Caves were used by the ancient Maya for performing many of their spiritual rituals. Caves were considered (by the Mayan's), to be the home of gods and the entrance to the every mysterious underworld. The underworld was called "Xibalba" and its literal translation from the Mayan language is "the place of fear".
Belize's landmass is covered in limestone rock (and for this reason), Belize has one of the largest and most extensive cave systems in all of Central America. When visiting Belize, here are ten (10) caves you may want to take some time to explore.
CAVE #1 - Black Hole Cave - Advance
If you're looking for the trill of adventure, the Black Hole cave drop is for you. The total descent is about 300 fee deep. Starting with the first 10 feet (this gives you an unforgettable rush), into the next 200 feet. The final 100 feel will take you through the canopy of the Belizean rainforest. This experience is definitely not for those seeking an average vacation. You will need some ladder climbing, hiking and some rock climbing skills to get in and out of this cave. By the time you're done with this experience, the rush you experienced will last a long time. This is the cave you will be telling you're friends about, and is definitely worthy of being on your bucket list.
CAVE #2 - Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM Cave) Advance
This is one of the most popular caves to explore by foreigners in the entire country. This cave has over 1,400 Mayan artifacts, that you will never experience elsewhere. There are even the remains of 14 skeletons. One in particular (is the skeleton remains of a 13 year old female), referred to as the "Crystal Maiden". This is because her remains are covered in calcium carbonate, when light hits the calcium carbonate, it sparkles in the lamp light, giving the illusion of a crystal maiden. To get to this cave, will require a 45 minute hike, where you will cross 3 streams. If you're looking for one of the top caves to experience - this will be the one, you will want to write home about.
CAVE #3 - Barton Creek Cave - Moderate
This ceremonial cave can only be experienced and explored with the help of a licensed tour guide in a canoe. This is about a half day adventure, well worth the sweat. The canoe will glide along the river and you enter the cave and leisurely float through it's passages. The interior chambers will remind you of cathedral ceilings with wide roomy passages. Barton Creek Cave was noted as being on the list for being one of the 9 most unusual and beautiful caves in the world. This is a beautiful cave to explore, seated in a canoe.
CAVE #4 - Rio Frio Cave - Moderate
The most notable feature of this cave is its massive mouth, and it is the largest cave you will come across in Belize. The Rio Frio Cave is located in the Mountain Pine Ridge. The entrance arch is spectacular and in the rainy season, you may get to experience the river than runs through the paths of the cave. As regards physical fitness, this tour is not all that strenuous or difficult. You will want to be sure and bring a flashlight with you, to experience the cave in it's entirety.
CAVE #5 - Cave Branch Cave System - Moderate
There are about three (3) caves, that make up the Cave Branch Cave System. They are: (1) Petroglyph Cave (2) Waterfall Cave (3) Footprint Cave. The names of the caves have been taken from the objects you find on the walls inside. There are embedded footprints on the walls inside the Footprint Cave, about six waterfalls (about 20 feet in height) inside the Waterfall Cave, and Mayan ancient rock drawings (from 300 to 900 A.D.), in the Petroglyph Cave. This humongous cave system has been formed by the Cave Branch River that goes through these caves.
FOOTPRINT CAVE - Also known as Actun Chek in Maya, is a river-cave on an unnamed river that originates from the Maya Mountains. The river is swallowed through an underground waterway before emerging again in the jungle about 10 miles before the entrance of Footprint Cave. After a short hike you’ll jump in the river on your inner tube floating along the jungle and then into the cave. While this tour does involve some cave tubing, it’s not the traditional cave tubing. While both are river-caves, only the Caves Branch caves form unbroken tunnels that you can float right through. At Footprints, the same entrance that you tube into is the same entrance you tube out of at the end.
Once inside the cave you’ll climb out of the river and begin exploring the chambers of the cave. You’ll find amazing cave formations ranging from large cathedral chambers to crystalline flow stones. However, the true beauty of Footprints Cave is its collection of Maya artifacts. Archeological exploration revealed that the cave was used for the extraction of clay and other minerals. Although such caves are known in the Yucatan, it is the only one in Belize with evidence of clay extraction. There are 3 areas of red clay deposits that contain clear signs of human digging. At the most interior clay mining site, located 450 meters (1500 feet) from the cave entrance, a clay monkey face was sculpted by the Maya complete with a ceramic jar placed immediately below it for offerings. Even further back in the cave, past the limits of the tour, is a set of Maya footprints, giving the cave its name.
Archeologists theorize that these caves were used for ritual activity. The fact that the locations they used were deep within the cave and associated with ceremonial features such as the clay monkey face all support this theory. In another location in the cave, a finely chipped flint knife was found, similar to the sacrificial knives used by the Maya. All of this suggests that the clay may have been used specifically for making ceremonial vessels painted with scenes of the underworld, which they called Xibalba (Place of Fright).
CAVE #6 - Crystal Cave - Advance
Located in the Blue Hole National Park. After a 50 minute hike through the tropical forest to the cave entrance, you will rappel 15 feet into the entrance to the cave. Traverse through the large chambers of the cave, sliding down mud ramps and scrambling along rocks. Your guide will then show you the shimmering formations in the cave, along with artifacts and the skeletal remains. You will witness the remnants of the past while discovering centuries-old fire pits, wall carvings and pottery as well as impressive crystal formations and stalactites and stalagmites.
This tour is challenging, but well worth the effort. After exploring the cave, everyone takes a break to enjoy a hearty Belizean lunch followed by a refreshing swim in the cool natural pool known as the Blue Hole.
Cave #7 - St. Herman's Cave - Moderate
At Herman’s Blue Hole National Park there are unique geological features that can be found within 575 acres of forest rich with wildlife. The main attractions in this park, namely the St. Herman’s Cave and the Blue Hole, are connected by an underground stream. Visitors can walk 200 yards into the cave entrance unguided or can hire a guide to traverse the cave completely, seeing beautiful speleothems and Mayan artifacts. After a guided tour through St. Herman’s Cave, you can float peacefully back to the entrance of the cave on an inner tube.
The Blue Hole is a cool and refreshing place for an afternoon swim. It was formed by the collapse of an underground limestone cave. In this case, the river running through the original cavern still flows through the cave system, and forms a sapphire-colored pool at the bottom of the cenote. The depression measures about 100 feet deep and 300 feet in diameter, with the actual Blue Hole at the depression’s base having a depth of about 25 feet.
Cave #8 - Che Chem Ha Cave - Advance
The Actun Che Chem Ha cave is located 16 miles from San Ignacio in the rolling hills of the Cayo District of Western Belize. Located on private land, the cave is accessed by a 45-minute descent, and short incline through the rainforest in the upper Macal River Valley. After approximately 1.5 hours in the cave, we hike further down in the river valley to a small farm house, where our host family serves us lunch with a beautiful view over the Macal River.
The Che Chem Ha Cave entrance is a small hole which leads to the main tunnel (200m long), this tunnel connects to a large chamber which then connects many other small chambers high up within the cave. This cave contains many ancient Mayan atifcats so it is heavily protected to ensure the preservation of these items.
This cave was discovered by a local farmer. Within its chambers are many artifacts and artwork, for this reason it a favorite of many archeologists. The chamber walls are lined with "ollas" or storage jars, and you can reach the high chambers through ladders inside the cave. You can only explore this cave with a licensed tour guide, as the government monitors and guards this cave very well to stop the looting of artifacts.
CAVE #9 - Laguna Cave - Moderate
Laguna Cave was named after nearby town Laguna, a small Kekchi Maya village located some 18km west of Punta Gorda. The cave is located one hour walk from town, so it is essential to hire a local guide at Laguna. The entrance is located above a steep slope, which is easy to climb with the aid of a four meter long wooden ladder.
The entrance passage leads steep upwards to a side branch on the left, then a second side branch to the right. Finally it leads to the second entrance where the cave is left. The first side passage which may be visited, is right at the entrance. The eight meter deep slope is difficult to climb and probably not suitable for every visitor. It leads to an impressive lower chamber with a skylight in the middle, leading back up to the higher level. The first side branch is a crawl leading to a huge shaft, the second leads to a third entrance, a huge protal with a wooden bench, which is a fine outlook towards the village of Laguna.
The cave is dry and easy to visit, there are speleothems and some bats living in the crevices. There is also some archaeological evidence, but there have been no excavations so far. The cave requires no special gear, nevertheless we recommend good shoes, helmet, headlamp, and gloves.
CAVE #10 - Tiger Cave (aka San Miguel Cave) Moderate
So the story goes...........many years ago, a cub of a jaguar was chased into the cave's mouth by a local dog. Thus the cave came to be known as the "Tiger Cave". Because it is located so close to San Miguel Village, it is also sometimes called the San Miguel Cave.
It is recommended that you get a licensed guide for exploring this cave properly. The remnants of the farming practices of the ancient Maya can be witnessed in their full glory in this cave. The entrance is immense and vaulted, as you find yourself staring at 500 feet high ceiling, and interior chambers with dripping stalactite (that resemble Roman fountains), and pure mineral deposits that look like pots of white gold. Large gaping holes in the ceiling of the cave soon give way to shafts of sunlight that reveal an amazing sight.Smooth, rain-washed indentations on the cave’s limestone floor and large numbers of broken pottery shards scattered on a ledge become visible as you travel onward into the cave. No streams or creeks run through the entrance chamber, although, deeper into the cave, you will have to cross water.
CAVE #11 - Hokeb Ha Cave (aka Blue Creek Cave) Advanced
Also known by its English name "Blue Creek Cave", Hobkeb Ha Cave is located near the Maya village of Blue Creek in southern Belize (in the Toledo district). Despite its somewhat remote location, Hokeb Ha is a popular destination thanks to its outstanding gorgeous natural scenery that includes a waterfall.
This cave is about a 20 minute hike from the village. Hike a well marked, sometimes cemented path along the creek, until a clearing appears. Pass through the research station in the clearing finding the wide trail on the other side. Follow this trail, bearing toward the stream on your left till you meet a wide dry creek filled with white stones. After crossing the dry creek, the trail may become vague, but continue along the creek heading upstream along the base of increasingly steep limestone fliccs. In a few minutes, a 10 foot waterfall and the main cave entrance appears.
Long vines hand from the sheer rock wall above the cave mouth. The huge cave entrance is carved from the summit of a hill where the Blue Creek gurgles up from underground. The creek runs out of the entrance of the cave cascading over limestone boulders, under the towering shadows of the surrounding rainforest. Archaeologists have found many Late Classic cermaic and an altar inside the cave, leading them to theorize that the Hokeb Ha cave was used specifically for ceremonial purposes.
CAVE #12 - Actun Chapat Cave - Advanced
Actun Chapat Cave is one of the best caves in Belize to explore! Inside this massive cave system are crystalized cave formations, flying and crawling cave critters, and a beautiful cenote, also known as the skylight. Actun Chapat is one of the best caving experiences in Belize! Similar to some of Belize’s famous caves such as Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave and Crystal Cave, Actun Chapat Cave holds secrets to ancient Maya rituals and sacrifices through the pottery and skeletal remains inside the cave. The name “Actun Chapat” means “Centipede Cave;” and if you can make the connection, the cave is littered with centipedes inside. Don’t worry, they won’t bite.
Once we got inside the cave, we were met with grand crystalized rock formations, many broken pottery pieces, and, of course, centipedes! Interestingly, each pottery piece is said to have been brought in by ancient Maya priests to conduct rituals and sacrifices for their deities. After the rituals were performed, they were then broken to release its spirit. Many of the pieces in this cave date back to as early as 1800 A.D. - so fascinating!
Exploring Actun Chapat, we entered into one of the largest chambers I have ever seen! The cave ceilings were really high, and inside was rather hollow with little formations and rocks. What made the experience even better was turning off your headlamps and hearing your voices echo inside the cavern.
The sinkhole is caused by the process of carbonic acid softening of the minerals inside the limestone mountains, which later collapses. The carbonic acid comes from water that had accumulated on top of the mountains. Making it to the skylight was definitely worth all the climbing and crawling! We wanted to capture this moment with as many pictures possible.
How to get to Actun Chapat? Getting to Actun Chapat takes a total of roughly 1 hour and 35 minutes from San Ignacio Town. This includes the time to get from San Ignacio to San Jose Succotz Village (15 minutes), the drive on Waterhole Road (1 hour), and the hike from Cave World Adventures to the cave entrance (20 minutes). Getting to Actun Chapat from Belize City would take 3 hours and 35 minutes.
Caves are protected by the Belize Government. You will need to have a licensed guide, take you through these caves.
Take with you a good quality hiking shoes, a pair of swim shoes, comfortable cotton clothing, bug repellent, sunscreen lotion, and your camera. The equipment, is typically provided by the guide: life vests, flashlights, headlamps, gloves, helmet and dry pack.
What to Bring: Sunglasses, sunscreen, towel, swimsuit, waterproof camera, loose comfortable clothing, hat, change of clothes, bug spray-repellent, no jewelry, water shoes, water & water bottle.
* Not handicapped accessible.
* DO NOT bring jewelry.
* Not recommended for pregnant women.
* Not recommended for persons who suffer from heart or respiratory problems.
* Not recommended for persons who have back or neck problems.
* Not recommended for persons who have just recently had surgery.
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