Actun Tunichil Muknal (Cave of the Stone Sepulchre)
Visiting this cave is an absolute highlight of any trip to Belize. It is believed that the Ancient Maya saw caves as entrances to the underworld which they called Xibalba, and caves such as the ATM cave were used for religious ceremonies that included offering sacrifices to the gods of the underworld particularly in times of drought.
Entrance to the cave is a hike through pristine jungle and then a quick swim to the hourglass entrance of the cave. Only a few guides are licensed to tour the cave, so armed with a helmet and headlamp you set off after your guide and make your way deep into the cave before climbing into a huge spectacular cavern with amazing stalactites and stalagmites.
There you tread carefully among ceramic pots, remains of pots believed to be broken by the Mayas in ceremony, and tools used for bloodletting rituals. Finally you climb further to reach sacrificial Mayan remains including the tomb of a young girl for whom the cave is named.
Barton Creek Cave
This cave is also in the Cayo and is a more leisurely experience. You enter the cave by canoe and continue about a mile along an underground river. There are also many pots and pottery shards left in this cave undisturbed along with Mayan sacrificial skeletons. Visits are guided and are more suitable for families with younger children.
Che Chem Ha
Further west in the Cayo, nearer the town of San Ignacio is the Che Chem Ha Cave. A 30 minute hike through the jungle reaches this cave which was used by the Maya for food storage and rituals.
More about Belize Caves
Millions of years ago Belize was beneath warm shallow waters, the effect on the underlying limestone was to create a network of underground cave systems. There are caves all over Belize but the Cayo has the most and the largest hidden away in the depths of the rainforest. Some caves can only be explored by swimming to the entrance, kayaking or floating through on a inner tube adding to the sense of adventure.
But the unique experience that sets Belize caves apart is that the Mayan remains and artefacts found in the caves when discovered have been left undisturbed instead of being shipped off to museums. Thus allowing visitors to get an immediate sense of the Mayan spiritual world and ceremonial culture.