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“U” is for Belize

Sharyn Brinker - Thursday, August 22, 2013

U” is for Belize


As an American ex-pat living in the Belize jungle, who shared the wonders of Sesame Street with my young nephews, I find myself focused on the letter “U”.  I’ve traveled extensively during my life and continue to marvel over the natural and historical treasures of my adopted country.

“U” is for unique, unknown, under-visited, under-promoted, unbelizable!

What is unique in Belize?   The opportunity to visit Maya archaeological sites in various states of excavation, ranging from pristine to partially restored.    The Maya site at Caracol in the Chiquibul National Park is the primary “U”.  It is “under-promoted” in the national tourism arena for reasons I don’t understand.  Perhaps because the world’s second largest barrier reef is another extraordinary feature of this tiny jewel of a country.   Perhaps because the Guatemala governmental representatives have seen the importance of having the great Maya site at Tikal designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site while the Belize parties in interest have not done so, or at least have not done so successfully.  Perhaps because the Belize government concentrates its limited resources on the reef-related sites because scuba diving and snorkeling attracts more tourist spending than cultural and historical wonders.  I expect the truth to remain “unknown”, and Caracol to remain “under-visited” and “under-promoted” in the foreseeable future. 

Perhaps as an ironic byproduct of these factors, Caracol retains the characteristics of “unique” and “unbelizable.”   Former visitors of the great Maya sites of Chichen Itza in Mexico , or Tikal in nearby Guatemala, are typically astonished by the opportunity to visit such a superb ancient Maya site, to climb the temples, including Caana, the tallest manmade site in Belize at 136’, and take pictures without any other people in them.  The underutilization of this site is unbelizable and affords the unique opportunity for exploration at one’s own pace and photographic wonders.  Best visited with a licensed Belize guide, our visitors have an unusual, relaxed opportunity to learn as much as they care to absorb about the life and extraordinary accomplishments of the Maya, the geopolitics of Maya life, and the theories about the Maya diaspora.  We rely on the oral tradition because Spanish invaders destroyed the written history of the people. Thus, Caracol should be a high priority among a traveler’s Belize adventures, before its wonders are better known.


But Belize has more that’s “unique.”  Where else can you hike in the jungle along a river until you reach a point of entry to embark on the only known Maya cave tubing route.  Float through the caves while a knowledgeable, licensed Belize guide explains the significance of myriad formations and the particular areas where Maya relics were discovered.  This is a beautiful, relaxing experience for visitors of most ages.


Then, there’s the unbelizable Maya ceremonial cave, Actun Tunichil Muknal, the Belize version of “ATM.”  Words are inadequate to describe the multi-sensory, physically challenging experience of hiking through the jungle, traversing a river three times, climbing over rocks, swimming into a cave, wading and walking through chambers replete with exquisite limestone formations, culminating in an area in which you discover the treasure of Maya relics and human remains found less than 25? years ago.  The site is living history.  The unique and unbelizable opportunity currently afforded by the Belize government is the privilege of visiting this cave in it nearly pristine condition.  The conditions are simple and reasonable.  You must be among a maximum group of eight, accompanied by one of only 19? licensed Belize tour guides who are personally certified by Dr. Jaime Awe, the Director of NICH (the National Institute of Culture and History?) to lead tours into this national treasure.  The only indicia of regulatory involvement are a few yellow caution tapes that alert visitors to beware of damage to historical Maya treasures.  There are no exclusionary ropes, manmade steps or rails, or artificial lights.  This is a truly unique opportunity to visit a Maya ceremonial cave in its pristine condition.  Photography was allowed until a recent tourist leaned over and accidentally dropped his camera on a precious Maya skull.  How long before there are further restrictions on experiencing this unique adventure?

The “U” words also apply to many of the caves in the extensive Belize limestone cave system.   Whether it’s the physically challenging Crystal Cave in the Tapir Mountain National Forest, or the relatively user-friendly and accessible Actun Chapat in the Succotz area of western Belize, or the demanding Panti Park Ceremonial Cave that houses some of the largest remaining pieces of Maya pottery, caving in Belize is superb.  This cave and its exquisite formations and relics were recently closed to the public until further notice, illustrating why the Belize Maya ruins and ceremonial caves should be among Belize travel adventures while they’re accessible and in pristine condition.

In a short distance from Caracol and the great Belize caving options is Mariposa Jungle Lodge, our boutique luxury resort created to offer travels “Adventure by Day and Comfort by Night.”  We are committed to the principles of eco-tourism, ranging from environmental protection, to promotion of local arts and culture, to the education and training of the local peoples.  Our Mayan/Mestizo staff is eager to share knowledge, information and experience of all aspects of Belize jungle life, ranging from their efforts to sustain cultural heritage to the new generation to teaching about the abundant flora and fauna of the area.  Unless visitors request an alternative, meal selections typically focus on a high-quality version of Belizean and Maya specialties.   The special touches might include a Maya dance exhibition by local teenagers or a fireside Maya copal ceremony.  At Mariposa Jungle Lodge, the final “U” is for “unexpected” and “unforgettable.”