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The area around Belmopan, with its karst limestone topography, is a paradise for cavers. St. Herman's Blue Hole National Park. At St. Herman's Blue Hole National Park, at Mile 42 of the Hummingbird Highway, there are two large caves, St. Herman's and the Crystal Cave. Both require a guide to explore (guides are available at the national park visitor center), though you can go without a guide into the first 300 yards of St. Herman's. Mile 42, Hummingbird Hwy., Belmopan. www.belizeaudubon.org. BZ$10.
PACZ Tours. Arguably the best Actun Tunichil Muknal tour operator, PACZ has been operated by Emilo Awe since 1998, with help by Bob Jones, formerly of Eva's, and about eight tour guides. The ATM tour costs around BZ$220 from downtown San Ignacio—including lunch and ATM admission, if you book directly with PACZ. Your hotel or lodge can arrange an ATM or other caving trip but may add an additional fee. 30 Burns Ave., San Ignacio. 824/0536. www.pacztours.net.
Nohoch Che'en Caves Branch Archeological Reserve. Nohoch Che'en Caves Branch (sometimes still referred to as Jaguar Paw) is the most-visited archeological site in Belize, mainly because of the number of cruiseship daytrippers who come here. However, that doesn't diminish the grandeur—and just plain fun—you'll experience when you float on inner tubes in the Caves Branch River through caves that the ancient Maya held sacred. Many Belize City, Belmopan, and San Ignacio tour companies offer cave tubing tours that include transportation, equipment, and a guide, typically for a charge of BZ$150 to $250 per person (more expensive tours include the zipline), although you can drive to the park and do cave tubing on your own with a guide for lower cost. The site, now fairly commercial with a large paved parking lot, changing rooms, concession stands, bar, and shops, is at the end of a paved road off Mile 37 of the George Price Highway, near Jaguar Paw (which is no longer operating as a hotel). Tour operators at the site including Caves Branch Outpost (www.cavesbranchoutpost.com; 671–0987) provide guides and equipment, and independent guides wait to offer tours. With an independent guide you'll pay around BZ$50 to BZ$80, depending on how many caves you want to go float through. Tours start with a 30-minute hike to the cave entrance, and then you float back to a point near the parking lot. There is also a zip line at this site. Cave tubing is not recommended for young children—some operators have a 12-year-old age requirement. At times during the rainy season water may be too high for safe tubing. There is a weight limit for the zipline. Nohoch Che'en Caves Branch, off Mile 37, George Price Hwy. (formerly Western Hwy.), Frank's Eddy Village. From Belize City, follow the George Price Hwy. to Mile 37. Turn south (left) on a paved road and follow about 6 mi (10 km) to Nohoch Che'en Caves Branch Archeological Reserve parking lot. 226/2882. www.nichbelize.org. BZ$20.
Actun Tunichil Muknal. The Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave system runs some 3 miles (5 km) through the limestone of Cayo, just a few miles from Belmopan. ATM is the resting place of the Crystal Maiden, a Maya girl who was sacrificed here, along with at least 13 others, including seven children, hundreds of years ago. If you visit Actun Tunichil Muknal ("Cave of the Stone Sepulcher" in the Mayan language), you will experience what many say are the most awesome sights in all of Central America. You'll see amazing limestone formations, thousand-year-old human calcified skulls and skeletons, and many Mayan artifacts including well-preserved pottery. As long as you are in adequate physical condition—you have to hike almost an hour, swim in neck-deep water, and clamber through dark, claustrophobic underground chambers—this is sure to be the most memorable tour you'll take in Belize. Cameras are banned from the cave, and the tour is not suitable for young children. Although you can drive on your own to the staging area for ATM, you must have a licensed guide to visit it, as you'll be up close and personal with priceless Maya artifacts. It's easiest to do an all-day tour from San Ignacio or Belmopan. These tours run around BZ$200–$240, including lunch and the government admission fee. Off Mile 52.5, George Price Hwy., road entrance at junction of Price Hwy. and Teakettle Village, Belmopan. 822/3302 National Institute of Culture & History (NICH). BZ$50, plus required guide fee. Daily 8–4:30.
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