Belize has done it again. Despite being a small nation, our jewel has once more enticed the likes of National Geographic and renowned Journalist Ali Wunderman in their latest article, “Take a tour of the Maya underworld – if you dare.”
In this piece, they lightly touch on Belize’s great potential as a caving destination and highlight the role that the living Maya culture plays when bringing the Myth to life. Let’s delve into the details of this outstanding piece and explore the cosmological principles that make caves in Belize really special.
The Myth behind the belief
“Xibalba (chee-bal-ba), meaning place of fear, was significant in the ancient Maya Culture. The Popul Vuh, the book of creating of the Q’eqchi people, describes it as a court existing below the Earth’s surface, where the Maya death gods reign supreme, and a crossroads of the living and the dead,” Ali Wunderman writes. How interesting! But wait, there is more.
In Maya mythology, the descent to Xibalba was via the mouth of a cave, and the story told involves the journey of 2 pairs of Hero Twins. However, the second pair of twin Hunahpu and Xbalanque were summoned to the underworld to play ball with the evil Lords of death and diseases after the first pair of twins lost the game. After many trials and tests, Hunahpu and Xbalanque defeated the Lords and destroyed their power over humans. They rescued their father, who re-incarnated as the Maya Maize deity. Their acts cleared the way for the universe to be set into motion, the sun to rise, and the stars to begin their journey across the sky.
Caves As Homes of Deities
Caves are considered part of the Earth and are associated with water (ha) dampness and lowness, suggesting that rather than being considered the underworld, they are, in fact, transitional zones between the middle world (Earth) and the underworld (Xibalba)
Chaac, the rain God, is believed to inhabit caves; an attribute to this belief might be because clouds do, at times, emerge from caves as mist. The Maize God also dwells in the caves.
Cave Experiences in Belize
Belize’s extensive cave systems provide a sense of great wonder; as Ali Wunderman states, “The small Central American nation is home to hundreds of caves, many of which visitors can explore.”
Some of Belize’s most visited caves include Barton Creek, a subterranean grotto home of ancient artifacts accessible only by canoeing, the Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave, which is also known as the ATM Cave harbors the bones of 13 men, women, and children, including the famous Crystal Maiden and the Nojoch Chen Caves at Cave’s Branch known for its flowing water source where visitors easily navigate.
It is important to note that all visits to the Caves must be guided by local Tour Guides, experts in navigating the site, and highly knowledgeable of the cave’s history.
Miguel Choco, a Tour Guide at our property, states that when exploring the caves, visitors get to learn about the importance and sacredness of these locations. “It is essential to share the cave’s history since it was never preserved at the beginning of archeology,” Miguel mentions.
National Geographic shines a light on Belize’s most known caves, but there is so much more to see and explore in this country the size of the state of Massachusetts. Belize is home to the most extensive Cave system in Central America.
It also hosts Chechem Ha Cave (location seen on the map above), the earliest known ritual cave used in the Maya lowlands, and Las Cuevas (location shown on the map above) in the Mountain Pine Ridge Area, where extensive research is constantly undertaken.
If the ancient world continues to constantly charm you Belize awaits as a nation inspired by culture and powered by people. Email us at [email protected] to plan your Belize escape!