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Anglo-Irish Caving Expedition to Panamá, 2019
by Pat Cronin

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The Rio Teribe, above Sieyic, preparing to return down river.

Photo: Roger Day



Following international expeditions to Panama by our group in 2005, 2006, 2009, 2011, 2015, 2017 and 2018, there remained only three areas in all of Panama where caves had been reported by others, but which we still had to check out. The first of these, all in western Panama, was Cueva Porton, near the border with Costa Rica in Chiriqui Province, first explored by Keith Christensen and his team in 2001, which ended in a low sump some seven hundred metres from the entrance. The second area was the Rio Teribe, also near the border with Costa Rica but on the northern side of the cordillera in Bocas del Toro Province, where our group had been told about caves during a brief recce in 2015. The third area was the Talamanca Mountains forming the cordillera between these two areas in Chiriqui, where the intrepid protagonist of the TV series “Walking the Americas”, a Major Levison Wood, was shown exploring part of a cave which the landowner had penetrated for twelve hours without reaching the end. These were our main targets for 2019.

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Map of Panamá showing the areas visited on the 2019 expedition

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The Naso-Teribe King’s new Throne being prepared for installation in the Palace in Sieyic.   Photo: Dig Hastilow

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Jaguars to form the back of the Throne.  Photo: Dig Hastilow



On behalf of the Team I would like to sincerely express our deepest appreciation to the King of the Naso Teribe people for his kind permission to visit their homeland. I would also extend such thanks to the Naso Teribe guides for their invaluable assistance, guidance and hospitality. Thanks go to the Expedition committee of the Speleological Union of Ireland for their kind financial support. I would once again single out Marilyn Cobbett, and indeed James for their unceasing hospitality and enthusiasm. Of particular importance I would express my sincere thanks to Stewart Redwood who without hesitation stepped in to edit and compile this report when personal tribulations eventually overwhelmed the author. To the Team’s wives and partners for their unending patience whilst loved ones pursue the Realms of Darkness; last but never least Pauline Cronin for her unending support.

The Team

The Team

Pat Cronin
Leader, Irish, cave diver, first aider, rescue warden

James Cobbett
English, cave diver, first aider, translator, photographer

Dig Hastilow
Irish, cave diver, first aider, photographer, pilot

Roger Day
English, caver, photographer

Stewart Redwood
Scottish, caver, geologist, translator

This year the Team were delighted that Stewart Redwood (Doctor of Rocks) was available to join the Team for a significant part of the trip; an experienced explorer fluent in Spanish, with a fine sense of humour, he assisted enormously with arranging accommodation and guides from the pleasant people of Bonyik village, a riverside settlement up river from the town of El Silencio. In addition, Stewart introduced industrial archaeology into the orbit of the Team with a search for a lost gold mine.

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The Team at Cueva Rio Teribe Chico: Roger Day, Stewart Redwood, Celestino, Dig Hastilow’s head-lamp, Raul Quintero and James Cobbett.  Photo: Roger Day

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The Team at speed on the Rio Teribe: James Cobbett, Dig Hastilow, Pat Cronin and Raul Quintero.   Photo: Roger Day

Expedition Objectives and Planning


Following an earlier visit to the Rio Teribe by James and Marilyn Cobbett, our group made a brief recce in 2015, when the Rio Teribe was traversed upstream from Bonyik to Sieyic, the capital of the Naso Teribe people. At that time, in his absence, a cordial meeting was conducted with the King’s representative assuring us of a warm welcome upon our return; phone numbers were exchanged. Despite repeated attempts, no contact was re-established with the King’s representative, and the Team therefore decided to return to this remote area only when at least two other adjacent areas of potential were identified, rather than plan an entire expedition to this area and risk refusal on arrival.

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The Kings Palace of the Naso Teribe people.   Photo: Dig Hastilow

The 2015 river journey recorded what appeared to be limestone and cave entrances, all locations recorded on a GPSR; closer inspection was impracticable owing to the unexpectedly elevated flow rate of the river.

In late 2018 unreliable information was received by James Cobbett of a cave entrance located within the extensive Talamanca Mountains, near the town of Boquete, Chiriquí Province. Around the same time a UK television broadcast of “Walking the Americas” caused excitement, and more than a little confusion, when, during his north to south journey, Major Levison Wood and his guide were filmed exploring an active river cave; no precise location was given though examination of the practicable north to south route travelled placed the cave also within the Talamanca Mountain range, interestingly close to the cave entrance reported to James and located on the tourist-infested Camino los Quetzals. The documentary explained the cave required twelve hours to reach its end; hence the excitement, surprize and incredulity. Major Wood was contacted to obtain precise details of the cave system; a cordial exchange of communications clarified the programme contents; the cave was in fact Nibida, located on Isla Bastimentos, Bocas Del Toro, previously explored and extended to 2.5 kilometres by repeated efforts of the Team from 2005 to 2015. The documentary was shown to be somewhat misleading, to say the least.

An important factor to explore the area adjacent to Volcan Barú emerged following recent observations by the Team in 2018; despite data to the contrary Darién Province was explored. Though predominantly documented as an area of non-sedimentary rock, the Team discovered the presence of limestone and active caves, about a day’s travel south of ribs La Palma, close to the Darién Gap, an area previously considered solely igneous. In the majority of areas visited throughout Panamá many caves are found to penetrate substantial thicknesses of outcropping limestone. During the boat journey to Pueblo Nuevo, on the south side of Lago Bayano, a clear idea of the surface geology may be observed. There, steep, wide areas of limestone dip north at around 30°. Rivers flow north through valleys cutting this limestone ridge to create caves and impressive gorges. Viewed east and west from the canoe, it appears that much of the southern shoreline is limestone.

That said, maintaining an ever optimistic view, the decision was taken to investigate the technically unpromising area said to contain Cueva Tigre, a cave situated on the flanks of Volcan Barú, 3,475m, (11500ft), which is classified as active and last erupted circa. 700 AD.

The dry season this year was particularly so, numerous reservoirs observed as being very low. The flow of the Rio Teribe reflected this; previous water levels at this time of year were over one metre higher. With the reduced river volume extensive shingle banks, some over two metres high presented significant challenges.

Expedition Log

Expedition Log
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Arrival in Panama City

Arival in Panama City

Flights from Ireland and the UK converged on Tocumen airport, Panamá City via Holland and Madrid; minor delays resulted in an almost simultaneous arrival. So once again the Team arrived in Panamá City, and yet again were overwhelmed by the hospitality of Marilyn Cobbett. The later arrival meant the final expedition briefing would happen tomorrow. Meanwhile as Marilyn continued to ensure all were fed, travel fatigue evaporated, post-flight rehydration was accomplished by sitting in James’ well stocked bar for several hours; in point of fact the evening became somewhat of a reunion for the Panamá Cave Project Team.

The following morning the final briefing was suggested for the afternoon. However, a mutually shared tenet “life is too short so let’s have some fun” was applied to the proposed venue, and found wanting. Someone suggested that the few outstanding expedition issues could be thoroughly addressed whilst visiting the numerous micro-breweries throughout the City whilst purchasing outstanding items; plans were adapted. Starting midday, the tour swiftly became a delightful, hilarious affair; eventually concluding late that evening, by which time most had lost the ability to speak; laughter being the principle mode of communication. A really dam fine fun day out which indeed addressed all outstanding matters: departure early tomorrow.

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Second stop/phase of the expedition final briefing meeting; excellent, positive results after drinking.   Photo: Dig Hastilow

Areas Visited

Areas Visited


The first are area visited was the town of Boquete, some eight miles east of Volcan Barú. After motoring at speed for a day, mostly along the Pan-American Highway, the Team reached Boquete well after dark. The town is situated in a valley, elevation an average of 4000 feet; so day and night temperatures are very pleasant. Well placed as a base for two of the three areas under research. A relatively expensive area, a small chalet was found several miles outside town, and rented for the duration.

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Environs of Volcan Barú, showing Boquete

Archaeology shows that Boquete's history commenced approximately 300 to 600 BCE; Petroglyphs in the region of Caldera are evidence of ancient settlement. The highlands became a refuge for the indigenous tribes of the Ngöbe. Colonization of Boquete began in earnest during the second half of the nineteenth century, by inhabitants of Bugaba, Gualaca and David, and others from eastern and central Europe and the United States of America. Colonizers from the United States developed the first coffee plantations and developed agriculture.

With a population of around 20,000, the town is a today a centre for many ex-pat Americans and Europeans; the temperate climate of an altitude of 1200 metres ensures lower, less humid temperatures during the day and cooler ones at night, providing a more restful sleep than elsewhere in the country. An increasing popular place to visit, the facilities include hostels, banks, shops, restaurants and bars.

Cueva de Porton

Cueva de Porton is located to the west of the town of Boquete. It had been visited in July 2001 by Keith Christensen, the instigator of the Panamá Cave Project. In this area the American expedition recorded several caves. In particular Cueva de Porton, at 700 metres in length, ranks among the longest in Panamá. Keith’s research focused primarily on bats. His survey showed Cueva Porton terminating at a small sump pool. The aim was to bypass this and enter potential cave.

Volcan Barú

Volcanoes are areas where limestone caves are not normally located and, indeed, our exploration confirmed this. However, the Team decided to take a gamble and search for Cueva Tigre, reported as situated at around +2000m (7000ft) altitude. A cave entrance reported to James in 2018 is also indicated near in the vicinity. Scrutiny of Major Levison Wood’s TV documentary suggested the northern flanks of Volcan Barú, 3475 meters (11,400 feet), as the area which he traversed during his north – south journey, and was implied to be the location of the cave which he and his guide explored, but which we later found to be wrong. With these three reports the area surrounding Volcan Barú became worthy of further interest.

Rio Teribe

The 2015 reconnaissance trip had recorded what appeared to be areas of exposed limestone along part of the left bank (heading upstream) of the Rio Teribe, some seven kilometres above the village of Bonyik. Further upstream the village of Sieyic, the Capital of the Naso Kingdom was the focus of the trip. Though communications were problematic contact was eventually made via Raul, our guide from Bonyik who became pivotal in organizing access around Bonyik and Sieyic.

Sardinilla Gold Mine

A 19th century undertaking, developed adjacent the 16th century Camino de Cruces, a paved route built by the Spanish to convey silver across the isthmus to the Atlantic port of Nombre de Diós, later redirected to the defensible port of Portobello. Stewart Redwood previously visited the area reporting it worth further investigation to examine and record any surviving industrial archaeological remains, and perhaps enter and record surviving underground workings.

Lago Bayano

As the water conditions were very low it was decided, if time allowed, return to Pueblo Nuevo on the south side of the lake to push the low bedding seen below water level in Cueva del Agua Sombreada, and re-photograph Pozo Lin.

Archaeology: Parque Piedra Pintada, Caldera


Being based in Boquete for part of the expedition we encountered the existence of petroglyphs. Parque Piedra Pintada is southeast of Boquete. A guide takes charge and meanders across a wide, grazed landscape. Protruding from the pasture are hundreds of lava boulders exhibiting a granular surface; the largest exposed boulder portion observed is estimated at 200 metric tonnes; on this monster are the greatest number of petroglyphs. Examination also noted on the surface what appeared to be small hollows, gas pockets/bubbles; eyes looked west and thoughts considered were these volcanic bombs? If so, did they originate from Volcan Barú? If so, the eruption involved had the power to propel a lump of 200 tonnes for 27 kilometres.

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View west, Volcan Barú from Parque Piedra Pintada, 27 km distant.

Photo; Dig Hastilow

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Image of altitude and distance between Volcan Barú and Parque Piedra Pintada

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Petroglyphs Chiguiri Arriba, El Valle, 2011.   Photo: Dig Hastilow

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Petroglyphs at Parque Piedra Pintada, Caldera, Chiriquí Province.

Photo: Roger Day

These unscientific observations compare the petroglyphs of Parque Piedra Pintada, Caldera, with those in El Valle, Coclé Province: separated by 300 kilometres. Initial impressions, of an Irish observer, were subtle echoes of Celtic imagery; most unlikely! To the untrained eye there are no obvious similarities between the two Panamanian sites. It is suggested that the petroglyphs of Parque Piedra Pintada were created by the Dorachos Indians.

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Photo: Roger Day

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Photo: Roger Day

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Photo: Dig Hastilow

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Photo: Dig Hastilow

Cueva Porton

Cueva Porton

Cueva Porton
Barú District
Chiriquí Province
Elevation:     292 metres
Length:        741 metres
Depth:         23 metres
Latitude:      N08° 34.141’
Longitude:   W82° 45.888’

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Relative location of Cueva Porton to limestone quarry. Image: Google Earth

The cave was previously explored in July 2001 by Keith Christenson as part of his ongoing research of bats; the expedition was stopped by the terminal sump. The village of Porton is a two hour drive from Boquete, mostly along roads of good quality; this route circumnavigates Volcan Barú.

The resurgence cave, Cueva Porton is located at the base of steeply rising ground; a limestone mass confirmed by the presence of the adjacent quarry. Park some 200 metres before the quarry gate; walk up to the gate and step through the fence, then head north across a cultivated field, as the ground falls gently toward a wide stream bed. This is followed upstream (right) for some 150 metres to a mass of large limestone boulders at the base of a cliff face; behind these is the entrance to Cueva Porton. Our impromptu guide, quarryman Oskar Marano, related that the average depth of water at the entrance is around 0.6m. During exploration a small inlet, just off the main passage, recorded by Christenson was the only flowing water recorded. The main passage was followed, and reached the sump, which was Christenson’s limit in July 2001.

Initially, some confusion reigned as no sump pool was present. A gently sloping gravel floor led down to a crawl through a low silty section, which after some 20 metres rose steeply to a balcony ledge directly above a clearly deep sump pool, in the bottom of a large domed chamber. The stepped, uniform circumferential erosion of the chamber walls strongly indicates significant variations of flow rate and flood levels. Before its reduction the depth of the sump pool was estimated at between 10-15 metres. Below water, opposite the point of entry, heading off between 355 and 005 degrees, could be seen a significant undercut aligned along the average bearing of the previous main passage; this direction has the greatest potential for further extension.

The nature of the low approach passage between the sump I pool and the Balcony was carefully assessed, as was the clarity of sump II; logic dictates sump II may go relatively deep, almost immediately, though the obvious undercutting may possibly offer a shallower option. Either way encountering a depth of -20m should be included when calculating gas consumption scenarios. Sufficient gas reserves should also be calculated after taking into account that February 2019 followed a particularly dry period, the implication being that it was in fact normal water levels that Christenson encountered. This means any dive plan needs to plan its logistics from sump I to pass the low muddy section to reach the Balcony above the large sump pool to begin with; it is certain that significant reduction in visibility will occur in this approach passage. Further, as there is no suitable place to secure the line through this low section, weighted belays need deployment to secure the line in the centre of the approach passage. There is no local decompression chamber.

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Cueva Porton section along 342 and 042 degrees

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Cueva Porton plan

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Terminal sump, (sump II), Cueva Porton.   Photo: Dig Hastilow

The cave entrance is around 300 metres elevation, its main passage trending northwest. To the north the land rises to 350 metres; northwest the altitude remains almost equal to that of the entrance. To the west the land gently slopes down toward an altitude of 250 metres. To the northeast approaching the villages of Las Bonita and Santa Cruz the elevation becomes 500 metres. A river course circumnavigates this raised area flowing southwest and curving around the elevated area containing Cueva Porton.

Of particular interest is the river course which broadly trends northeast – southwest; examination on Google Earth shows a significant drainage channel. Though the cultivated land around the potential resurgence appears flat; given to grazing, the ground continues to gently ascend northwest and northeast to an elevation of 700 metres south of the village of south of Santa Cruz.

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Surface course of the river rising 200 metres above and north of Cueva Porton.   Image: Google Earth

The source of the river is south of the village of Santa Cruz at 500 metres elevation; the severe meandering over 15 kilometres is the result of relatively flat landscape.

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Pat, Oskar and Roger, Cueva Porton resurgence.   Photo: Dig Hastilow

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View downstream, Main passage stream way, Cueva Porton.

Photo: Dig Hastilow

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View downstream, Main passage Cueva Porton.   Photo: Dig Hastilow

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Curious raised, hard formations emerging or on the surface of limestone.

Photo: Dig Hastilow

Cave Rumours

Cave Rumours

Cave Rumour No. 1: Cueva Tigre, Volcan Barú
Very little is written of this site, not surprisingly, one reference may be found in some tour guides of Boquete; enquiries at the Ranger station indicated the cave was quite some distance away; precise location unknown. No other information was forthcoming on the presence of any caves. Utilizing the adjacent trail of Sendero de los Quetzales allowed the Team to gain distance and altitude with relative speed and ease; reducing effort jungle bashing. Unfortunately, Cueva Tigre was not located. The search was conducted to above 2000 masl. In each dry and wet stream gully no limestone was observed either as boulders in the stream beds or as outcrops. Two small cavities were noted in a fine grained rock, dome like, these had been exposed by machinery, cutting a track for 4x4 vehicles between the Ranger station and a farm. Both cavities had their exposed surfaces relatively smooth and of uniform shape.

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Dig Hastilow in clearing, close to suggested location of Cueva Tigre; +2000m.   Photo: Pat Cronin

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One of two cavities exposed by road construction machinery.

Photo: Dig Hastilow

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Narrow rift or fracture, (Gull cave?) located adjacent a deep river cutting.

Photo; Dig Hastilow

Cave Rumour No. 2: Angel’s Cave
The cave, reliably reported by James’ barber in Panama City to be between Almirante and Changuinola near the Caribbean coast, proved to be wholly elusive; involving exhaustive searching along numerous valleys; repeated enquiries of inhabitants of its location, or indeed any cave within this sequence of valleys was negative; exposed geology in stream and river beds indicated no limestone present.

Awkward Encounter
On returning from searching the area of Cave Rumour No. 2, the Team encountered a number of protestors erecting a road block across the only road into, and out of the area; also a maintenance road servicing the generating station. A cautious, respectful approach by James was rebuffed and ignored. Returning to the vehicle an offended James was quietly informed of a route around the obstacle, which would require swift action; turn the vehicle hard left, mount the steep earth mote wall, drop down the other side, turn sharp right to avoid the deep drain, to circumnavigate the blockade. In the twenty seconds it took to accomplish this manoeuvre, the protestors’ amazed demeanour swiftly turned to outrage. It appears this protest was in opposition to proposed hydro-electric dam construction.

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Road Block.   Photo: Dig Hastilow

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James, white shirt wearing hat, offers protestors assistance with their complaint.   Photo: Roger Day

Rio Teribe

Rio Teribe

Camp was established in Bonyik, where a brief meeting sorted out agreements and hired guides for the duration. Recent work by the German geologist Andreas Mende (2001) mapped in detail the limestone occurrence previously observed by non-geologists when viewed from their canoe. Therefore, the plan, in part changed to focus on this recently studied extent of limestone. The geology is described in Appendix 1.

Whilst permissions from the King in Sieyic were being established, guides and canoes were arranged to cross the river to its steep northern bank and ascend the summit ridge visible from Bonyik. During the trek no limestone was found along the ridge nor was there any seen in any of the minor gulleys encountered. The jungle when viewed north, descending from the ridge, is dense, though occasionally, though the canopy distances of up to ½ mile were visible; several places appeared to be near vertical cliffs. The overall impression is a smaller, narrower parallel valley has formed to the main river; beyond it rises to at least one other ridge; Having spent enough time assessing the potential of the immediate area the Team returned to Bonyik. Later that evening Raul returned having successfully arranged permissions to explore Sieyic.

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Bonyik village.   Photo: Roger Day

For the duration Raul Quintero of Bonyic acted as head guide and liaison, with his cheerful disposition a base was established and contacts made for canoes with other settlements further upriver.

Warned the river was low the canoe trip began, within a kilometre the canoes were emptied and the difficult process of dragging them up exposed shoals began; this task was repeated throughout the rest of the day.
During the slog upstream the caves previous seen from the river were visited, entered and recorded; the water mark on the river bank showing the water had been some one metre higher. Raul mentioned that another cave was nearby though above the river at a small farm almost opposite our present position.

Whilst in the Sieyic area attention focused on Cueva Sieyic it being the largest found so far. The nerve wracking experience kept under control in order to achieve a survey of the place as it was unlikely to be bottomed again. Several lesser sites were also shown to the Team along the river bank; one causing great excitement, a potential resurgence with possible high level by-pass. Unfortunately, the promising opening was a solution cavity. Another nearby cave was formed in significant bedding; however, its short passage was blocked by calcite flowstone decorations.

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Localities on the Rio Teribe.   Image: Google Earth

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Negotiating low water conditions Rio Teribe, just upstream of Bonyik.

Photo: Roger Day

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Sculpted limestone, southern bank, some two kilometres downstream of Sieyic; this was submerged during the 2015 visit.   Photo: Dig Hastilow

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Crossing Rio Teribe approaching Cueva Rio Teribe Chico from north bank of the river.   Photo: Dig Hastilow

Cueva Rio Teribe Chico

Cueva Rio Teribe Chico

Bocas Del Toro
N009° 22.218’ W82° 37.904’
Elevation ~80 metres
Length 10 metres

A short cave formed by stream water flowing to the river; in its western passage the way is blocked by a flowstone formation which fills the entire passage. The limestone dips north at around 50°

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View south; showing entrance formation, and rear end of Dig Hastilow.

Photo: Roger Day

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View southwest; beyond Dig note steeply dipping limestone beds.

Photo: Roger Day

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Plan of Cueva Rio Teribe Chico

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Cueva Rio Teribe Chico; Pat used as scale to make the entrance look bigger.   Photo: Dig Hastilow

Cueva Rio Teribe

Cueva Rio Teribe

Bocas Del Toro
N009° 22.250’ W82° 38.007’
Elevation ≈ 80 metres
Length 29 metres (above water)

Upstream from Cueva Rio Teribe Poco; this cave is developed from river flow; narrow and confined above water level, a deep wide area has been eroded beneath, a small, now dry passage at the rear of the cave connects to its wider exit. The upstream entrance requires floating in a confined space, immediately below water level the limestone has eroded to form a wide, deep undercut.

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Cueva Rio Teribe,   Photo: Dig Hastilow

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Plan of Cueva Rio Teribe

Cueva Sieyic

Cueva Sieyic

Bocas Del Toro
N009° 22.657’W82° 39.321’
Elevation 210 m
Depth 22 m
Length 116 m

Cueva Sieyic is located above the west end of Sieyic village; an active sink following periods of rain, it is on the left of the dry valley, which descends steeply to the Rio Teribe west of the village. The obvious entrance is on the left among a jam of large boulders collapsed from the face above; there is a second, smaller entrance which is a vertical pitch of ten metres and enters among loose boulders.

From the left entrance the horrifically unstable boulder ruckle needs thought and cautious negotiation to reach a depth of around ten metres, below this the bedding widens to its maximum. Jammed between roof and loose floor are too many boulders each of which demand the utmost respect. At this point Hastilow and Cronin took the decision that only one should descend through such a wicked pile of boulders. A vertical squeeze was thoughtfully passed unfortunately dropping a distance too great to climb back without disturbing sleeping boulders; meanwhile Hastilow managed to move horizontally and found a less suicidal, return path around this obstacle. Any movement whatsoever caused debris to roll down the 50° slope. At a depth of eighteen metres the bottom of the entrance slope was encountered, and here there is evidence of water flow. This gravel stream passage was followed through two other short drops to where the gradually decreasing passage becomes choked with boulder debris.

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Entrance to Cueva Sieyic, Guides stand above the metre pitch: note dip of bedding.   Photo: Roger Day

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Dry river bed upstream of Cueva Sieyic.   Photo: Roger Day

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Plan of Cueva Sieyic

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Cueva Sieyic section on 024 degrees

Cueva Pueblo Sieyic

Cueva Pueblo Sieyic

Bocas Del Toro
N 009° 22.792’’ W82° 39.512
Elevation 98 metres
Length 3 metres

Upstream from the west end of Sieyic the Team were enthusiastically shown several features; collectively they demonstrate that some form of solution took place. However, what remains are the suggestion of resurgence, now significantly choked and several small cavities, only Cueva Pueblo Sieyic exhibits flowstone decorations. The cave is formed in a bedding weakness; the passage sealed by deposition of calcite.

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Cueva Pueblo Sieyic.   Photo: Dig Hastilow

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Cueva Pueblo Sieyic.   Photo: Dig Hastilow

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Potential resurgence at Sieyic.   Photo: Dig Hastilow

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James with floatation device investigating potential resurgence.

Photo: Dig Hastilow

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Potential resurgence by-pass six metres above river level.   Photo: Roger Day

Cueva Argentino

Cueva Argentino

Bocas Del Toro
N009° 22.354’ W 82° 37.890’
Elevation 80 Metres
Length 15 metres

Raul directed the Team to the northern river bank to a small settlement where a cave was reported. As no limestone was observed on this side the Team were somewhat sceptical. A short walk brought the Team to a gulley where a crawling passage disappeared into what appeared to be a cliff face; foliage obscuring the area. Exploration established it as a gap beneath a huge sandstone boulder, weighing in at around 500 tonnes.

River (Shownio) Dluxllic

River (Shownio) Dluxllic

Close upstream of river caves, Cueva Rio Teribe and Teribe Chico, is the confluence of a significant tributary, which has eroded through the limestone. The debris at its mouth displays a variety of geological samples. One hundred metres up this stream a very small development, two metres long, was encountered; Cueva Olivia.

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Confluence of a north flowing stream with the Rio Teribe.

Photo: Roger Day

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View south of the tributary which has cut through the limestone outcrop.

Photo: Pat Cronin

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Dr. Stewart Redwood looking upstream in the tributary of the Rio Teribe.

Photo: Roger Day

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Opportunistic capture of the Team’s photographers, Roger and Dig, each normally behind the lens.   Photo:Pat Cronin

Sardinilla Gold Mine

Sardinilla Gold Mine

The Sardinilla gold mine, also known as the Emperador mine, was a Spanish colonial and 19th century gold mining enterprise situated not too far from the 16th century Camino de Cruces trail, one of two trails constructed in the 1500s by the Spanish to transport the treasures obtained from their South American conquests overland from Panama City to Portobello on the Atlantic coast for conveyance onward to the Court of Spain. A day was spent traversing the Rio Sardinilla in dense jungle. The only evidence of note seen was an abandoned and overgrown but very well used mule trail which we believe was used to take machinery and supplies to the mine. A photo of the boiler of a steam engine was seen in the park ranger station in 2018 and shows that some artefacts still exist at an unknown location.

The history of the mine is described in Appendix 2. The mine area is obscured by jungle growth, further research is warranted, and the recording of any surviving features worthwhile.

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The steam-engine boiler in the Rio Sardinilla dating from 1891.

Photo: Copied from Camino de Cruces Ranger Station by Stuart Redwood

Lago Bayano

Lago Bayano

Traveling east the Teams thoughts turned to sites potentially accessible in the low water conditions of Lago Bayano; of two projects in particular, the submerged inlet entering Cueva Quebrada Seca and the flooded bedding in Cueva Agua Sombreada. If time allowed, the opportunity to better photograph the decorations of Pozo Lin. Crossing the lake in two launches (pangas), the Team split into two with Hastilow and Cronin going to Pozo Lin and Cueva Agua Sombreada, whilst the others investigated Cueva Quebrada Seca. The long slog from lake edge to the jungle was tough in the high temperatures. The caves were followed by a boat trip up the Rio Tigre through limestone cliffs with spectacular flowstone and stalactites, watched from the trees by a group of howler monkeys.

Cueva Quebrada Seca

Cueva Quebrada Seca

The Quebrada party had a two hundred metre walk; previously the canoe could navigate a considerable distance up the cave passage. No indication of the submarine resurgence was evident; overall water flow being almost non-existent. The Team members also encouraged members of the Anglo-Panamanian Cultural Association on their first caving adventure in Cueva Quebrada Seca.

Cueva Agua Sombreada

Cueva Agua Sombreada

Cueva Agua Sombreada was relocated with some difficulty; disappointment reigned after the bedding was reached, when pushed it was penetrated only two metres.

Pozo Lin

Pozo Lin

The walk to Pozo Lin was completed again with some difficulty; once found the pitch laddered and photography conducted.

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A very dry Cueva Agua Sombreada. Compare with the next photo.

Photo: Dig Hastilow

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Cueva Agua Sombreada in 2018.   Photo: Dig Hastilow

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Pozo Lin, Pueblo Nuevo, Lago Bayano.   Photo: Dig Hastilow

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Pozo Lin, Pueblo Nuevo, Lago Bayano.   Photo: Dig Hastilow

2019 61.JPG.JPG

The ladder pitch, Pozo Lin.   Photo: Dig Hastilow

Appendix 1
Appendix 1: The Geology of the Rio Teribe

Report by Stewart D. Redwood

District Geology

The geology of the Rivers Teribe and Changuinola was mapped by Andreas Mende of the University of Stuttgart, Germany for a doctoral thesis (Mende, 2001). The volcano-sedimentary sequence forms the back-arc of the volcanic cordillera which lies to the south. The strike of the sequence is about 120° WNW and the dip is 40-50°N. The sediments form a NE-verging fold and thrust belt. The stratigraphy and geological history from NE to SW going up the River Teribe is:

  • Suretka Formation (Plio-Pleistocene)

  • Rio Banano Formation (Middle Miocene to Pliocene)

  • Uscari Formation (Late Oligocene to Lower Miocene), a 2,000 m thick sequence of organic-rich, shallow-water volcaniclastic sediments interpreted to be delta-influenced shelf deposits; it outcrops in the lower part of the River Teribe.

  • Late Oligocene unconformity.

  • Las Animas Formation / Senosri Formation (Middle Eocene to Late Oligocene). The Las Animas Formation are 150-200 m thick shallow-water limestones, including the River Teribe limestone, deposited on a local structural high, contemporaneous with 700-900 m thick hemipelagic mudstones, calcareous turbidites and carbonate debris flow deposits of the Senosri Formation in adjacent basins (Brandes et al., 2007).

  • Compressional deformation in Eocene-Oligocene.

  • Tuis Formation (Paleocene to Lower Eocene), 3,000 m of volcaniclastic turbidites, debris flow deposits, lava flows and tuffs, representing a prograding, deep-water apron.

  • Changuinola Formation (Campanian-Maastrichtian), 1,280 m thick pelagic limestones and intercalated volcaniclastic rocks.


Stratigraphic column of the Teribe-Changuinola district and the Limon Basin (Mende, 2001, modified by Brandes et al., 2007).


Geologiche Karte des Backarc von Sudost-Costa Rica und Nordwest-Panama (unfer Benucksichtigung der Ergebnisse von Campos (1987), Bottazzi et al. (1994), Fernandez (1987) und eigener Feldarbeit).

The geology of NW Panama – SE Costa Rica showing the back-arc geology (Mende, 2001).


The geology of the Rio Teribe and the Rio Changuinola (Mende, 2001).


The geological map (Mende, 2001) superimposed on the satellite image

Field Observations

Sandstone of the Uscari Formation (Upper Oligocene to Middle Miocene) outcrops at Wekso. It is buff coloured and massive with no bedding and tends to weather is a spheroidal manner in cliffs, such as those in the river opposite Bonyic, and to form giant rounded boulders such as that which forms Argentino’s Cave: the boulder formed by in-situ weathering, not by attrition and rounding. The sandstone is medium to coarse grained and is dirty with a mud matrix, so it is an arenite or wacke. The sandstone outcrop on the north bank of the River Teribe at Wekso is on a cliff on a narrow ridge, with a valley on the northern side.

Limestone of the Las Animas Formation (Middle Eocene to Upper Oligocene) outcrops on the south bank of the river starting at 9.36736°N 82.62534°W, 74 masl and was examined as far upriver as 9.38095°N 82.65791°W, 119 masl over a distance of 3.9 km. The southern river bank is remarkably straight with a trend of 110°/290° and is a fault, shown as a north-verging thrust on Mende’s (2001) map. The limestone underlies the sandstone and has a strike of 290° and dips at ~45-50° N. It is a biosparite in the Folk (1959) classification (i.e. shell debris in a crystalline carbonate matrix which was originally mud) and a wackestone to packstone in the Dunham (1962) classification (i.e. mud supported with more than 10% grains to grain supported). In places it has large fossil corals making it a biolithite or boundstone (Sieyic Cave). It has occasional clastic beds of rounded basalt pebbles to cobbles (near Cave 2).

A tributary stream on the south bank called Shownio Dluxllic (shownio = quebrada or stream) (9.36751°N 82.62659°W, 84 masl) cuts through the limestone and into underlying andesitic conglomerate at a distance of 75 m at 220° SSW; with a dip of 45°N, the true thickness of the limestone is about 50 m.

In contrast, Mende (2001) indicates a limestone thickness of 150-200 m, thus the volcanic rocks seen in the tributary are probably an intercalated bed, and limestone may continue further to the south: the easiest place to check this would be in the River Teribe south of Sieyic Cave. Mende’s (2001) geological map shows the limestone to outcrop over a much greater width of about 2,000 m, however, this is on a steep slope sub-parallel to the dip and the true thickness is much less.

The river cobbles are basalt/andesite and grey to white, coarse grained equigranular diorite and granodiorite.

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Satellite image of cave exploration of the River Teribe.


Geological map (Mende, 2001) superimposed on the satellite image of the River Teribe showing cave exploration.


Massive sandstone with spheroidal weathering on the River Teribe at Bonyic.


Karst-weathered limestone on the River Teribe.


Limestone (biosparite wackestone) from the River Teribe near Cave 2, with a calcite veinlet.


Andesite conglomerate underlying the limestone, River Teribe tributary.


Leucocratic granite cross-cutting granodiorite in river pebble.

Cave Potential

The 2019 expedition discovered a new cave district on the Rio Teribe in Bocas del Toro Province in western Panama in a limestone member of the Senosri Formation (Middle Eocene to Upper Oligocene). Three small caves were discovered and numerous other karst solution features over a 4 km strike length of limestone.

There is potential to discover additional caves in the same limestone formation which has been mapped for more than 50 km from the River Yorkin, near the Costa Rican border in the west, to Valle del Risco, near Almirante in the east. The most accessible areas are in Quebrada Bonyic near Bonyic village and in a 10 km section of the River Changuinola below the Chan I dam. The Team explored the small Cueva la Taverna at Ojo de Agua near the Bocas Ridge Hotel in 2015, and carried out reconnaissance to search for a reported cave near Valle del Risco in 2019.

The same limestone formation is repeated to the north for a length of about 20 km in a range of low hills to the northwest of Sieyic between the River Yorkin / Aguas Blancas and the River Sixaola (Costa Rica border) south of the town of Las Tablas, which is accessible by road from Changuinola.

Finally, there is also potential for the discovery of caves upstream in the Rivers Teribe and Changuinola, in very remote and rugged country, in a different limestone of the Late Cretaceous Changuinola Formation, which consists of light-coloured foraminiferal limestones and andesitic and dacitic volcanic flows and volcaniclastic rocks (Fisher & Pessango, 1965; di Marco et al., 1995).


Brandes, C., Astorga, A., Blisniuk, P., Littke, R., and Winsemann, J., 2007, Anatomy of anticlines, piggy-back basins and growth strata: A case study from the Limón Fold-and-thrust belt, Costa Rica. In, G. Nichols, E. Williams, & C. Paola (eds.), Sedimentary processes, environments and basins: A tribute to Peter Friend: International Association of Sedimentologists Special Publication 38, Oxford, England, Blackwell Science, p. 91-110.

Di Marco, G. Baumgartner, P. O., and Channell, J.E.T., 1995, Late Cretaceous-early Tertiary paleomagnetic data and a revised tectonostratigraphic subdivision of Costa Rica and western Panama. In Mann, P. (ed.), Geologic and Tectonic Development of the Caribbean Plate Boundary in Southern Central America: Boulder, Colorado, Geological Society of America Special Paper 295, p. 1-27.

Fisher, S. P., and Pessagno, E. A., Jr., 1965, Upper Cretaceous strata of Northwestern Panama: American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin, v. 49, p. 433-444.

Mende, Andreas, 2001, Sedimente und Architektur der Forearc-und Backarc-Becken von Südost-Costa Rica und Nordwest-Panamá (Sediments and architecture of the forearc and backarc basins of southeast Costa Rica and northwest Panama): PhD thesis, University of Stuttgart, Stuttgart, Germany, Profil, v. 19, p. 1-130 + 67 figures + 12 tables.

Appendix 2: The History of the Sardinilla (Emperador) Gold Mine

Extract from report by Stewart D. Redwood

Appendix 2

Gold mining was once carried out at the Emperador gold mine in the Rio Sardinilla and Quebrada de Oro in the Panama Canal Zone but is long since forgotten and the scant remains are hidden deep in the jungle of the Soberanía National Park on the eastern side of the canal.

The mines have a colourful history including the murder of an American owner, imprisonment of another owner for suspicion of involvement in a railroad gold heist, false identity of a third owner, and a long drawn out claim for compensation from the U.S. Government for loss of property in the Canal Zone.

First mined in Spanish colonial days, the mines were close to the Camino de Cruces and the Gorgona trails. The mines were re-discovered in the 1860s shortly after the completion of the nearby Panama Railroad. This brought a lot of American gold miners to the isthmus on their way to the California gold rush, some of whom turned their hand to gold mining in Panama.

Mining was carried out from about 1860-1919 by several companies including the Pasiga River Mining Company (1876), the Emperador Mining Company (1882-1886), the Societé Mercier and Co. (1886-1889), and the Colombian Gold Mining Company of Ohio (1889-ca 1900), later called the Quebrada de Oro Plantation and Mining Company (ca1900-1919). The latter tried unsuccessfully to claim compensation from the U.S. Government for expropriation of the land in the Canal Zone.

In the 1950s old mine adits were described along with remnants of mine and mill machinery, and stretches of tram tracks. We spent a day exploring the Rio Sardinilla valley but the only trace of the mines is an overgrown but well used mule trail built to haul mining machinery up the valley, and the dense secondary jungle growth. A photograph seen at the Camino de Cruces Park ranger station in 2018 shows an abandoned boiler for a steam engine: this was not found and is believed to be further upstream, and warrants a further visit to locate it.


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