Exploring the Bahamas’ Crystal Caves in Abaco
Becky Kagan Schott
Crystal roses hanging from the ceiling at Glass Factory inside Ralph’s Cave.
There are precious few dives that have left me in such awe I couldn’t photograph, too entranced by the environment around me to shoot. The Crystal Caves in Abaco, Bahamas is one of those magical places.
In May, after more than a year stateside, I traveled to this northern chain of barrier islands. The Bahamas have always been a personal favorite diving destination, and it’s been heart wrenching to watch Abaco get battered back-to-back by a Category 5 hurricane in September 2019 and then the pandemic. Thrilled to see the islands getting back on their feet, I was eager to return.
When you think about the Bahamas, you might imagine white sandy beaches, palm trees, colorful coral reefs, numerous species of sharks and dolphins. The underwater wonders are indeed wonderful, but don’t let them eclipse the underearth intrigue — Grand Bahama, Andros and Abaco have some of the most spectacular underwater cave systems found anywhere on the planet. Numerous cave systems dot the Island, with Dan’s Cave and Ralph’s Cave standing out as the main draw. Both house Sahara dust encased in crystal formations, which suffuses the crystal pools, bat skeletons and translucent drapery formations in sunset shades from deep oranges to light yellow.
My dive buddy and I met up with Brian Kakuk, owner of Bahamas Underground, who teaches and guides certified-cave divers through the region’s most amazing underground cave systems. Glass Factory, inside Ralph’s Cave, topped my to-shoot list. Brian took me there several years ago, but I didn’t take a camera on that dive. It was one of those rare occasions where I didn’t have one; there is so much to see and absorb in the first visit so it’s best enjoyed directly, not through a lens. It’s also an extremely delicate part of the cave. You have to be familiar with the environment and do work up dives to earn the privilege of diving Glass Factory.
Once you enter, it’s hard to believe your surroundings are real. There are unique crystal roses hanging from the ceiling look like blown glass, chandeliers of soda straws with little diamond-like features on the ends and crystal pools that look like explosions of rock candy inside. Some of the formations have translucent angel wings, and the entire ceiling looks as if it is still dripping. It’s so highly decorated that a diver can repeatedly discover new formations simply staying in place.
As you shine a light through the crystals, they sparkle in a way a camera will never pick up. After two dives photographing this delicate and special place, I don’t think it can ever be captured in picture. I personally love this type of cave diving — you’re not worried about getting thousands of feet into a cave, but you take your time and see a lot in the first 1,000 feet of the system. There is no better way than to take it slow and drink in all of the color and beauty that’s hidden below our feet.
Not to be outdone, Dan’s Cave nearby is similarly incredible. It offers various passageways and even more rooms to explore. Crystal Palace has floor to ceiling crystal columns and big draperies. Areas of the cave can drop down to 150 feet for short periods of time then come back up to 80 feet and even as shallow as 40 feet in some areas. I enjoy the 70-degree water and on most of the dives we had very little decompression and on the shallower ones no decompression.
Becky Kagan Schott
Floor to ceiling crystal columns and oversized draperies dominate Crystal Palace.
Finally, Brian takes us through the Badlands and the Goodlands to a place called the Sanity room. Most of the labyrinthian dive is around 70 feet deep. It’s all side mount diving and you will pass through some smaller restrictions, but they open up into interesting rooms and more crystal formations.
We reach the Gray Pool, a giant crystal formation carpeting the entire floor. The entrancing cave flows into a broad array of from rich color from mother nature’s pallet: bleach white, burnt red, rich orange. Huge crystal waterfall and columns loom like a fairytale forest where lighted crystals glow with an orange-yellow color beyond magic.
Need to Know
When to Go
The caves on Abaco can be dived all year round, but the rainy and dry seasons can affect the halocline. The dry season is November to May, and the rainy season is June to December. More rain means there will be more of a freshwater layer from all of the rain pushing the saltwater layer deeper. The halocline is in the shallower parts of the caves, which means it can be right over some of the crystal pools and formations, but the caves can be dived any time of year.
There are flights into Marsh Harbor on Abaco Island directly through Miami and Nassau.
The Bahamas has a warm to hot tropical climate that can range from 70 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but the water remains a constant 67 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit.
A thick 7mm wetsuit is recommended or a semi-drysuit for long cave dives. The best configuration for diving these systems is side mount on either open circuit or a closed-circuit side mount rebreather.
Bahamas Underground provides gear rentals, support OC and CCR and can assist with setting up accommodation.
At publishing, anyone traveling to the Bahamas needs to apply for a Health Visa before the trip, available at the Bahamas Travel Health Site.