Nohoch Che’en Cave Tubing Adventure Photos of Belize

Getting our tubes ready for the cave

Cave tubing is a very popular day trip for Belize cruise ship passengers. For guests of Lower Dover Belize Jungle Lodge wanting to go cave tubing, the trip is best if you miss this midday gringo herd. Early morning or late afternoon trips are best. Don’t worry about getting a guide at the highway, ask for Deion at the park entrance 7 miles in. He will give you a great tour for $35 USD each. It’s not possible to do this trip by bus so guests must have a taxi lined up or provide their own transportation. We recommend guests of Lower Dover to stop at the Belize Zoo or Cave Tubing on the way to our jungle lodge form the airport if they are being picked up by taxi.

Caves Branch River Cave Tubing Cruise Ship "cattle pen"

It is a 30 minute scenic jungle hike to the cave entrance, requiring walking up steps and carrying your tube. Guests with physical limitations should be cautioned. Although this is a much easier trip physically than ATM Cave, it’s still fun, especially for a family with kids. However, there are better adventures in Belize for thrill seekers, so plan accordingly based on budget, time, and desire. Also, zip line tours are optional here, but it is not worth it. We have better options locally at Calico Jack’s if you are interested.

Nohoch Che'en NICH Belize Reserve Entrance Sign

Even after agreeing with a guide for $35 USD, a $5 USD park entrance fee is still necessary.

One of the limestone outcroppings along the walk to the cave

The river you cross on the jungle hike is also the one cave tubed.

The river you cross on the jungle hike is also the one cave tubed.

It's about a 30 minute, slightly difficult, jungle hike to reach the cave.

Along the way you will see some dry caves

Another dry cave on the cave tubing hike, headlamps provided.

River entrance to cave tubing adventure in Belize

Cave entrance - cave tubing day tour in Belize

Looking back at the last bit of natural light when entering the cave adventure

Dad's tube sizes available. (Dad - Fat abbreviation)

The lights provided are not great, but they still give off enough light to avoid crashing into walls

There is an awesome cave waterfall that provides a nice photo opportunity

Cave waterfall at alternative cave exploring entrance - Belize day tours

People ask, won't your camera get wet?? Well not with Deion safely guiding our cave tubing trip!

Leaving the waterfall while cave tubing in Belize

Only about 30 minutes total in the cave until you exit! It goes by quick!

If you are not on a cruise ship there is time to relax as you continue floating down the river.

Leaving the cave while tubing in Belize

A rough 7 mile trip to the western highway awaits your trip back to Lower Dover Belize Jungle Lodge


ATM Cave Adventure in Belize

ATM Cave Entrance in Western Belize

One of the greatest known ceremonial caves in the entire world, ATM Cave (Actun Tunichil Muknal), is unquestionably the hottest spot for Western Belize tourism today. In fact, National Geographic Magazine recently dubbed ATM Cave the #1 sacred cave to visit in the world!

Mayan Skull in ATM Cave - Cayo, District - Belize

ATM Cave is also known as Cave of the Stone Sepulcher (burial vault) because of the 14 known partial skeletal remains found inside. Nearly 1-km beyond the entrance of the cave sits the main attraction, a fully intact skeleton of a teenage girl, with fully calcified bones that sparkle from the light of your headlamp.

The Crystal Maiden - ATM Cave Day Tour from Lower Dover Jungle Lodge

Dubbed “The Crystal Maiden”, the bones have preserved for 1,400 years due to the the same processes (water dripping through the limestone) that forms the many beautiful stalactites and stalagmites to be seen and photographed inside ATM cave on the tour.

Limestone Cave Column with PACZ Tours guide Francisco

Amazing cave formations

ATM Cave Adventure in Belize

Dad trying to look like a stalagmite. Notice the full column on the left and stalactites above.

Archaeologists believe this Maya cave was likely used in spiritual practices by shamans and royalty because of the human remains found, but also because of pottery with “kill holes”. These perfectly made ceramic pots were broken in order to release the spirit Mayans believed lived within as part of a ritual sacrifice to the Gods.

Broken Maya Ceramic found in ATM Cave

Mayan Pottery Offerings to the Water God Chac

Archaeologists hypothesize that many of the pots found inside ATM Cave near water sources were broken to appease the Mayan Water God Chac. There are literally hundreds of ceramic bowls, pots, and shards that can be easily photographed from up close. The most unique example shows a monkey glyph easily photographed near the rim. Found, only in one other known location, this Mayan glyph will surely lead to further investigations when archaeologists continue their excavations at ATM Cave in the future.

Maya monkey glyph on ceramic pottery found in ATM Cave

Further into the cave, it is believed the Mayans modified cave formations to worship the Maya Goddess of birth and medicine Ixchel. The lights from your headlamp show the silhouette of her face perfectly against the cave backdrop.

Ixchel Mayan Goddess at ATM Cave in Belize

The one thing the guide from PACZ tours tried to get across was the Maya connection between caves and the underworld. To the Mayans, caves were the passageway to Xibalba, or roughly “place of fear”. The Earth was only the middle plane holding together the heavens and hell. To the Maya, sacred caves like ATM were the origin of the sacred Cieba Tree’s root system (really stalactites). Meanwhile, the Ceiba Tree symbolically connected the people to their God’s above and below.

Large Ceiba Tree at Lower Dover Jungle Lodge Belize

Due to the fragile nature of the artifacts and skeletal remains within the cave, it is
required that tourists take off their shoes during the last leg of the trip. This is to ensure no contaminants are brought into the delicate area surrounding the Mayan remains. This adds to the adventure, and also requires a bit of balance not to step on the pots and skulls inches from your feet!

Only socks and so close to everything!

It is important to understand the high level of difficulty that ATM cave presents Belize travelers. This is a serious adventure, and not for the weak, or unsure. From the van drop-off, there is a brisk 35 minute hike through the jungle to reach the cave entrance. Near the entrance is a rest area with an outhouse, where overnight ATM Cave tours camp, and daytime tours eat lunch provided in the cost of the tour.

Jungle Hiking to ATM Cave

You must cross the stream twice in preperation for a hardcore adventure

To enter the cave, you must first cross the stream that is running out of the cave entrance to reach a dry, narrow, passage. This is the point where it hits you that the ATM Cave tour is no walk in the park. Every step presents a different hazard, and requires constant awareness, as to not disturb cave formations, preserve the skin on your legs, and not crack your head or unprotected back on the ceiling.

One of the few dry passages at ATM Cave is the side entrance

The first 3/4s of the cave trip is though the same running stream you cross when hiking in. At no point is it really required to swim, however, being up to your neck in running water is a definite possibility. Because of the tight squeezes, and the rushing water, ATM Cave closes when water levels are high, but this occurs only a couple of times per year. Tell your guide before you leave if you are not a comfortable swimmer and he/she will equip you with a floating vest to wear. They will also be close at your side for any difficulties you might have when in the water.

Walking in Chest Deep Water - ATM Cave Belize

The tour requires moderate upper body strength to lift yourself over rock ledges. More so it requires agility, balance, and flexibility, similar to rock climbing. The largest challenge is searching for footholds and safe places to hold your weight while climbing on slippery rock surfaces. It is probably worse to be scared of heights than swimming, because there is a point that requires tourists to push themselves over a ledge without a safety harness. However, the same people afraid of heights would find Tikal’s staircases worse than the ATM Cave experience.

Stairs at Tikal National Park

The last leg of the trip is a great finish to an exhilarating day. Over the last 200 yards of the cave, the group is instructed to turn their headlights off and travel hand in hand to the light of the exit. It is a totally blind experience, and a true team building activity. Once you see the light at the end of the tunnel, comfort sets in, as you reflect on one of the coolest things you will ever do or see in your life. The finishing touch is a deserved cannon ball into the blue waters of the stream as you swim back out into nature.

Swimming near ATM Cave Entrance

Special note, request your guide to show you the stone altar, which not all guides will do unless asked. It is one of the largest carved stone pieces ever found in the Maya world, and worth the extra effort to see. Unfortunately, our camera was packed away in the waterproof bag our guide was carrying. Otherwise, we would have been able to get a great photograph.

ATM Cave Photo Taken by Bill Holmes - R.I.P.

From Lower Dover Jungle Lodge it is only 30 mintues to ATM Cave. That means an extra hour or more of sleep compared to visiting ATM Cave from most Belize jungle lodges near San Ignacio. This also means being the first to be dropped off on the way back! More time to check out the large un-excavated Mayan site named Lower Dover in the afternoon.

Belize National Park: Blue Hole and St. Herman’s Cave

St. Herman's Blue Hole National Park.

Blue Hole National Park Map.

One of the easiest and most affordable tours in Western Belize is the Blue Hole National Park and the adjacent St. Herman’s Cave. Both can be accessed by bus between the major cities of Belmopan and Dangriga. It is only $8BZE to enter the parks, and make sure you keep your receipt so you can enter both.

Inside St. Herman's Cave looking up the entrance.

We suggest going to St. Herman’s Cave first. Headlights are a must have while traveling in Belize, especially when caving. It’s easily the most recommended thing to bring for travelers as well as the most forgotten. It’s a short 30 minute walk on the low-ground trail to the cave entrance from the ranger station. If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, a slightly more challenging 30 minute hike up the ridge overlooking the valley is also possible.

Heading into St. Herman's Cave

Once inside, it is possible to go about 200 yards along a well identified path along the edge of the cave. All self guided tours are instructed to stop at the well marked sign. At the sign, you can enter the creek that runs through the cave to wash your hands or splash a friend. While there, be sure to have everyone turn off their headlights to really experience the darkness of the cave.

Caves are dark! Looking into the creek at St. Herman's Cave.

Heading back to the entrance of St. Herman's Cave.

If traveling by bus, it might be better to just hike the short 3/4 of mile nature trail to the Blue Hole. The park is managed by the Belize Audubon Society, and which claims to have identified 200 bird species within park boundaries. If you’re into birding, don’t forget your binoculars. If you don’t feel like trekking the jungle trail, you can walk along the highway or try and hail a bus, although it’s only 1 mile to the Blue Hole from St. Herman’s Cave.

The Blue Hole at Blue Hole National Park

The inland Blue Hole is a sinkhole created by the collapsed remains of the St. Herman’s cave system. The water flows from the 30 foot deep pool for 50 yards before it enters St. Herman’s Cave. It is possible to have a picnic and swim here, but it always seems like the mosquitos are biting, so be sure to bring your repellant. Also, be warned that if it has been raining hard, the Blue Hole can actually be a “brown hole” so plan your trip accordingly.

Blue Hole in Belize.

Belize Day Tours: Tikal National Park

One of the main Maya temples at Tikal.

The ancient Maya city of Tikal is one of the great attractions on the Maya Trail. The Mayan Trail stretches from the Yucatan in Mexico, into Guatemala, and all throughout Belize.  It is a common stop for backpackers looking to see the best of the Mayan heartland. If you can only see one Maya site, Tikal National Park is our top pick for Maya travel destination in 2012.

Mayan Temple at Tikal National Park.

Tikal National Park in Guatemala.

Map of Tikal National Park

Located within the Peten Maya Biosphere Reserve, which covers a huge portion of Northern Guatemala, Tikal is one of many archaeology sites in the area. It was once a great capital city during Classic Maya times. It remained extremely important until neighboring capital Caracol conquered the city in 556 AD. A 130 year hiatus of building ensued. Only after Tikal conquered Caracol’s closest ally, Calakmul, in 695 AD did Tikal regain it’s significance in the Maya world. It was after this time that the 5 largest Maya temples were built. Great Mayan monuments continued to be built until 869 AD, the last recorded date on Stela 24 at Tikal.

Tikal Stele.

Tikal Stelae in Guatemala.

Tikal Stelae

Amazingly, it is possible to climb to the top of these Mayan temples, though it requires using narrow ladders built along the side of the structures. It’s much easier up than down!

Another Mayan temple at Tikal National Park.

Stairs at Tikal National Park

The stairs at Tikal National Park

Watch your step! The long walk down at Tikal.

The temples stretch above the jungle canopy making for breathtaking views. In fact, the view was so perfect that George Lucas used it in the making of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. The shot where a Rebel oversees the Millennium Falcon landing on Yavin was taken on top of a building known as Temple IV looking east where Temple I, II and III can be seen on film.

The view at Tikal as seen in Star Wars IV: A New Hope.

Another amazing view at Tikal.

Tikal sits within a vast nature reserve, and wildlife sightings are very common. Expect to have photo opportunities of Howler Monkeys, Spider Monkeys, Quash, and many different birds. Make sure you don’t hit any driving in!

Snake at Tikal National Park.

Quash aka Coatimundi at Tikal National Park

Tikal is a common travel destination for people vacationing in Belize. It’s close proximity ( about 2 hours) from San Ignacio in Western Belize, makes it a great day trip while in Belize. Tomorrow we will do a story on getting to Tikal from Lower Dover Jungle Lodge in Western Belize by organized tour, public transit, or rented vehicle.

Maya Temple at Tikal National Park.

Tikal National Park Guatemala.

Belize Day Tours: Caracol Maya Archaeological Site

Mountain Pine Ridge Map

The Mountain Pine Ridge is one of the top attractions in the Cayo District of Belize. While it is not difficult to reach, the roads have degraded significantly do to lack of maintenance. As a result, we only suggest the trip to tourists renting 4 wheel drive vehicles, or preferred, going on trips with guides that are familiar driving the roads.

Guests of Lower Dover Field Station and Jungle Lodge can see everything that the Mt. Pine Ridge has to offer on a whole day tour, including the magnificent Maya site of Caracol. It is really a whole day trip, and a grueling one at that. This is not a ride for people who suffer from car sickness, or anyone nursing a hangover, for it will test your endurance even in a Land Rover.

For tourists short on time in Western Belize and looking for a sample of the Mayan experience in 2012, we suggest visiting the highly accessible Maya archaeological sites of Xunantunich or Cahal Pech first. Both of these Maya ceremonial centers have been well excavated and can even be reached by public transportation.

Caracol's Main Temple Caana

If guests have planned on making the trek to Guatemala to see Tikal, then we suggest skipping Caracol, because the Tikal tour is a much smoother ride. The Tikal ruins have undergone many more years of excavation to yield multiple temples that reach far about the jungle canopy. In our opinion, Caracol is only for the hardcore Maya enthusiast. Unless tourists are really into it, the third or fourth Maya settlement visit can be overkill on a short vacation.

Caracol Maya Ruins, Main Temple: Caana

That being said, Caracol was the Maya site that supposedly conquered Tikal during the Classic Maya period. It is one of the few Maya sites where the Mayan name is actually known.  Oxwitza or “three hill water” is the name the Maya used, Caracol is actually Spanish for snail, due to large amounts of snail shells found there during initial excavations in the 1930’s.

Caracol Conquered Tikal During Classic Maya Time Period

Caracol in Western Belize

The main draws to Caracol are the site’s well preserved stela depicting the history of the great rulers here, and the massive temple, Caana (“sky place”) Caana is a massive Maya temple, 43 meters tall, which almost unbelievably, is still the largest man-made structure in Belize. In the last 1200 years no government, hotel, or private building has surpassed Caana’s scale, and the Maya built without the wheel!

Caracol Maya Ruins in Western Belize

Due to the remoteness of Caracol, in a region neighboring Guatemala known to harbor illegal loggers and Mayan looters, the Belize Defense Force has a healthy presence. In fact, all tours going to Caracol need to check in at the ranger station, and drivers will have the option of an army escort for the final leg of the trip to Caracol. We say accept, it’s not often you have the opportunity to pick up a guy with a machine gun that’s on your side! The security will hang out at the park until the tour is done and head back with the crowd.

Caracol Maya Ruin in Western Belize.

Caracol Maya Ruin Site in Western Belize

Caracol Mayan Ruins in Western Belize

For more on the other tourist spots in the Mountain Pine Ridge, including 1000 foot falls, Rio Frio Cave, and the Rio On Pools, check in tomorrow for part 2.