Wow. This truly is a spiritual experience. The cave itself is one of God's great works of art, and our PACZ guide, Manuel, was FANTASTIC (very knowledgeable, respectful of the environment and its history, friendly, entertaining, patient and encouraging -- my friend freaked out and started crying at the 1st narrow passage and wanted to back out, but he gently yet firmly got her back on track and, with his dry sense of humor, kept her happily moving forward through the rest of the tour, even through the 2 or 3 other tight spots). The hike was about 30 minutes into the jungle, then we stopped for a very delicious, fresh box lunch tailored to each person's dietary needs/preferences. We took a potty break and continued for another few minutes to the cave.
The water entering and inside the cave was VERY chilly in mid-May (took my breath away!), although, we were comfortable once again in a minute or two, just as soon as we got back out of the water. We only had to swim through 2 or 3 places inside the cave and hiked about knee to waist deep through the other parts (only about 1/4 of the trip inside...the rest was on dry land). Also, there are 3 or 4 really tight areas that can be quite intimidating for claustrophobic people like myself, but they're very brief...as soon as you enter the narrow space, within a minute, you're back out of it and into another wide open area. My friend and I were tempted not to do this excursion because we're both very claustrophobic but, in retrospect, knowing what we know now, we'd have regretted it the rest of our lives if we'd missed out on such an incredible experience. I'm a small person almost in my 50's and not physically fit by any means (I sit at a desk all day and never exercise), so I was afraid that the hike to the cave, swimming and climbing boulders inside the cave, and hiking all the way back would be too much for me. It wasn't. I was a bit tired and had sore feet but, overall, I felt I'd really achieved something. And I wasn't at all sore the next day. The Cathedral inside the cave is spectacular and, if you're visiting Belize anywhere near this cave, it's a MUST SEE...but be very careful and follow the rules. Given the damage that careless visitors have done there and having had so many people walk through in recent years, contaminating the ground and destroying rock formations that took 1000+ years to create, I suspect they may close it to the public soon. Seeing the real Mayan artifacts (pottery and skeletal remains) as the Mayans originally left them so very long ago and standing on such hallowed ground left me feeling strangely connected to those ancestors on a personal, spiritual level. And it was a lot of fun! The ATM trip is a great learning experience for older children and adults alike. I highly recommend PACZ tours. Their guides are excellent...knowledgeable of the history, attentive to individual questions, and very careful...protecting the visitors while reinforcing the importance of respecting and protecting the area.
Cameras are not allowed. Really, all you need is yourself because you'll be asked to leave any other belongings outside the cave. We wore a t-shirt, shorts, tennis shoes and socks and that was perfect. One girl wore slip-on shoes that kept floating off every time we had to go through water so I'd suggest wearing fitted hiking boots, sneakers or water socks with thick, reinforced rubber soles for this excursion. Also, if you have problems with urinary frequency or frequent intestinal disturbances, you might have to skip this trip. Once you're in the cave, for the next 2 hours or so, you cannot go to a restroom or urinate in the water (very disrespectful in such a hallowed place, like peeing on the floor in your own church, and damaging to the pure natural environment of the cave.) Once outside of the cave, the only place to use the restroom is a nasty out-house when stopping for lunch and returning back there, until you get back to the van.
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