The town of Birongo is found near the cave. It consists of several villages, Marasmita de Birongo being the one located closest to the access route to the cave. Birongo was a “cumbe,” a town formed by slaves who escaped from cacao plantations and hid in the mountains, leaving only occasionally (Ríos et al. 1991). The town is located in the Brión municipality, which had a population of approximately 45,000 inhabitants in 2001, and annual growth rate of 2.9%, which is higher than the annual growth rate of 2.2% for the country overall (INE 2005).
A significant tourism industry is developing on the beaches of Brión municipality. As a result, its capital Higuerote has developed an adequate infrastructure of hotels, buildings, and restaurants to support it. Farther from the coast, the main economic activity is agriculture, as in the case of Birongo and the neighboring town of Curiepe, where small-scale cultivation of cacao is especially important. Other crops grown in the area include ocumo, ñame, yucca, mapuey, plantains, and bananas. The villages of Casupal and La Oficina are found within the boundaries of the monument. Some agricultural activity occurs inside the monument, although the majority of villagers cultivate land outside its boundaries. It is also important to note that the creeks of the protected area provide water for the different villages of the region.
House in the Casupal village
From a cultural point of view, the town of Birongo is particularly interesting as one of the most important centers for the culture of African roots on the coast of Venezuela. The town began as a refuge for African salves who escaped from the cacao plantations of the region and remained isolated for a long period of time. For many years, its inhabitants did not enter the interior of the cave or realize its potential for tourism and recreation. Today, Alfredo Jahn is considered the most visited cave in the country, with an estimated 2,000 to 5,000 visitors each year.
Access to the cave is by a partially-paved dirt road on the left bank of the Casupal Creek. Where this road crosses the creek, there is a small warehouse that serves local inhabitants as a storage and distribution center for supplies. The road continues, crossing the Cambural Creek, and then, about 200 meters (219 yards) farther, reaches the majority of the entrances to the cave. The best entrance is Boca 6, which permits easy access for visitors.
The main entrance to the Alfredo Jahn Cave is called Boca 6 (left); a group of university students in the Salón del Chaguaramo
The most impressive galleries are the Salón del Chaguaramo (or Salón de la Lluvia) and the Galería Codazzi. The Salón del Chaguaramo is nearly 30 meters (33 yards) in length. The name is derived from the enormous six-meter high (20 feet) column whose apex mimics the leaves of a palm. The adjacent Salón de la Lluvia, which is also large, is named for the droplets of water that fall continuously from the roof of the cavern, creating many beautiful formations. Another interesting passage is the Arrastradero, so named because one must crawl in order to pass through it. It connects the Galería de la Quebrada with the Galería del Rio and is about 25 meters long (27 yards). The Paso del Tremedal (Quagmire Pass) in the Galería del Río is also notable. It is difficult to pass, and occasionally filled chest-deep with water, much like the Paso del Mono (Monkey Pass), which one is able to avoid by climbing along the limestone walls.
One of the best routes for exploration is Boca 6–Galería del Río–Galería Codazzi–El Hongo–Salón del Chaguaramo, which traverses nearly 520 meters (569 yards). Another interesting route, Boca 6–Galería de la Quebrada–Boca 8, is almost 240 meters in length (262 yards). These two routes are connected by the Arrastradero, through which visitors can pass from one route to the other, spending between four and five hours in the interior of the cave (Ríos et al. 1991).
In Alfredo Jahn Cave, visitors should take precautions against the risk of histoplasmosis, a disease caused by a fungus (Histoplasma capsulatum) that is seen around the world. Associated with dry caves, the disease is contracted through inhalation of the spores, which then transform into yeast in the lungs. Although Alfredo Jahn Cave is generally a humid cave, there are dry sections with large accumulations of guano, which are considered to be higher risk areas for contraction of the disease (Suárez et al. 20002).
Certain equipment is necessary when entering the cave, such as flashlights with replacement batteries and helmets for protection in those galleries with low ceilings. It is also recommended that tourists only enter the cave with guides who know the system of passages and the areas with a higher risk of histoplasmosis.