Belize’s Intriguing Cave Systems
Riddled with holes in the ground and caverns under the earth, Belize boasts one of the largest cave systems in Central America. Some might wonder as to how important caves are to Belize…here are a few of our favourites and we hope that you will find them as fascinating as we do- fascinating enough to plan a visit to one of them on your next trip to Belize!
Historical background: Caving was first introduced to Belizean tourism in the mid 90’s by Ian Anderson who, while exploring the area caves & rivers, thought to share the excitement of these new adventures with friends & visitors alike. The caving culture exploded into one of the Top Adventure activities for visitors to Belize and has become the bread & butter of many tour operators in the country. The caves of Belize offer a list of alluring adventures for the adrenaline junkies-looking for something different!
Xibalba is the name for the underworld in the ancient Maya culture. Caves were used for religious ceremonies, bloodletting and sacrificial offerings. It was also a place where the dead found a resting place.
Most caves in Belize were formed millions of years ago when seeping rainwater and rivers flowing underground found their way out. Most caves are formed from limestone and many of them have underground rivers flowing through them.
Many of the caves are found deep in the rain forests of Belize and from the mouth of caves a vapor cloud can be seen at the entrance. To the ancient Maya this seemed to signify where clouds originated. The gods lived in the underground chambers and the Maya held some of their most sacred rituals in many of Belize’s caves.
Relics can still be found and viewed today. Pottery, obsidian knives, sacrificial fire pits, ashes, fire wood, carvings and of course human remains are some of the most popular items found in caves today.
Some of Belize’s caves feature chambers so deep inside that they take 45 minutes to 1 hour walking to reach them. Other caves hold some of Belize’s most amazing attractions such as waterfalls, sky lights and merging rivers.
Popular caves to visit in Belize are:
ATM (Actun Tunichil Muknal) located in one of Western Belize’s rural villages. Discovered in 1989 and famous for its unforgettably photogenic entrances, the cave made international headlines through the National Geographic Society who ranked it as one of the Top Ten Caves of the World. Its major attraction is the Crystal Maiden- found in one of the chambers to the rear of the cave and which showcases the remains of what is believed to be a young Maya girl whose remains became crystallized & calcified. Glistening from visitors headlamps, the skeletal remains give a tiny glimpse into the beliefs of the ancient dwellers.
Footprint Cave (River Cave) – This cave is located within the property of Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Lodge and while it offers a short version of cave tubing, it also allows visitors to hike into the hidden chambers and view ancient artifacts and fire pits.
Barton Creek Cave – This fun little cave is located in another remote area of Western Belize. Explore the cave -formerly used by the ancient Mayans as a burial site and for ceremonial purposes. The adventure is about 90 minutes and without getting out of your canoe, your guide will point out artifacts and human remains as you glide past.
Caves Branch Caves – Another one of the fascinating adventures offered through Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Adventure Co is the 7 mile long tube float called the River of Caves. This series of caves are featured along the longest cave tubing expedition in Central America. Visitors float past side windows that filter the jungle light through the mist while swirling around stalagmites jutting from the river and stalactites looming from above. Float past underground waterfalls then into the “Crystal Cathedral”, a spiritual center to the ancient Maya.
Che Chem Ha Cave – Located just 16 miles outside of the western town of San Ignacio, this cave was discovered by a local farmer. The cave is notable for its vast collection of Maya artifacts, pottery and artwork. Ladders to descend to the various levels of the cave are located inside for easy access for viewing the precious items left behind by the ancient people.
Photo Courtesy of Hun Chi'ik Tours
Waterfall Cave – Situated on the property of Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Jungle Lodge, the cave features the 2nd most exciting and popular cave adventure in the country. The cave is a 45 minute hike through the rain forests from the starting point of the expedition. Once inside the cave another 45 minute hike though narrow passages, past enormous crystal formations and walled dams brings you to the start of a series of thundering waterfalls which are conquered with the help of expert guides. This amazing attraction will leave you gasping for more and is one of the unforgettable adventures that Belize offers!
As you can see, Caves are extremely important not only as a historical facet to Belize’s cultural richness but as vital veins within the tourism industry. Explore the nether regions of Belize- learn of a rooted culture through fun and exciting educational expeditions that will bring a deep appreciation for Belize’s ancient civilization while enjoying modern and unforgettable adventures!