
  
Combinations with non-dark destinations: Being largely archaeological in nature, these caves are at least as much a non-dark as a dark attraction in themselves. More caves can be found in various other parts of the country – including in Los Haitises national park (though these can't compete with El Pomier in terms of archaeological significance) – see under Dominican Republic.     
If the Taino culture is the thing that rocks your boat, you can get more about it in the open-air museum Taino village near Samana in the north of the country and in the Museo del Hombre Dominicano in Santo Domingo
  
  
   
  • Pomier Caves 01 - signPomier Caves 01 - sign
  • Pomier Caves 02 - going inPomier Caves 02 - going in
  • Pomier Caves 03 - cave paintingsPomier Caves 03 - cave paintings
  • Pomier Caves 04 - ancient pictographsPomier Caves 04 - ancient pictographs
  • Pomier Caves 05 - Taino legacyPomier Caves 05 - Taino legacy
  • Pomier Caves 06 - petroglyphs tooPomier Caves 06 - petroglyphs too
  • Pomier Caves 07 - spookyPomier Caves 07 - spooky
  • Pomier Caves 08 - fossilPomier Caves 08 - fossil
  • Pomier Caves 09 - bat cavePomier Caves 09 - bat cave
  • Pomier Caves 10 - thousands of batsPomier Caves 10 - thousands of bats
  • Pomier Caves 11 - bats galorePomier Caves 11 - bats galore
  • Pomier Caves 12 - fluttering aboutPomier Caves 12 - fluttering about
  • Pomier Caves 13 - cute little facesPomier Caves 13 - cute little faces
  • Pomier Caves 14 - somehow grass manages to grow inside the cavePomier Caves 14 - somehow grass manages to grow inside the cave
  • Pomier Caves 15 - cave-dwelling giant insectPomier Caves 15 - cave-dwelling giant insect
  • Pomier Caves 16 - another onePomier Caves 16 - another one
  • Pomier Caves 17 - shed snake skinPomier Caves 17 - shed snake skin
  • Pomier Caves 18 - drip dropPomier Caves 18 - drip drop
  • Pomier Caves 19 - back outsidePomier Caves 19 - back outside

    

  

  

 

  

  

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