Visiting Actun Chapat Cave is a great adventure. When we went, the theme song from Indiana Jones kept running through my head.
The cave is on land owned by Ken Dart and tours are arranged though his Belizean Sun Tours agency. Ken is passionate about protecting and sharing his cave. You WILL get instructed on how to behave underground, and need to take it to heart. Caves and archeological sites are fragile and irreplaceable- don't mess them up!
We met at his headquarters in the village of San Juan Succotz, about 5 miles from San Ignacio. We had a car and drove ourselves from Bullet Tree Falls, but I assume he could arrange for lodge pick-ups. The trip then proceeds with a wild thirty minute 4 wheel drive Land Rover ride through the jungle. I expected this to be kind of boring, but it was actually a lot of fun trying to hang on! For a gentler ride ask for one of the inside seats. One of our 10 year olds did and took on the job of warning us of upcoming hazards. The ride ends in a peaceful clearing where howler monkeys are sometimes sighted. We heard but unfortunately didn't see any.
The hike to the cave is on a narrow jungle track, mostly level, with a few gentle uphills. You actually go to Actun Halal Cave first, which is more of a shelter cave. It has two entrances, is lit by natural light and contains the remains of several Mayan stone walls. I didn't really hear all the details, as I was busy peeking into all the little crawlways leading off the main passage... Regardless, makes a nice break in the hike.
A few more minutes in the jungle and you approach the entrance of Actun Chapat. The cave itself is still being actively explored, but already has several miles of known passage. The passages are HUGE, 50 plus feet high, and often wider, carved by rivers long ago. The walking can be uneven, but was never particularly difficult. There are no water passages, which is great for rainy times, as Chapat stays accessible.
One of the best aspects of visiting AC is that it's a personalized trip, so we went to as many parts of the cave as possible- and there are many wonderfully decorated areas. Mayan artifacts are everywhere, mostly pot sherds as well as some larger pot rims, etc. Some of the rooms contain skulls and bones, which I found both fascinating and disturbing. Haunting even. I still can't help thinking about the families of the victims...
Anyway, we got suitably tired and made our way back to the truck where we enjoyed a meal of chicken burritos in the howler clearing. Thought about enjoying a Belikin or two, but stuck to water since I'd soon be driving back towards San Ignacio.
Actun Chapat is still off the beaten track, although I don't think it'll stay that way forever. Visiting is definitely more adventurous than going to Caves Branch or ATM, so may not appeal to everyone. But the reward is seeing a wilder cave, without the feeling that your every step is scripted and controlled. It was one of the highlights of our Belize trip and voted 'best cave in Belize' by our 2 ten year olds. And we went to a bunch- ATM, Jaguar Paw/Caves Branch, Blue Creek and Tiger (Toledo district.) Can't wait to go back and visit again!
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