After missing a bus in Mexico and being delayed at the border, we arrived long after dark. Not ideal! What we soon came to realize was, it is not uncommon in Belize to be taken advantage of by an opportunistic taxi driver. After a fortunate intervention by a Belizean/Californian, we spent the night in a “BnB”. At the crack of dawn, we caught the first available plane out of the city to the protective haven of Placencia. Our Belize adventure was like no other trip we had ever experienced.
Today, Placencia is a popular beach palm-lined, resort area on the Caribbean coast of Belize. 10 years ago, it was a small holiday town with more foreigners than locals who were trying to escape to a remote and quiet part of the world.
Cockscomb Basin, Belize
Xunantunich is located on a ridge above the Mopan River which you will need to cross on a rickety draw bridge to get to the site which is just over half a mile from the Guatemalan border.
Monkey River Boat Trip
Mr. Birdy was our Boatman and although he was physically on the boat with us, it was clear he was traveling somewhere far away. The most excited and animated we saw him was when he informed us that there were manatees below our boat. We never saw a thing but we had great fun doing it and gained a classic memory we will never forget.
Slow progress to the mouth of Monkey River was welcome, allowing us to catch up on some sleep after a late night at the Barefoot Bar. Traveling on a budget meant we celebrated a tad too freely on the super affordable, local rum punch.
Actun Tunica Muknal – Cave of the Crystal Maiden
ATM as it is also known, is a cave in Belize, near the town of San Ignacio. It is a well known Mayan archaeological site still contains the skeletal remains of ancient Mayan sacrifices and their rituals. The cave has been ranked one of the Top Ten Caves Of The World by National Geographic.
The most well know remains are believed to be of an 18 year old girl whose bones have been calcified by the sediment in the cave and have a sparkling, crystallized appearance.
After arriving near the site, there was still a lot of jungle trekking to be done, including 2 river crossings. After about an hour, we saw a small hill in the lush jungle which did not seem very different to the rest of the landscape. The guide informed us that we had reached the mouth of the cave an then lead us to a small stream. A few steps further revealed the opening the cave which unless you knew it was there, you would walk right past it.
It was a surreal experience. After positioning our headlamps and raising our dry bags above our heads, we waded into the mouth of the cave and after a turn or two, were in pitch black darkness.
We hiked for about an hour into the cave, following the stream which led us from one cavern to the next until finally reaching the largest cavern of the cave system. Skeletons and pottery remains lay unprotected and exposed in shallow rim pools that covered the floor. The room has a heavy, sombre feel to it that makes you want to both explore and leave at the same time.
We were led all the way to the back of the cave into the small opening where the Crystal Maiden’s remains are perfectly preserved in crystal like sediment. The weight of the reality that once created this scene were impossible to avoid and it was a relief to leave the small tomb.
Actun Tunica Muknal has been one of the most memorable experiences of my life and one I will never forget.
Having stayed in Placentia longer that expected, had up missing out on a trip to Caye Caulker, which is a well know for it’s stunning beaches and laid back holiday attitude of “No Shirt, No Shoes…No Problem”. If you spend a few days on the island and are interested in helping out and giving back, P.A.W. Animal Sanctuary is a small local non-profit which can always do with a hand.
Thanks for reading and we look forward to hearing back from you.