Blue holes or cenotes are underground cavities occurring in carbonate rocks that are open to the surface.
One of Belize’s most famous attractions, and an example of these, is the Great Blue Hole. Located in the lighthouse reef atoll approximately 62 miles from Belize City, it is an almost perfect circular chasm of deep blue in an azure sea. 1000 feet in diameter and more than 400 feet deep, it is the only Blue Hole on earth that is visible from space, and it’s a diver’s paradise.
Most visitors to Belize are probably unaware that in mainland Belize close to Belmopan, Belize’s capital city, and just off the Hummingbird Highway lies another of these craters, known as The Inland Blue Hole. Unlike its marine counterpart, this Blue Hole is a fresh-water cenote, located within the St Hermans Blue Hole National Park, a 575 acre forest teeming with wildlife. It is significantly smaller than the Great Blue Hole with a diameter of 300 feet and a depth of 100 feet. It’s a great spot for a refreshing dip while taking a Belizean road trip.
Belize’s third Blue Hole is still something of a secret. Located in the rainforest area on the border between the Orange Walk and Cayo districts between the Valley of Peace and San Jose, Cara Blanca is just one of a series of 25 cenotes. If you look it up on google earth the pools can be clearly seen. Cara Blanca is approximately 330 in diameter and 230 feet deep. In recent years archaeological diving expeditions have discovered pre-historic bones of huge mammals, along with Maya artifacts. The latter demonstrating how Cenotes and caves played an important part in ancient Maya culture as they were thought to be the opening to Xibalba or the underworld. The presence of a small plaza with sacrificial pots and other relics here, is thought to be evidence of this worship.
It is rumored that other Blue Holes exist in Belize. There are definitely underwater caverns behind Caye Caulker and deep blue cenotes in both southern and northern Ambergris.
Let us know if you know of any, elsewhere in the country. We’d love to hear from you.
Belize is fortunate to possess some spectacular and diverse wonders of nature. From the world famous Blue Hole, to hundreds of coral rimmed Cayes, to Maya sites scattered across large swaths of rainforest.
Amongst all this beauty is ATM (Actun Tunichil Muknal) Cave, a must see on your Belize bucket list. Actun Tunichil Muknal, which means Cave of the Stone Sepulcre, was discovered in the late 80s and first opened to the public in the late 90s. Located deep within the Cayo rainforest, it’s a 7 mile journey down a dirt track from the main highway near Teakettle village. Then, it’s a 45 minute hike through the rainforest, crossing the Roaring River several times, before arriving at the hourglass shaped entrance to the cave. The cave is reached with a brief swim.
Ancient Maya belief held that entering a cave was to enter Xibalba, the Maya Under-world. As you wade, walk and swim through the dark underground river using only the light from your headlamp, one can begin to imagine why the Maya used caves as sacred places. As you reach “The Cathedral”, named because of its scale, magnificence and sacredness, you can see giant stalactites hanging from the ceiling, and ancient Maya artifacts including pottery and human bones littering the cave floor. Venturing still deeper into the Maya underworld, the trail ends high in the rock face (only accessible by ladder) where the calcified skeleton known as the Crystal Maiden, but now assumed to be a young male, is located. It is thought that he was a sacrifice to the Gods in a time of need.
Tropic Air offer is thrilled to offer a day tour of ATM for those staying on the Northern Cayes. An early morning flight from San Pedro, Ambergris Caye will take you to Belmopan where your tour will begin and end. All visits to the cave will be undertaken with a licensed cave guide, and all of whom are passionate and knowledgeable about their heritage, and who enjoy sharing it with visitors.
The warm cave water is refreshing even on cooler days. Its depth will vary at different places within the cave, and is dependent on the amount of rainfall there has been. There are times when the river is in flood and tours are suspended. Closed toed shoes with socks are essential, and in certain parts of the cave you will need to remove shoes in order to avoid damaging the the many ancient artifacts scattered on the ground. Helmets and head torches are provided by the guide.