Right after our tour of the Tikal ruins, we took a 2 hour car ride to the border that led to Belize. There, we got out of the car to go through customs, which was fast and painless, and then crossed over to the Belize side where another car picked us up.
Our first stop in Belize was the city of San Ignacio, known for its adventures. We stayed with the sweetest lady name Miss Dof, who owns a big house on the hillside and rents out each of the rooms. It’s essentially a bed and breakfast with the best host one can ask for. We arrived in the early evening and Miss Dof welcomed us not just with open arms, but with the most delicious lemon cake!
Our suite had a queen size bed and a single bed, perfect for our family of 3. We even had air conditioning, which was a real luxury for us by that point. The furnishings and the decor of the home felt really cozy and warm, like being at your grandma’s house. We loved it at first sight!
We woke up at the crack of dawn the next day to the very special activity we had planned in celebration of Bridgette turning 14! Miss Dof usually cooks breakfast for her guests, but we told her not to wake up so early for us and that we’d be fine to grab something simple on our way to the activity. But when we were ready to leave the house, we found Miss Dof up, with 3 paper bag filled with food for us to take with us! How’s that for excellent guest service Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons?
I wanted Bridgette to have a very memorable birthday even while away from her home and her friends, so I signed us up to do what all adventure-seekers do when visiting San Ignacio– the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave Expedition!
ATM cave was a sacred site for the Mayas, discovered between 300 and 600 AD. It eventually became an important spiritual site for the local people for many years, and it wasn’t rediscovered until 1989. Between 1989-1998, a number of archaeological investigations took place which revealed a number of stunning discoveries about the Mayas. Today, a tour of the ATM cave will even expose you to skeletal remains of some of the human sacrifices made by the Mayas!
To tour the ATM cave is no easy feat, and requires some swimming through very cold water, climbing and maneuvering through very narrow crevices and passageways, as well as being in close proximity to actual human remains….all while in wet socks! Even though you’ll be wet the majority of the time, they still require you to wear socks because there will be some areas inside the cave where you have to climb with your shoes off, and socks will prevent you from slipping.
The cave itself plunges down to approximately four miles, but due to safety concerns, visitors are only allowed about two-thirds of the way down. A licensed guide is required, and there is a limit to the number of people that goes through the cave each day. Booking early is recommended as there are only about 25 certified guides for the ATM caves in all of Belize!
There are no opportunities to document the tour because cameras and phones are strictly forbidden inside the cave. I was bummed about this at first, since I always strive to document such special moments. In the end, this restriction turned out to be a huge blessing because it allowed me to be completely immersed in the experience. Also, it gave me the focus that was needed to survive, as there were some pretty difficult areas to maneuver through!
The pictures here were sent to us from our guides at MayaWalk Tours, just to show what it’s like in a few parts of the cave. I would highly recommend this tour group as they were super professional all the way. Our guide was knowledgable and taught us a lot about the history of the cave and Mayan culture, while also being very attentive to our needs and safety.
Bridge was so proud to have persevered through the tour, unharmed, and said it definitely made for a very memorable birthday. I would have to agree. What a way to turn 13! That night, we celebrated with a delicious dinner at a local restaurant, followed by a birthday cake that I asked Miss Dof to order for us.
Our second day in San Ignacio was also our last, and we signed up for a cave tubing tour because visiting ONE cave in Belize simply wasn’t enough. This tour was a lot more low key than the previous one, because much of the time was spent sitting comfortably on an inner tube cruising in and out of dark caves. The hardest part was the hike in the beginning, where we actually had to bring our inner tubes with us to hike to the entrance of the river.
There were times when we were challenged to jump into the icy cold water, which Bridgette and Alan both excitedly did while I grudgingly followed. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy being in the water, especially in the Belizean heat, but the water was just soooooo cold! 😆
2 days in San Ignacio did feel a bit rushed, but we’re so glad we got to do the cave activities, and would certainly recommend them to those who love a good adventure!
Next stop in Belize….the beautiful island of Caye Caulker!