THE GREAT AMERICAN VACATION
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An activity you'll find in few places outside Belize is cave tubing. You drift down a river, usually the Caves Branch River in the Cayo District, in a large rubber inner tube. At certain points the river goes underground, and you float through eerie underground cave systems, some with Mayan artifacts still in place. The only light is from headlamps.
In the last decade since Jaguar Paw Lodge (now no longer operating as a lodge) and Caves Branch Adventure Co. & Jungle Lodge (673/3454, 866/357–2698 www.cavesbranch.com) first introduced it, cave tubing has become one of the most popular soft-adventure activities in Belize. It's the number one mainland shore excursion of cruise-ship passengers, and on days when several large ships are docked in Belize City you should expect inner-tube traffic jams.
Caves Branch River has two main entry points: near the former Jaguar Paw Lodge (Off Mile 37 of Western Hwy.), at Nohoch Che’en Caves Branch Archeological Reserve, and near Caves Branch Adventure Co. & Jungle Lodge (Off Hummingbird Hwy. 822/2800). The Jaguar Paw access attracts more people, and when several cruise ships are in port at Belize City the river here can be jammed. There's a parking area about ½ mile (1 km) from Jaguar Paw, and here you'll find a number of independent tour guides for cave-tubing tours, which vary in length, generally costing from BZ$50 to BZ$70. Cave-tubing tours from Belize City, Belmopan, and San Ignacio, including transportation and perhaps lunch, cost more, generally BZ$120–BZ$180. Cave-tubing trips from Caves Branch Lodge are longer, require more hiking, and cost more. For example, the "River of Caves" trip, through 7 miles (12 km) of underground caves, takes much of a day and costs BZ$190 per person.
Cave tubing is subject to changes in the river levels. In the dry season (February–May or June), the river levels are often too low for cave tubing. Also, after heavy rains, the water level in the river may be too high to safely float through caves, so in the rainy season (June–November) cave-tubing trips may occasionally be canceled. Always call ahead to check if tours are operating.
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.