Imagine being in a country with over 300 documented caves over the past 100 years. That’s what you can experience when you visit Belize. There are 198 registered archaeological sites that were primarily used for ceremonial activity in the Maya culture. A vast assortment of architectural evidence has been found such as: arts, burials, ceremonial dumps, skeletons, and artificial construction to support this.
Caves were thought to be the home of gods and an entrance to a mysterious underworld. Caves were places of both death and creation. Some of these caves can be traced back to 300 A.D. when most of Belize was covered by a tropical sea. Limestone is one of the major rocks deposited in the sea and is formed from calcium carbonate. With storms that would form in the shallow waters, the limestone was formed into a distinctive type of rock called breccia.
After millions of years, these limestone rocks were lifted up into the Maya mountains where water would run off into the Cretaceous limestone. As the rains came down, it caused a reaction with carbon dioxide. The water would absorb additional carbon dioxide from decaying plants. This caused the caves to erode from the rainwater turning into a weak acid reacting with the limestone. The Mayans would make sacrifices to the rain god, Chac, who was believed to bring life giving rains. Most of the sacrifices involved agriculture produce, but the ultimate gift was human lives. Therefore, in some of these caves, you’ll find skeletal remains.
All that is left today is evidence of these ritual ceremonies and what is considered very important archeological data for our discovery into the Mayan culture.
If you want to travel back through time and enter the realm of Xibalba, then you have to explore any (or all) of the below 10 caves to learn about the enigmatic and ancient Maya civilization:
Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave
Located near San Ignacio, this cave is a Maya architectural site with skeletons, stoneware, and ceramics. The most widely known skeleton is that of “The Crystal Maiden”, thought to be of a teenage girl who was used as a sacrifice. Her bones have turned into a sparkling, crystalized appearance that can be grim. The ceramics are marked with “kill holes” which were thought to have been used for ceremonial purposes.
Barton Creek Cave
This river cave is also near San Ignacio and is both a tourist attraction and an archaeological site. It’s best explored via a canoe on an ancient Maya waterway. Meandering through the cave in your canoe is a wowing experience with beautiful waterfalls and magnificent stalactites and stalagmites. You’ll see sites that will remind you of cathedrals and roomy passages, along with skulls and other artifacts.
Rio Frio Cave
The Rio Frio is located in Mountain Pine Ridge and is known for its massive mouth. It’s Belize’s largest cave and is easy to reach with stepping-stones that lead inside the cave. You’ll be easy to see the cave during daylight hours without a flashlight as the openings on each end are very large, but bring one along just in case. Take some time to sit on the beach by one of the pools to relax and enjoy the view.
Che Chem Ha Cave
This cave is near Vaca Falls, not far from San Ignacio and the upper Macal River. It’s about a 45 minute uphill walk to the cave, but it’s worth every step. It’s known mostly as a Mayan burial cave with a spectacular collection of Maya pottery and storage jars. You’ll be able to reach the high chambers from a ladder, but you can only explore this cave with a licensed guide. The cave is carefully monitored to keep tourists from looting.
Located in Western Belize, Caves Branch is part of a cave system that is made up of three caves: Petroglyph, Waterfall and Footprint. These names were given to the caves from the objects you’ll see inside. This cave system was formed by the Caves Branch River and made mostly from limestone. Limestone is made either from biological substances such as mollusks or corals, or can be precipitated directly from seawater and is easily dissolved. It’s a very scenic spot and locals love to visit the caves for bathing.
St. Hermans Cave
This cave is inside the Blue Hole National Park, about 12 miles southeast of Belmopan, Belize’s capital city. You’ll be able to experience the Maya Classic Period with an unbelievable archaeological and cultural importance. It’s a walking tour and one you can take on your own. It’s in the dense tropical forest and the concrete steps can be slippery when wet.
Black Hole Drop
It’s also known as the “Mother of all Caves”, and is for thrill seekers. With a descent of 300 feet deep, this experience takes place with a system of rappelling ropes. The adrenaline rush begins after the first 10 feet with the next 200 feet filled with unforgettable sights and scenery. The last 100 feet will take you through the rainforest canopy. There will be some ladder climbing, hiking, and rock climbing, but you’ll never forget this memorable event.
Hokeb Ha Cave
It’s an archeological dream with all the altars and ceramics inside the cave. Located near the village of Blue Creek, to enter the cave, you’ll go through long vines draped over the entrance. The cave is filled with crystal-clear mineral pools and lagoons with a water temperature near 75 degrees. It’s an excellent cave for swimming.
It’s located near the village of San Miguel and was named for a dog chasing a jaguar cub to the cave’s mouth. It’s a very large cave with large holes in the 500 foot high ceiling. The cave is filled with stalactite dripping chambers and mineral deposits.
To enter the cave, you’ll have to climb a ladder about 4m long. Then you’ll actually go through two entrances into a lower chamber with an illuminating skylight. You’ll most likely encounter some bats and speleothems, so beware.