Wednesday, May 28, 2014

San Ignacio, Belize {Part 1}

After our 4 days in Ambergris Caye, we took another quick hopper plane (30 min) to San Ignacio on the western border of Belize. Yup, Belize is tiny!! This town was to be our jumping off point for many day trips. We stayed at Ka Ana Belize and it was amazing. Seriously, I'm so glad we splurged a little to stay here. More on the hotel in a later post.

Our first adventure was to the Actun Tunichil Muknal Caves (or ATM Caves). Caves are known in Mayan folklore for being the entryway into the underworld. We arrived at the park entrance early, grabbed our gear, and made the 30 minute hike to the cave. After crossing through three rivers, (this tour is not for those who don't want to get wet!), we got to the cave entrance.

A tourist dropped his camera on a human skull that was over 1,000 years old, so no cameras are allowed on this tour any more. The pictures below are from Google to give you an idea just how cool this experience was!

 After we swam through the river (above), we had to wade through knee, waist, who-knows-how-deep water inside the cave and our guide pointed out different cave features along the way.  After about an hour, we reached the upper dry chamber and entered into a room that is called 'The Cathedral'. This room was so immense - it's easy to see why the Mayans thought this place was sacred. We had to change from our wet shoes into socks in order to preserve this holy place. From this point on, we were basically rock-climbing in order to climb between rooms.

I do have to mention that we paid for a private tour. This was definitely worth it as we were the first people in the cave in the morning and had the upper chamber to ourselves. Our guide turned off our headlights and basically creeped us out with talk of human sacrifice. It was pitch black at this point in the cave - you couldn't see your hand in front of your face! Imagine what you would have done if you were a Mayan and your torch went out?!

Our guide told us that sacrifice was an honor and guaranteed souls entrance into the afterlife. Once he turned the lights on, we were standing right in front of multiple skeletons and blood-letting pots that hadn't been moved from their spots in thousands of years. 

Since we were ahead of everyone else, we got to see a few additional chambers. We went into a room called the 'Angel's Cave' that had a body of a little baby in it. We saw many skeletons on our walk (there are 14 in all), but none as epic as the last. We made the final climb into the last dry chamber. It's up here that we saw the iconic 'crystal maiden' of the caves; a perfectly intact full skeleton encrusted into the rock.  

ATM Caves in Belize

ATM caves in Belize

On the way out, Jason jokingly asked to slide down a mini waterfall. Since it was just us, the guide obliged! We shot through this tiny hole and came out in a tunnel that was barely wide enough for us to fit through. Since we couldn't touch the bottom or swim (it was too narrow to kick our legs), we had to shimmy along the walls. It was SO cool. We were obviously completely soaked at the end, but it was absolutely worth it.

Since the government has left ancient bones, pots, and other artifacts in place, instead of hauling them off to labs and museums, it made this trip unique. This was honestly the most authentic tour I've ever had and I would encourage everyone to make it down here quick - before they stop allowing tours! I honestly think this tour is one more "accident" away from closing. I definitely get why they want to protect as much as they can, but I am so grateful we were able to have the experience!

This ended up being the unanimous winner for coolest thing we did on our entire trip - it was so surreal! We both rank it up there right after Ha Long Bay as one of our best life experiences to date.

Next up: Our Day Trip to Tikal, Guatemala!

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