Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Sail the Underground Sea by Cave Tubing in Belize

Floating Underground

When visiting a tropical paradise like Belize, many opt for the more obvious pleasures afforded by such an environment: scuba diving, snorkeling, sunbathing, jungle trekking, etc. In Central America, one also has the opportunity to visit dozens of ancient sites once inhabited by early Mesoamerican cultures like the Aztec and Maya. However, deep within the caves of Belize lies another exciting option for adventure travel that not many make a detour to investigate.

An Historical Journey

Underground cave tubing is a thrilling and unusual way to glimpse some of Belize's rich history and the remnants of its Pre-Columbian civilizations. You can enter the long, winding stretches of its subterranean caves via one of many cenotes, or above-ground sinkholes, which connect the caves with the surface and act as portals into the earth, and into the past. If you've traveled down the tourist trails of Central America and think you've seen and done it all, unless you've also floated down the underground rivers, there's still much left to explore in this tropical wonderland.

You're welcome to plot your own route through the caves, but especially for first-timers, taking advantage of one of the many cave-tubing shops that provide guides and rent tubing equipment may be the best option. The rivers that flow through these caves have existed since the time of the Maya empire; then, as now, they bring life and tropical abundance to the cave interior and the surface above. In ancient times, they were often used by early Mesoamericans as sources of drinking water and for crop irrigation, and so a great number of artifacts and carvings were left behind four tourists and archeologists alike to marvel at, perched comfortably atop an inner tube floating under the serene current's gentle propulsion.

A Vacation Underground

If you'd rather take the reins in your own hands, information and online reviews of cave-tubing companies and routes are plentiful, and they'll aid you in planning your own unforgettable journey down these Methuselan waterways. Advice from fellow travelers who have first-hand experience remains as invaluable as always, and the online review sites will help you make short work of deciding where to get your equipment from, and where to take it when you're ready to being your trek. In the Cayo District, the Caves branch route has a reputation amongst backpackers for being particularly convenient and fascinating. Located just a short hop from Hummingbird Highway, the Caves Branch route is one of the region's oldest; archaeological evidence suggests that it was used by the Maya empire as transportation thoroughfare nearly 2,000 years ago.

Finding information on the internet before you travel will allow you to verify the responsibility and veracity of the cave-tubing company you eventually patronize, though it should be said that by and large, the tubes given to tourists and trekkers are up to international standards of safety and reliability. Rounding out your list of caving equipment will be a life-vest (safety first) and a caver's light, worn on a band around the forehead, providing illumination in the dark gaps between cenotes where you will truly feel removed from the bustle and worry of life on the surface. The Caves branch trail also features several incredible natural formations, notably Celestial Bird and Vision Serpent, which look remarkably man-made, but were actually created by centuries of limestone deposits dripping down from the caves' surface structure.

An Unforgettable Journey

If you're the adventurous type, don't fret; not all the cave-tubing routes are resigned to slow drifts down placid underground rivers. Fast water and rapid currents are available in some of the more advanced routes; slipping and sliding down the subterranean tunnels will be a thrill you aren't likely to forget. All travelers to Central America ought to think seriously about spending some time in Belize's majestic underground tunnels. Few other places allow you to experience such startling history, underground wildlife, and the deepest recesses of humanity's ancestral civilizations all at the same time.

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