Cueva del Guácharo

Oil Bird Cave

Useful Information

Location: In the hills near Caripe, south of Cumaná, Edo Monagas. 10 km north of Caripe, at the border of Parque Nacional El Guácharo.
(10.1715562, -63.5536255)
Open: All year daily 8-16
Fee: Natives 2000Bs, foreign visitors 6500Bs.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave Speleologyriver cave. ArchaeologyPainted Cave
Light: none, Petromax.
Dimension: L=10,200 m, VR=50 m.
Guided tours: L=1,500 m, D=90 min. V=100,000/a [2000]
Bibliography: Alexander von Humboldt, Aimé Bonpland (1827): Die Reise in die Äquinoktial-Gegenden des Neuen Continents in den Jahren 1799, 1800, 1801, 1802, 1803 und 1804, Erster Theil Wien 1827.
Anonymous (1832): Anecdotes of Animals: selected by a Lady for the amusement of her children. Harvey and Darton, London.
Alcide D'Orbigny (1836): Voyage pittoresque dans les deux Ameriques Le Tenré, Paris 48-53
Dr Johannes Mueller (1842): Anatomische Bemerkungen über den Quacharo, Steatornis caripensis v Humb.. Archiv für Anatomie, Physiologie und wissenschaftliche Medicin, in Verbindung mit mehreren Gelehrten herausgeben von Dr Johannes Müller, Berlin Jahrgang 1842 1-11 1 fig. .
Hermann Karsten (1859): Reisenotizen über die Provinz Cumana in Venezula. Westermann’s illustrierte deutsche Monatshefte, Diciembre, 7 (39) 282-298.
George Parkes Wall (1860): On the geology of part of Venezuela and Trinidad. The Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 16 460-47.
William Henry Giles Kingston (1884): The Young Llanero. A Story of war and wild life in Venezuela. T Nelson and Sons, Edinburgh.
Franco Urbani (1991): Cuevas venezolanas conocidas en los siglos XV al XVIII., El Guacharo nr. 29: 1-39.
Franco Urbani (2005): Historia Espeleologica Venezolana. Parte 12. Adiciones a la bibliografía y cronología de la cueva del guácharo. Bol Soc Venezolana Espeleol. 39, 2005 2-
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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18-SEP-1799 visited by Alexander von Humboldt.
1832 An anonymous Englishwoman publishes a book for children with some animal stories. Included is a chapter which describes the habits of the guácharo. It appears to be based on the work of Humboldt.
1836 The famous naturalist Alcide D'Orbigny published a book describing a fictitious character who travels the American continent. Written as a novel, it is based on the descriptions of many authors. In this context the description of the Cueva del Guácharo appears to be based entirely on the work of Humbold.
13-MAY-1842 The physiologist and German anatomist Dr Johannes Mueller (*1801-✝1858) presents before the Academy of Sciences of Berlin a general note on the anatomy of the guácharo, using the publications of Alexander von Humboldt and Ferdinand L'Herminier.
1850 the German geologist Hermann Karsten (*1817-✝1908) during a visit to the County of Cumaná, visits Cueva del Guácharo and studies the surrounding geology.
1859 The results of these studies are published and include an engraving of the mouth of the cave based on one of the paintings of Ferdínand Bellerman.
1860 The geologist George Parkes Wall (*1832-✝1912) publishes an essay on the geology of Venezuela and Trinidad. During his time in the field, probably during 1858-1859, he visits the cave and carries out a geological reconnaissance of the Caripe area. He indicates that the thickness of the limestone is between 700 and 800 feet and he presents the first geological cross section of the Guácharo Hills.
1884 The prolific English writer William Henry Giles Kingston (*1814-✝1880) publishes a novel on touring and risks in Venezuela. One on these is set in a cave and the account of Cueva del Guácharo, is very similar to the description given by Humboldt.
1949 Alexander von Humboldt National Monument created to protect the Guácharo Cave.
1960s survey project started but not completed.
1967 Oscar Garbisu and Wilmer Pérez spent a month inside the cave, explore, survey, and study the physiological effects of a prolonged stay underground.
MAY-1975 Cueva del Guácharo National Park created.


Guácharo Cave houses one of the largest known colonies of the guácharos or Oil Birds or Diablotin (Steatornis caripensis). They are of a dark grey-blue colour, grow up to a size of 60 cm and a wingspan of 110 cm, and look like a bird of prey. Unique among birds is the ability to navigate using high-pitched squawks for echo-location like bats.

The nocturnal birds leave the cave every evening after dark to feed on fresh fruit. The fruit and seeds they bring back into the cave continuously, are the base of a whole ecosystem of plants and animals, living in the cave. Many seeds start to grow in the moist and fertile cave floor, but without sunlight their life is rather short. Among the animals feeding on the remains of the birds are wood-louses, crickets, millipedes, mice, fish, and crabs.

Alexander von Humboldt made the first scientific exploration of the cave. He observed the bats, the birds, and the other animals in the cave and described them in his book about this South America journey. He named the birds Fettschwälme, which is the base of the above names in other languages. As this book was sold many times all over Europe, a very early bestseller, the cave became rather famous. But because of its remote location, at this time like today, only a few people were able to visit the cave.

When Alexander von Humboldt visited the cave in 1799 the local monks described to him, how the local Indians hunted the birds for their fat deposits. At midsummer they entered the cave with long poles and destroyed most of the thousands of nests lining the high roof. The young birds were killed and stripped of the layer of fat between their thighs, which was melted in clay pots over fires and filtered to produce a pure, clear, odourless liquid. As superstitious dread prevented the Indians from entering very far into the cave, and then only on an annual basis, the colony managed to survive!

Alexander von Humboldt visited only the first 472 m of the cave, as his native guides refused to proceed into the cave any further. But he saw the most interesting feature of the cave, the birds, and described this in his book. Because of his great influence a monument of Humboldt was erected opposite the cave, at a view which was painted by the travel companion of Humboldt.

After closing time you can camp near the entrance of the cave at a cost of $5 per tent. This is an ideal spot to watch the birds fly out at around 19:00 and return about 4:00.