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Belize is an excellent destination for spelunking. Whether you're passionate about cave exploration or you've never been underground in the dark, you should not leave Belize without venturing into one or more of its vast cave systems. The ancient Mayans believed caves to be a mystical portal between the world of the living and the underworld of spirits and the dead. They called this mystical realm Xibalba. In almost every explored cave in Belize, some evidence of use by the Mayans has been uncovered. Fire pits, campsites, burial mounds, and ritual altars have all been found. Numerous pieces of pottery, as well as skeletons, bones, and religious artifacts have also been encountered.

The aptly named Caves Branch region, just outside of Belmopan, is a prime (and certainly the most popular place) to go caving. The cave tube trips here, including the spectacular Crystal Cave, are excellent introductions to the underworld. There are also several great caves for exploring in the Cayo District, including the Barton Creek Cave and Chechem Ha. Perhaps the most adventurous and rewarding cave to explore is Actun Tunichil Muknal.

Tour Operators

The premier cave adventure operator in Belize is Ian Anderson's Caves Branch, Hummingbird Highway, Mile Marker 41 1/2 (tel. 822-2800; www.cavesbranch.com). The company has a lovely forested setting at a far upstream entrance to the Caves Branch River, and a wide variety of cave tours and explorations are offered; most full-day trips run from US$75 to US$155 (£40-£82).

Jaguar Paw, Western Highway, Mile Marker 37 (tel. 877/624-3770 or 820-2023; www.jaguarpaw.com), is a very comfortable lodge located at the prime entry and takeout point for the popular cave tubing tours. They are also basically at the entrance to the Crystal Cave, and the owners here have been instrumental in efforts to explore and preserve this amazing cave. A half-day at Crystal Cave or cave tubing costs US$45 (£24), a full day US$75 (£40).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.