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Caves & Caverns

Xibalba—the Maya underworld

Belize's river systems have honeycombed the limestone bedrock with caves and caverns. Some of the larger caves are still accessible by river, allowing visitors to float through on inner tubes or kayaks. Other caves were sacred to the ancient Maya, representing a connection between this world and Xibalba—the Maya underworld.

The most visited cave system in Belize is the Caves Branch, accessible off the Hummingbird Highway near Belmopan. This cave system allows visitors to float through as much as seven miles of cave, punctuated by underground waterfalls and a sparkling cavern. The sensation of turning off your headlamp and floating though darkness is thrilling, even if a little creepy. This trip is best during the June to November rainy season, when high water levels limit the need for hiking.

The famous Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave is located seven miles south of Belmopan. Here, hikers can travel 45 minutes through the forest to reach a narrow cave. A clear stream flows from the entrance, filling many of the chambers with waist high water. Inside, more than a dozen ancient skeletons lie encrusted with calcium, glittering under flashlight.

St. Herman's Blue Hole National Park, twelve miles southeast of Belmopan, protects 575 acres of forest habitat. The principal attraction is the Blue Hole, a collapsed limestone cave (or cenote) filled with turquoise water. Visitors can cool off with a swim between hikes through the surrounding forest. The park is also the site of St. Herman's cave, a 0.8 mile-long cavern known for its delicate speleothems. After a guided tour through the cave you can float peacefully back to the entrance of the cave on an inner tube. At the nearby Crystal (or Mountain Cow) Cave, guided tours enter wide caverns known for their crystalline formations and abundant Maya artifacts.

Chumpiate Cave, a Maya burial cave 10 miles south of San Ignacio at Chechem Ha, is noteworthy for its ancient pottery and an elaborate altar. Barton Creek Cave, set in hilly Mennonite pastureland near the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve, is another day-trip option. Guided canoe tours can travel nearly a mile into the caves recesses, where Maya skeletons and pottery are found among the stalactites and limestone bridges.

Rio Frio Cave is located in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, south of San Ignacio. This is a tall cavern, open at two ends, with a small creek running through the center. This cave can be explored independently, as can others found nearby.

In the southern Toledo District, west of the town of San Antonio, the Hobek Ha Cave of Blue Creek offers a relaxing swim after a hike through the rainforest. Visits to this cave are usually combined with tours to the Maya sites of Lubaantun and Nim Li Punit.

Mosaico Travel Services can arrange excursions to each of these caves. Most require a licensed guide, and advance reservations may be needed. Speak with a Mosaico travel planner today at 801.582.2100. We’ll take care of the details.

 

"Fear is the mind-killer."


Frank Herbert