Gliss led us up a narrow channel that wound past large fallen boulders and some razor sharp edges. The inside air temperature tends to stay at about 15 C and the water temperature was not bad either. As we went deeper, we were up to our waists or even our necks in water a few times as we snaked through narrow passages and held on to avoid slipping into deeper water. We passed through several large chambers (2nd photo) where there were amazing mineral displays formed by the constant dripping.
We first came upon broken ceramic jars (main photo) that were used to hold water. Throughout the cave, we came across hundreds of these artifacts, offered as sacrifices to the Mayan rain god 'Chac'. The Mayans believed that even inanimate objects had a spirit, so they purposely broke the jars to allow the sacrificial release of this spirit. These relics closer to the mouth of the cave date from the period of around 250 AD, with the more recent relics found deeper in the cave, as the Mayans tried to get 'closer' to Chac so the sacrifices would have more impact.
Finally, we came to an area that had a large natural platform high above the stream. Using the protruding rock formations, we followed Gliss as he climbed out of the stream onto this portion of the cave. In this sacred area of human remains, we had to take our sneakers off and carefully walk in our sock feet among the many artifacts of pottery and human bones.
The first human skull (3rd photo) was that of a 35-year old male and a short distance onward we came to a jumble of sacrificial remnants that had been washed loose, ending up as a pile of broken pottery, two human skulls and a leg bone.
A ladder to an even higher small ledge brought us to the remains of the victim for which the cave is named. This lady is believed to have been about 20 years old when she was sacrificed, leaving her spread-eagled on the ground just the way she fell, in about the year 900 AD.
Our return trip to the mouth of the cave did not seem to take long and we were 'home' by 5 PM.
One of our two prime objectives of staying in the San Ignacio area was to explore a Mayan cave. The particular one that we wanted to see was Actun Tunichil Muknal (known as ATM or 'Cave of the Crystal Maiden') and theTrek Stop owner was able to arrange this for US$60 each, set for the morning after our river tubing .
Our Mayan guides, Eduard and Gliss turned up in their van and away we went at about 8:30 AM. A few miles short of the Hummingbird Highway near Belmopan, we turned right onto a dirt road and headed south toward the Maya Mountains. We were soon driving through vast fields of vegetables that had been carved out of the jungle along Roaring Creek. It took us about 45 minutes to make the drive to the end of the road (2nd photo), where Sue and I left our set of dry clothes in the van and then set out on foot with Gliss. Because this 40-minute walk involved three fords of Raging Creek, Gliss put our cameras in his waterproof backpack. The first ford was up to our thighs and you had to be careful about your footing on the smooth boulders littering the bottom. It was a pleasant walk through the jungle with Gliss pointing out various things as we zig-zagged twice more across the Creek before reaching the Base camp used by all tour groups (3rd photo). We had a short rest there for a snack from the lunch provided as part of the tour, as well as a toilet stop.
Once Gliss showed us how to adjust our miner's helmet headlamps, I wandered the short distance over to the mouth of the cave itself. It is shaped like an hour glass, and there was not a large amount of water coming out from the underground stream. However, once standing on the bottom lip at the cave mouth, you have to plunge into a 16 ft (5 m) deep pool and swim for about 35 ft (10 m) in your clothes and sneakers before reaching solid ground that you can climb onto inside the cave. Because of the climbing required on the 600-m trip into the depths of the cave, sometimes over rough rock surfaces, it is recommended to wear sneakers and long trousers.
Cave tubing is a ton of fun, but I would avoid going on "cruise ship day" (the caves get quite crowded). During the dry season the water levels are lower in the caves, and many times we had to pick up out tubes and walk through the caves. Nevertheless, it was very interesting to see all the crystal formations throughout the caves!
This is a privately-owned cave, so I'm not sure how accessable it is to the general public (we went with a group from our resort). It is a cave filled with untouched Mayan pottery, some of which dates to over 2000 years ago! We were guided by the person who discovered the cave, William. He led us through many different rooms, each containing wonderful Mayan artifacts.
Eventually we came to the sacrifical room -- where a Mayan stone circle was still entact and had been left undisturbed for thousands of years. There was a TINY hole -- where you could sqeeze through on your belly, climb up the inside wall, and come out through a higher hole in the wall. That was my favorite part of the cave -- although it left me quite dirty, it was a lot of fun!
I hate, HATE, spiders. As we were led through the cave by William, he stopped to show us an enormous spider. Needless to say, after that every time I had to use a handhold I was terrified that a spider would crawl on me..
However, nothing of the sort happened. I came out of the cave in one piece!
This was the final room we entered in the Chechem Hah cave. This stone circle has been untouched for thousands of years - and was used by the Mayans for religious and sacrifical ceremonies.At one point, our guide had us turn off our flashlights to experience the darkness of the cave...very eerie.
As mentioned in the Accomodations and Off the Beaten Path tips, David from David's Adventure Tours is the best guide for this cave trip. It takes about 4 hours to go through the cave (although you can only go so far in the canoe because it becomes too narrow at one point) -- As stated in the Rough Guide: "He'll carefully and responsibly show you the astonishing Maya artefacts in the cave." You will leave San Ignacio and head towards the jungle -- a short walk through the jungle to board your canoe. You must have a guide or join a tour to do this trip. Make sure your guide has appropriate equipment -- lights are essential! Have fun!
Finally we arrived at the start point for cave tubing in the Blue Hole National Park. We quickly got ready by ensuring we didn't have any valuables on our person, nor anything we didn't want to get soaked. Our group of 11 grabbed inner tubes and headlamps and began the 30 minute walk through the jungle to the start point of the river portion.
Along the way we went through a cave housing hundreds of bats who were taking their midday nap. The only thing to fear there is getting some guano dropped on you. Rudy explained that Doritos chips include guano as an ingredient, YUCK!
Later we encountered a large termite nest. Rudy scraped a piece away reveiling hundreds of termites. He invited us to try them, and I've got to tell you they aren't bad. They actually taste minty, and include quite a bit of protein. Perhaps I'm a fear factor candidate afterall.
The river was the perfect depth according to Rudy, so we jumped in at the start point, beating the group of about 75 who booked on the ship. It was great having a small group. While floating down the river you immediately come to the large cave. The ride through the cave takes about 20 minutes as you gently float through. I wish I'd had more than my water camera because the pictures would have been outstanding with a flash and slow exposure setting.
Make sure you keep your feet forward on the small rapids do you can push away from any rocks. I'd also recommend water shoes or Teva type sandals.
Overall this was a fantastic experience I'll never forget.
We decided to go cave tubing after reading a lot of reviews on Cruise Critic, we hadn't done it on our 1st trip and it seemed like it was the most popular cruise excursion. There are a number of independent operators that run this trip for cruise passengers, I narrowed it down to two and finally decided on the most popular, Cavetubing.bz. The other one I was considering was VIV, a newer company that seemed to have better inner tubes with headrests but I ultimately decided on Cavetubing.bz because of all the positive feedback on Trip Advisor.
All of the trips appear to go to the same spot, Nohoch Che'en Caves Branch Archaeological Reserve, based on the crowds coming and going, our guide estimated that on a busy cruise day that around 3,000 people do the cave tubing! But some of the trips do less of the river than the others, specifically the ones booked as shore excursions from the cruise lines.
From the port, it takes about an hour to drive to the cave sight, they outfit you with an inner tube, lifevest and helmet and then you set off for a 30-40 minute walk through the jungle to get to the caves.
You have to be fit enough to carry your own inner tube, but the walk wasn't strenuous and the cave tubing itself is like a lazy river. It wouldn't have been my 1st choice of an excursion had I not been to Belize before but we had already snorkeled at Shark Ray Alley and had already seen the Mayan ruins at Lamanai so we decided to do something different. You can combine cave tubing with ziplining, a stop at the Belize Zoo or some of the tours also included a stop at Altun Ha, another Mayan ruin.
For my review of cavetubing.bz, see the next tip.
We used cavetubing.BZ for cave tubing from our cruise ship. We got the 1st tender off the ship as instructed and followed their instructions to find the guide. The owner's son, Vitalino Jr., was our driver, he gave us a lot of information on Belize on the hour drive to the caves. Our group was 12 in total, 8 that did just the tubing, 4 that did the zipline and tubing. We only saw the ziplining group before and after the cave tubing so we didn't have to wait for them to zipline. The walk through the jungle (do not ignore the note about bug spray if you are a mosquito magnet like my husband!) was not strenuous but you must be able to carry an inner tube and walk for 30-45 minutes. The guide stopped at various points along the way and showed us glue trees, had us taste termites, showed us poisonous trees and then the remedy tree that was next to it. Groups were racing past us so I'm guessing that their guides weren't showing them much of anything.
We passed by a point where he said that the cruise ship tours started so their tour was shorter as everyone gets back out at the same place. Once we got to the launching spot, we were eased into our tubes (no jumping or falling back into them) and hooked together in two lines of four. My husband's feet were under my armpits and I held onto the tube handle of the woman next to me. The current of the river this time of year when it's drier is very gentle and slow, this is not white water rafting, at least not in this season, it's a leisurely float down the river through some caves. The guide was with us the whole time guiding the rafts and we didn't break apart until the very end. The caves themselves are interesting to see and at one point everyone turned out their headlamps and we were in complete darkness.
After we finished up we changed clothes and then went for lunch prepared by Vitalino's family using his grandmother's recipes at Vitalino's Patio. They served us chicken, beans and rice, cole slaw and some fabulous rum punch, all very yummy. And then we headed back to port with plenty of time before the last ship tender.
If you are going cave tubing, I would highly recommend these folks, it's clear that it's a family run business, that they care about their customers safety and that they are enjoying the tour and Belize.
My only complaint was that the tubes used were a little hard on my neck, it might have been the position I was sitting in but if you have neck issues, you might check out VIV which has the tubes with the head rests.
The cost including lunch was $45 per person, they did not require a deposit and you paid in cash after the excursion.
Che Chem Hah cave is a must see. It is a little climb up but not hard,just take your time.
The story of how this cave was discovered is interesting. The cave is full of intact Mayan pottery, the pieces have been left untouched the way they were discovered in 1989. You walk along the path in the cave with pieces of broken pottery at your feet. And like Tikal look for wildlife inside and outside of cave. You must have a guide to tour the cave. See my travelog pics
Cave tubing-sit in a tube and float-my kind of exercise. A full day trip! You start by getting outfitted with tube and minors lamp. Then an easy to moderate hike to the first above water caves. You have a guide who points out local fauna and will show you a termite colony and offer to eat one for you. Apparently a good source of protien so I tried one as well, it had a little crunch and tasted of spearmint.
Caves Branch River Cave Tubing
$10.00 (BZ) for all day pass
if going with Tanisha tours it is included along with lunch
This was one of the most memorable things we did on our cruise. We intentionally didn't book the excursion on the Carnival ship, as they double the prices on everything. Immediately after we reached the pier by tender locals approached us about cave tubing. I had read many great reviews of this prior to the cruise, so knew it was something we wanted to do. They even gave us an extra $10 discount, making it $55 a person for the four hour trip.
You start out by taking a small bus ride from Belize City about 35 miles inland. Our guide, Rudy, was fantastic and explained more than you'd ever imagine about Belize.
Anyway, during the trip on one of the two major highways in the country we passed several villages, including Hattieville, which was built after Hurricane Hattie wiped out much of Belize City. We also passed the Belize Zoo, which houses hundreds of animals in a natural environment (meaning no cages).
After pulling off the paved road we continued about 5 miles on the most bumpy road I've ever been on. Rudy stopped along the way to pick a Cashew Apple, which I got to try. It tasted like nothing else I've ever tried, and Rudy explained the hard thing on the top was actually a cashew. He said you have to roast it for quite a while to get the nut out, and it's a very tedious process. No wonder cashews are so expensive.
Went to Ian Anderson's Caves Branch Lodge near Belmopan. There were a pile of different activities to choose from there and they will plan excursions to anywhere in the country. We opted for the Mayan Ceremonial Cave Tour. This combined cave tubing with some archeological hiking. Very cool geologic formations and even more interesting mayan artifacts. You go deep into a cave and actually up into different chambers by foot, then tube all the way back out.
The very cool Blue Hole is across the highway from the lodge as well. Not the Blue Hole of SCUBA diving fame off the coast of Belize, but a cenote (collapsed cave) in the jungle. I had the misfortune of cutting my toe pretty badly there (my clumsy fault) but the folks at the Lodge took great care of me and even did a very minor surgery. The medicinal pain killer (shot of tequila) was the best!
More than one tour outfit takes you to do such an activity. It may be a bit expensive but it is worth every penny. It was so much fun. I was a little depressed and this is what liften my spirits. Basically in the cave they take you to the water in certain spots is so deep that you have to float. The cave walls are too low for a boat to go thru so you will have to sit on a tire and float through.