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Blog Home > The Gem of Crystal Caves: Donovan Ebanks
The Gem of Crystal Caves: Donovan Ebanks

When I arrived for a tour of the Crystal Caves, I expected to just learn about things like stalagmites and stalactites. But thanks to tour guide Donovan Ebanks, I came back from the excursion with a new appreciation for the history, flora, and ecology of Grand Cayman.

As he drove the tour group down a winding road, Donovan told us that the caves are located 62 feet above sea level, which is the highest point on Grand Cayman. There are over one hundred caves across seventy-five acres, three of which were open to the public at the time we visited with more openings to come in the future. 

Donovan grew up around three miles from the Crystal Caves on his grandfather’s fifty-acre farm. He eventually made a move to the United States, where he worked as a bartender in San Diego for around twenty-five years. He ended up back home on Grand Cayman when a San Diego connection recruited him to come work as a tour guide for Crystal Caves. As a child, Donovan explored the caves with his friends, so it felt like there wasn't anyone better to show us around. 

Along the pathway, Donovan stopped to point out the red birch tree. He called it the living fence post, but also the Tourist Tree. “Why do we call it the Tourist Tree? Cuz it’s red and peelin’.” He knocked away a few peels of bark and waited for our laughter.

That wasn’t the only funny joke Donovan had up his sleeve, however, and he would frequently make a joke, wait a beat, and then exclaim, “Just kidding guys!” Donovan was great with the kids on the tour, making sure to explain certain facts just to them so they didn’t feel left out.

Once inside the first of three caves, Donovan explained how he and his friends would come explore the caves. Before the caves were cleared out for visitors to enjoy, they were filled with rocks and red sand, which meant no clear walkways or paths. Donovan said he’d crawl through the caves on his hands and knees, playing with his friends and gaining them all amateur-spelunker status. He was sure to warn us that the red sand is impossible to get out of clothing, so we should be careful. While he didn’t mention getting in trouble as a kid for coming home covered in stains, I did wonder how his grandfather must have felt about it!

Outside each cave and along the walkways, Donovan would stop to point out specific trees and plants and their many uses. “Take a look,” he’d say and would let us gather around. He explained that the green papaya is the best world’s meat tenderizer. Amazingly, the fruit off soursop trees can be made into a tea that helps fight high blood pressure and even has  properties that can prevent cancer. The ironwood tree provides wood as sturdy as the name suggests—Donovan’s grandfather’s house was framed with ironwood and withstood many hurricane seasons in Grand Cayman.

Donovan also explained how the bounty of the land provided the island with economic opportunities in early settlement days. Leaves from the Silver Thatch Palm were weaved into ropes and hats that were sold to traders, as well as used for roof thatching at home. The Silver Thatch Palm is indigenous to the Cayman Islands and is not only the national tree but also makes an appearance on the country’s flag.

Inside the caves, Donovan showed us some of the more noteworthy formations and shared the fun names the staff and other tourists had come up with, including the cathedral room, the Statue of Liberty, and the dragon. There was even a formation that looked like a head and was wearing a pair of sunglasses. "These caves are very much alive," he told us, explaining that the water droplets that sprinkled us in the head meant the stalactites were growing, albeit very slowly. "If you get hit with a water droplet, it's seven years good luck!" By the time we were through, I'd saved up enough good luck to last me several decades. 

While the Crystal Caves were beautiful, I was most interested in Donovan’s knowledge of the island. His stories brought a new appreciation for the Cayman people, their resourcefulness, and the landscape of the island itself. I wasn't the only one—at the end of the tour, another guest from New Jersey turned to me and said, “I think what Donovan had to say about all the plants was the best part.”

Check out the Crystal Caves for yourself, and if you see Donovan, be sure to ask him about his dance moves. :)

Comments 3 Rating: Rated 5 star by 1 people.
COMMENTS
Jackie Downey APRIL 2 2018
This is a must see when visiting Cayman! I was shocked and very pleasantly surprised at the wonder of it all!! We have actually been there 3 times taking our friends and family and have had Donovan as our guide. He does a great job of answering any questions and his pride of his land is out pouring. Well, well worth the 45 minute drive from Georgetown!
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Mallori N. FEBRUARY 21 2020
We toured the Crystal Caves a couple of weeks ago, and just as you said, Donovan was a wonderful and extremely knowledgeable guide. I would definitely recommend visiting the Cayman Crystal Caves.
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Carrie Walker FEBRUARY 24 2020
Hi, Mallori, we're so glad to hear you enjoyed your tour with Donovan. He's truly one of the best, isn't he? :)
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