The Cave of Swallows – A little piece of heaven under earth

When you think of Mexico, the first few things that come to your mind are the drug lords, beach resorts and the world famous tequila. With its colourful history and culture, Mexico is a popular tourist destination. From the spicy Mexican food to the getaway resort towns, Mexico has it all. Surprisingly, one of the most popular places to visit is actually a cave. While on one hand, Mexico represents sunny beaches and the home of the Aztecs, while on another, its caves make for a wonderful adventure sport point.
Into the deep
The cave of swallows, also known as Sótano de las Golondrinas in Spanish is located in Aquismon in the city of San Luis Potosi. With its rim diameter at an impressive 60 meters, it has a jaw dropping vertical drop off about 333 metres. This makes this massive cave the largest cave shaft in the world. It is the second deepest cave in Mexico and the 11th in the world. At the base of the cave is a narrow sinkhole. Locates in a fault of limestone, it extends down for another 512 meters. The tunnels below the main pit have several passages which are yet unexplored and not converted into tourist spots. To access and explore these places you will need respirators. This natural abyss is now considered a biosphere reserve by the Government of Mexico which as granted it protection from excessive exploitation. The cave is said to have opened up by water erosion in a fault on a limestone plane which was shaped as a cone. The cave was discovered fairly recently thus preserving its natural beauty. The first documented exploration about the cave of swallows was done on December 27 in 1966 by three people: T.R Evans, Randy Sterns and Charles Borland.

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The bird acrobatics

Humid, dark and cold the deep cave is an escape into another underground world altogether. Covered with debris, it is home to millipedes, snakes as well as scorpions. Real beauty of the cave is during the rains, when waterfalls flood the entrance. In spite of the name, you are not likely to find any swallows here. There is a lot of bird life here though which forms the major attraction for the non adventure enthusiasts. The most common birds found here are white collared swifts and bright green parakeets or green conures. These form an important part of the ecosystem of the cave and it is their strange rituals that visitors come to witness. At dawn, the birds, numbering at least a thousand fly in an ascending manner, in circles from the bottom of the cave till they reach the surface. On exiting the cave, they fly to the coasts of Veracruz for food. The evening performances are just as acrobatic, when the birds initially circle the entrance of the cave. At regular intervals lasting about a couple of minutes, a small batch will head straight for the entrance. As soon as they cross the edge, they free fall into the cave after pulling in their wings. As soon as they reach the bottom of the cave they spread their wings to break their fall.

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Adventure ahoy
With such promising dimensions, it is but natural that the cave is a popular adventure destination as well. The vertical fall makes for a great place for base jumping and rappelling. Rappelling or abseiling as it is commonly called involves a controlled descent down the cave using ropes. Another unique option is descending into the cave using a hot air balloon. The ascent takes at least forty five minutes to an hour. These activities do require special permits though.

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