By Rachael Funk
Not only does Belize boast enviable rainforests and sunny coastlines, it protects another natural wonder that calls travelers from all over the world. A tangible part of the country’s history and a thrilling opportunity for exploration, the caves in Belize weave together a story of the past. Though each deserves appreciation and careful study, here are a few of the most popular caves and what you may find inside them.
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Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave
Also called the “ATM,” the name of this cave means “Cave of the Stone Sepulcher.” A sacred site for Mayan ceremony, many who visit this cave say it was their favorite part of the trip. There, you’ll find pottery, ancient artifacts, and even skeletal remains from human sacrifices. A true adventure, you have to hike through the jungle to reach the opening then swim into the cave. You’ll be climbing wet ladders, wading across moving rivers in waist-deep water, and you’ll have to do it all on the way back, including the 45-minute hike through the jungle, so make sure you bring the right shoes and wardrobe for a physical challenge!
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Barton Creek Cave
Nearly five miles long, Barton Creek Cave holds the remains of almost 30 people within the first mile of the entrance. You can explore this ceremonial cave by kayak or canoe while guides bring you through cavernous chambers and wide passageways. The site has 10 ledges upon which the skeletal remains were discovered, along with food storage and cooking vessels, tools, evidence of food offerings, and more.
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St Herman’s Cave
Half an hour south of Belmopan within Blue Hole National Park is St Herman’s Cave. The opening of this stunning cave is 180 feet wide, with a sheer cliff wall draped in vines. Located at the base of another sinkhole, St Herman’s Cave features an underground stream which connects to the Inland Blue Hole (not to be confused with the Great Blue Hole, which is a diving hotspot off the coast). Among the archeological relics left in the cave are spears, torches, and pottery vessels used to collect the Zuh uy Ha (or “virgin water”) that drips from the stalactites within.
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Another cave you can find in Blue Hole National Park is Crystalline Cave, which takes you deep into the earth to see the crystalline formations which have formed over the course of thousands of years. The steep walk to the caverns will bring you past abandoned pottery, beads, obsidian knives, and human skeletons which have calcified in the limestone. You’ll walk the same path as ancient priests and shamans who used the caverns for ceremonial rituals.
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Rio Frio Cave
Belize’s largest cave, Rio Frio is located in Mountain Pine Ridge. Follow the stepping stones down into a world of multicolor and vast space. The yawning mouth of the cave beckons you to enter and rewards its visitors with flowing streams, cascading water, and enormous stalactites. Bring a flashlight so you can watch your step, but don’t sweat the journey; the cave tour is not strenuous.
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Actun Loch Tunich Cave
Also called “Black Hole Drop,” the only way into this geological wonder is straight down. A 300 foot drop will deliver you to the basin below, which looks black from the top of the entrance. After the first 200 feet of your descent, you will reach the canopy of the rainforest growing out of the sinkhole. Once your feet hit solid ground (which is really there, we promise!), you can explore the secret world only the bravest travelers might reach. Of course, the only way out is up, so be ready for a lot of ladder and rock climbing, as well as hiking.