The Maya Underworld
CAVE ATTRACTIONS IN CAYO DISTRICT
Begin your journey back through time as you enter the amazing realm of Belize's cave systems, with a chance to learn more about a mysterious ancient Maya civilization and the geological processes that shaped the region. Millions of years ago, seeping rainwater and underground rivers began etching through soft bedrock and outcrops. Today caves are to Belize like Swiss is to cheese. The lime-rock matrix that makes up much of the country's landmass is riddled with caves and beneath the surface can be found some of the most spectacular and extensive cave systems on the planet. Now you might be expecting dark and claustrophobic passageways, however you are more likely to find enormous chambers and a subterranean world that is fast becoming one of Belize's most popular attractions.
Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM Cave)
Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM Cave) is most famous as an ancient archaeological site, containing the skeletal remains of Maya human sacrifices, pottery, and other ancient artifacts. Visitors go bananas over the fully intact skeleton from around 700-900 AD that literally sparkles, thanks to time and science. You’ll hike to the location, wade across rushing rivers in waist-deep water, climb wet ladders inside a cave in just your socks, then enter a deep, dark hole in the side of a mountain because a tour guide told you to (and maybe pee yourself a little – but that’s okay!). This is one of the more difficult tours offered in Belize, but the effort is well-worth the experience.
Warning: This is not a cave for young children, those not physically fit, with knee, hip or ankle problems or with problems with claustrophobia and or heights.
This is a great cave to explore for first time spelunkers, active seniors, and junior travelers to get a glimpse into the sacred Maya underworld. Board a canoe at the cave entrance and use the provided spotlight to look while your guide tells the cave’s story through its natural rock formations and the significance of this unique space held for Maya rituals. Some evidence of Maya visitation has been cataloged by archaeologists. Another highlight about Barton Creek is that you’ll drive through farm houses on rolling hills owned by the Amish. Their community was established in the 1970’s by members from Shipyard in Northern Belize. They grow various tropical fruits and are often seen on their horse-drawn buggies transporting produce to sell at the market in town. Note they prefer a smile and wave than to have cameras pointed towards them.
Enter a realm where rivers disappear into the underworld as you float on inner tubes with headlamps to spot the interesting stone formations. This tour is fun for all ages and is perfect for the warmer days in the tropics. First you work up a sweat hiking a jungle path with your tube over your shoulder to one of the several cave openings – the further you hike the longer your tubing experience will be.
Actun Chapat (Cave of the Centipede)
Actun Chapat refers to the “Cave of the Centipede”. The cave has been used anthropologically since the Paleolithic period. Evidence of human interaction with the environment can be found here. It seems that the people who used this cave in the time of the great Maya civilization had a space in it for reverence to all their gods – a quiet, special room for getting touched by the spirits. This cave also hosts the curtain room. a wonderful opportunity to see the folds of limestone sheets coming off the roof of the cave and making the shape of falling curtains. This cave sits next to a smaller cave known as Actun Halal (Cave Of The Spear) where archaeologists have found the evidence of a mastodon tooth and the remains of an extinct cave bear. Certainly this evidence refers us back to the Paleolithic era when humans were still hunters and gatherers and the age pleistocene animals were still roaming these country sides