Four Sacred Caves in Belize you can’t miss
Belize is teeming with mysterious attractions that lure in thousands of travelers every year. From gaping sinkholes in the sea to ancient Maya ruins across the country, each site has a story behind it that travelers can’t wait to uncover. Some of the more sacred spots include the vast cave systems peppered throughout our small Caribbean country. (Some of which have been listed in renowned publications around the world!) Despite their obscure nature, mystifying contents, and unusual expeditions, exploring these caves can be easily arranged when in Belize. In fact, four of the most popular caves are available as day trips from our very own ecoresort Hidden Valley Inn.
Rio Frio Cave.
Located in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, Rio Frio Cave is a great starter cave for those not experienced with spelunking (a fancy word for caving.) When thinking of caves, your mind may conjure up images of dark, damp tight crevices that perhaps are not too friendly to claustrophobes. However, Rio Frio is an open-air cave with vast ceilings allowing plenty of natural light to filter through. A mere half a mile long, Rio Frio’s dome shape makes it easily accessible to all types of adventurers. Did we mention it’s also open on both ends? We recommend leaving the lodge bright and early so you can capture some amazing shots of the morning light illuminating the vast and sandy-floored cave. Tip: When staying at Hidden Valley, combine this experience with a trip to Caracol for a full day of thrilling adventure!
Where Rio Frio does not discriminate on experience levels, the Crystal Cave does require the more seasoned spelunker. The cave is found a little over an hour away from the jungle resort and sits just inside the Blue Hole National Park off the Hummingbird Highway. Not for the faint of heart, the Crystal Cave requires an arduous hike through Broadleaf forest before arriving at the entrance. There, you’ll need the assistance of ropes to descend 15 feet into the “underworld” or what the Mayas called Xibalba. Breathtaking crystalline formations centuries in the making will greet you as you explore. Caverns littered with artifacts, ancient pottery, and even human skeletal remains will be the highlight of your journey. It is said the cave was once used by the Ancient Maya for ritualistic purposes thousands of years ago.
The Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave, more popularly known as the ATM Cave, is one of the most sought-after caves in Belize. It was even listed as one of the most sacred caves in the world by National Geographic in 2019! What makes ATM so special is the journey it takes to arrive at the center of the cave. Involving hiking, swimming, and squeezing into tight spaces, the expedition is one that only the privileged get to experience. The site is so revered only certain tour guides are able to conduct tours at the location. An hour away from Hidden Valley Inn, the tour begins with a 45-minute hike through Belize’s jungles. Armed with a headlamp and sheer will, visitors must first enter via a short swim across an indigo-hued pool. Thrill-seekers will be happy to encounter narrow passageways, tricky maneuvering, and the ominous ambiance shrouding the cavern.
One of the most spectacular features of the cave – apart from pottery and artifacts – is the crystallized skeletal form of a maiden. Said to be the victim of a sacrificial ritual, archaeologists believe it to belong to a young Maya woman.
Barton Creek Cave.
What makes Barton Creek Cave so different is the mode in which travelers get to experience it. It’s perhaps the only cave in Belize that needs to be accessed via canoe. Tucked right in our backyard, the cave is located less than an hour away from the Inn. When paddling gently inside the narrow entrance, you’ll notice looming cathedral ceilings and formations of stalagmites and stalactites. Like many other caves in Belize, Barton Creek was also once used for ceremonial purposes (no surprise there,) but the beauty lying within cannot be missed. Traveling through the mile-long meandering river not only provides access to the history surrounding you but is also oddly relaxing. Once you’ve had your fill of spelunking, take a dip in the nearby refreshing pools for a much-deserved break.