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The Mayan Underworld

If you've done any research on Belize you know that part of the appeal is the Mayan ruins tucked deep in the jungles throughout the country. You've probably stumbled across pictures of Tikal (across the border in Guatemala) and Xunantunich, maybe even Lamanai and Cahal Pech. What you might not have seen are pictures depicting the Mayan Underworld, the caves and rivers known to house Mayan rituals hundreds of years ago and now preserve pieces of that history in the form of artifacts and skeletons. The most alluring in the part of this underworld is the ATM Cave.

After a slight mishap many years ago - where a traveler caved in a skeleton skull - cameras have been outlawed in the ATM Cave. The only way to know about it now is by word of mouth and let me tell you, it is NOT overhyped. The ATM Cave is hands down one of the coolest thing I've ever done and even my slightly claustrophobic Boyfriend couldn't agree more.

I was thrilled to hear that we would be able to make it into the cave on our last day in the jungle. After several days of heavy rain the cave had been closed off and one the week leading up to our arrival. If the water levels are too high the cave isn't navigable. Luckily the water levels had reduced and we were allowed to head off.

Armed with only a head lamp and a life jacket Tim and I were ready for a one of a kind adventure. Our guide led us on a short hike which included 3 river crossings along the way - be prepared to stay wet! Once you arrive to the mouth of the cave it is time to swim/climb your way through the utter darkness. Our guide took great time and care telling us exactly what to hold on to and where to step. The water varied from 2-10 feet deep and all along the way we continue to wonder how the Mayan people made it through with torches and the artifacts they brought along with them.

In the dry chamber we took off our shoes (don't for socks!) and began to explore the artifacts and skeletons. The cave has been excavated so that every artifact remains in the exact position it was found. I've never seen anything like this and it effectively kept me in the moment imagining the tribes standing in the very spot where we now stood. The main even is a full skeleton left where he lay upon his death - I've never seen anything like it.

The way back was much the same except with more crowds now - Pro tip: take this excursion from a lodge near the cave like Pook's HIll. This allows you to arrive earlier and experience the cave with just your small group.

This is not an excursion for the faint of heart in the darkness and depths of the water, but it is not one that will be quickly forgotten. You'll want to be sure footed, but most able bodied individuals should feel confident that they can handle this excursion.

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