Imagine a place of adventure . . .
. . . where you live in a cabana tucked away in the jungle, climb underground waterfalls in the pitch blackness of the deepest caves, and hike through the jungle to rappel down a cliff face - suspended hundreds of feet over the rain forest canopy . . .
. . . where you can enjoy the company of wonderful people who help you experience the magnificence of a their country.
From Goldson International Airport we were picked up by Reuben. It was a pleasant drive to the Lodge, and a chance to relax after a long morning’s flight. As I sat, I watched mist-shrouded mountains brimming with dense foliage, pass by our window. We drove through the odd village, our driver nodding and waving to familiar passersby.
Upon our arrival to Caves Branch, we met Walter, who took our bags and introduced us to our new home - the Jungle Cabana. Caves Branch is situated within the living jungle itself. The sounds of the rain forest filled our ears, the chattering of monkeys, the chirping of insects, and the calls of birds. It is also home to numerous species of orchid and plant, all lovingly tended to by the resident gardener, and arboretum designer, Chan.
Beautiful orchids and towering trees made for an incredible impression . . . I remember looking up into the sky through an amazing variety of plants, seeing the massive palms with thick fronds waving gracefully in the air.
The cabana was a comfortable affair hidden amidst the flora of the Belize wilderness. With a deep, comfortable bed, full bathroom, indoor and outdoor showers, and personal bottled water supply, I was more than content to relax for the rest of our trip . . . especially with a personal supply of cuddly towel-animals we had found populating the room on arrival (some day I need to figure out how they did that!).
So, with our bags safely stowed in the cabana, we entered the Caves Branch Lodge. With a veranda style dining area, numerous chess boards, and high-speed internet, the Lodge was a comfortable respite from the surrounding jungle. The food was amazingly delicious . . . fresh fruits and fresh local foods were prepared with love and attention. Each day a new dish was created. All the visitors dined together and we had the chance to meet many other fascinating travelers.
Our first adventure was called "The Black Hole Drop." This is perhaps the most formidable of any Caves Branch activity - and one that should not be missed. We hiked up and up through the jungle on winding paths, trekking along parts that only seemed to resemble a path at times. At the top, we peeked over the edge of a cliff. 300 yards below was an immense, wide basin of forest canopy. We were to rappel down this sheer cliff face! Well, it was the thought of lunch awaiting us at the bottom that gave me the courage to hop over the edge.
Hovering over the rain forest canopy, suspended several hundred feet above the ground, it was absolutely spectacular. As I hung, weightless in the air, the cliff face having receded well away from arm’s reach, I slowly spun. Dense trees below in every direction yet one. There the jungle surrounded the gaping maw of a massive cave - its presence made more prominent, not only by its size, but by its intense blackness within the rich greenery.
In fact, the entire valley was a huge sinkhole over a network of collapsed caves - the Black Hole, one of the last reminders of these huge undergound structures..
As I hung, with a gravity-defying view, I regret that I was a little too nervous to pull out our new HD video camera, and sadly, didn’t capture any video footage of the drop… But then again, it’s an experience you can only truly fulfill in person.
At the bottom, slightly exhausted and hungry, we watched as, in a daring display of technical wizardry, one of our guides rocketed down in a dazzling display of speed and skill to land featherlight and grinning like a Cheshire cat.
Lunch was set up in a small clearing - fresh eggs, cheeses, lunch meats, toppings, and tortilla bread were provided so we could make our own wraps. Now with a bit of rest and with satisfied bellies, we headed off again, zig zagging back up to finally meet the trail we had earliet taken. Of course, during the trek back, several Howler Monkeys made their presence known as they, well, howled with gusto. . . the serenade intensified for miles by the echoes created in the valley.
Our second adventure was to be a trek through a cave along an underground stream.
We rode over in a hay trailer, trundling along behind a tractor.
Again, we hiked through the dense jungle until we came to a large opening in a towering cliff face. We all paused to take stock before adjusting our helmets and entering.
We clambered over rocks, waded through pools, crawled under tight spaces, and climbed waterfalls . . . all in a deep blackness lit only by our helmet lights (and the occassional camera flash).
Massive stalactites hung dauntingly from the ceiling, while equally massive stalagmites rose mightily from the floor. Small currents wound around rocks and boulders, forming pools in some areas and rushing strongly through tight spaces. I took the time to use the night-vision equipped video camera and film portions of our journey (at least, those I could without falling flat on my face).
When we arrived at our first waterfall (there would be 7 total), we paused to leave our packs (and my camera) aside - in the high and dry. We also put on our climbing harnesses since we would need those to ascend some of the higher falls.
When my turn arrived, I leapt into the pool below the falls. It was a bit daunting since I was wearing jeans as well as boots, but I kicked and swam till I was under the falls, gasping as the water sprayed around me. I made it up aided by our guide who showed me which rocks to grasp and which crevices to grip. We pushed onward, making our way through the pools and the falls in much the same manner - occasionally with the assistance of ropes and our harnesses - until we had—at last—completed all seven falls.
We'd reached the end of our journey. It was time to turn back. Going back was easier as we were able to slide down most of the falls. Of course, the largest was about 15 feet tall. We all, one by one, stood at the top and leapt off into the pool below. I was ecstatic. I had no difficulty jumping off the lip of the falls into the pool below, sinking deeply and resurfacing, splashing, my head-beam darting wildly about as I swam to the far edge. Several more smaller leaps and bounds later, we found ourselves reunited with our gear.
Here, our guides spread a tablecloth over a huge flat-topped boulder and set out our lunch. To the light of only our helmets, we sat and munched, drenched (but warm) and ate home-made tortillas with eggs and lunchmeats, much like we had eaten on the Black Hole Drop.
Our mission completed, we stumbled out of the cavern, clambered aboard our trailer and promised to return again to experience the wonders of thesse caves.
There are, of course, more offerings of a more relaxed nature.
. . . there's a nearby swimming area called the Blue Hole - named for its dazzling blue waters. . .
. . . you can walk nearby trails to explore Mayan artifacts or be taken to famous Mayan archeological sites . . .
. . . you can go cave tubing in which you float down the river in inner tubes - and some float through caves . . .
. . . or just stay at the lodge to enjoy the surroundings, visit the arboretum, and sip drinks along the veranda.
Whatever you do, be assured it will be a beautiful experience - one I would love to repeat again and again.
Oh, my! I can't forget, but Ian Anderson, owner and driving force behind Caves Branch, co-founded the Belize National Youth Chess Foundation a few months ago. Recently claiming international attention, the foundation allows children throughout Belize the opportunity to learn and play chess . . . not only is it incredibly fun for the kids, but it increases their critical thinking skills!
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.