ATM Cave

Old Feb 12th, 2010, 02:49 PM
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ATM Cave

Hi, guys - Do you have to be in super kick ass shape to do the ATM cave tour? All this forging rivers, hiking, rock climbing. The guidebook and sites I read said you have to be in top physical form or something along those lines. Is this something regular folks can do? For those of you who have done it, did you enjoy it? We hike, zipline, white water raft, etc., but we aren't super athletes or anything. Would love your guidance.
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Old Feb 12th, 2010, 05:33 PM
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Do it - you'll love it!! No, it's not that physically challenges imo. The hike to the cave opening is not steep but you do have to cross a river 2 or 3 times. You swim to get into the cave and there are a few other places where swimming is necessary, at least when we were there. Mostly you're scrambling up and down rocks heading up the creek until you get far enough in take your shoes off and tiptoe in stocking feet around the pottery and bones. You then retrace your steps and have lunch (usually) on the picnic tables at the mouth of the cave.

We used Pacz tours and were really pleased with them. We requested an early slot and were glad to be one of the 1st groups back in the cave. You're in for a treat!
http://www.pacztours.net/pages/tours/ATM.html
http://flickr.com/photos/staceyholeman/collections (ATM photos are in the Belize 2009 collection)
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Old Feb 13th, 2010, 04:11 AM
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Ditto. I was very worried about the hiking part, and it was not a big deal at all; well-worn mostly very level trail following the shallow river, with a few fordings each way. A few places to clamber inside the cave, and a ladder at the end. All the tour groups allowed into the cave are licensed; they stagger the entry so that your group feels pretty much alone.
Be very aware of biting insects on the way there and back; I got many tick bites on my legs that tour, so do check for them.
Wear thick socks for the shoeless part.
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Old Feb 13th, 2010, 04:13 AM
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p.s. Our group was at least middle aged/retired; one person had a moderate physical disability, and another had asthma. Everyone made it through the whole trip, no problems.
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Old Feb 13th, 2010, 06:02 AM
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Thanks, guys - I think we'll go for it! I have a pair of Keen's - would that be good footwear for the trip?

sylvia, I'm not that familiar with ticks - if you wear Deet, does that help stop them?

I think Shell used Pacz tours as well - sounds like a good outfit. Actually I'm kind of surprised they let tourists go into these caves with all the pottery, etc. I feel like we'd be lucky to see it.
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Old Feb 13th, 2010, 08:53 AM
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We feel lucky, too - it won't surprise when the option no longer exists. Keens are perfect - I even asked ahead and Pacz agreed. We didn't have a problem with bugs of any kind but always pack Sawyer's Controlled Release Deet formula - works great and isn't as creepy as full deet products. Happy trails!
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Old Feb 13th, 2010, 10:30 AM
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DH used Deet and had no problems at all. I don't remember if I just sprayed something on, and it washed off (I fell in the water once; kind of refreshing). I never get bitten by mosquitos, fleas, etc., and never had a tick before, so I probably just had Off or similar. The evidence of the ticks is very distinctive (so was the live one I caught burrowing in).
We were told specifically (last year) to wear covered footwear, like sneakers (not sandals or open hiking shoes/water sandals), for this trip. You'll be walking on rocks under the water in the river and in the cave; best to be safe. They are very careful around the pottery and skeletons; it's a very specific path, once you get up into the dry levels. (Lots of things are being covered by the carbonate rock being formed by groundwater, and are partly buried.)
You will NEVER regret this trip!
Do the tick check back at the vans to be sure!
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Old Feb 13th, 2010, 01:30 PM
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You will definitely be able to do it. It wasn't that hard. My 10 year old daughter did it and was fine. My son got a lot of mosquitos bites on the hike in but the rest of us didn't get any bug bites. We toured with Maya Walk and our guide requested that we not use bug spray. The tour was amazing and I highly recommend that you go for it.
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Old Feb 13th, 2010, 08:02 PM
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I'm scheduled to go on the ATM trip with my 11 year old and 9 year old next month and have been having similar concerns. Do I need to worry about the safety of the kids during the trek? Also, the thought of being in the water in the cave tends to freak me out since I won't be able to tell what, if anything is in there with me. Is it cold inside the cave? The thought of walking around in wet underwear for several hours also seems daunting. Does anyone have recommendations on what to wear? Shorts / Pants / swimsuit underneath? Thanks!
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Old Feb 14th, 2010, 01:52 AM
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I was planning on wearing a bathing suit with quick dry water shorts over it. I wear the shorts for rafting, and they do dry pretty quickly. How deep is the water you go through?
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Old Feb 14th, 2010, 06:26 AM
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You have to swim in water over your head (~30 feet)to enter the cave (the guide has a big drysack for cameras, etc.). From there, you walk in and out of water, sometimes with cobbles underneath, in places larger rocks are underneath. In most places in the cave, the water is no more than knee high; in a couple of places, a very brief swim is required (doggy paddle across a few feet) (we were there in wet season). Being a big fan of caves, and knowing that clambering over rocks is sometimes required, I didn't wear shorts, but fast-drying nylon knee-high pants (just in the cave); I also kept a cotton shirt on (the cave and the water are pretty cool, and falling or scraping your legs on rocks could spoil the experience; but I think the great majority of people wear, and are fine in, shorts; several women in our group wore their bathing suits under their shorts and/or tees). Basically, wear what's comfortable. Some changed outside of the cave for the hike back, some waited until the van, some wore their wet stuff all the way home.

Jean, I think kids that age will LOVE the cave experience; and of course, there's nothing in the cave or the water but other people. The river is pretty shallow; even if they fell down (like I did; don't try to chew gum and take photos at the same time), it's not a problem.
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Old Feb 14th, 2010, 06:28 AM
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p.s. We needed the batteries in our helmet lights changed several times in the cave; if you happen to own a small (pocket) waterproof flashlight, it's nice to have a backup (though it's certainly not necessary).
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Old Feb 14th, 2010, 01:48 PM
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I wore a short-sleeved wicking shirt and capris and my Keen H2O sandals with socks under them. Our guide helped whoever needed help, though our extended family group was pretty independent; I think a good guide would pay close attention to the kids. We did feel a bit cool but not cold. You could certainly wear a swimsuit underneath your clothes if you wanted.

It's like the "Do I have to do a zipline tour when I'm in CR?" thread a month or 2 ago; if it doesn't sound like a good experience for you, you don't have to do it. That said, I think you'll be glad you did.
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Old Feb 15th, 2010, 04:06 AM
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We're definitely in. Wow, water over your head was not what I was imagining, but good to get all the details.

When you all mention socks, are you just wearing regular socks or some kind of neoprene water sock?
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Old Feb 15th, 2010, 08:14 AM
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We just wore regular socks under our Keens or tennies. I have neoprene water socks when I travel (wear them under my fins for diving and sometimes under my Keens for high altitude hiking) but didn't need or want them for the ATM. I've read of people putting their socks in their helmet so they'd be dry when they needed them but we didn't care about that, either. We did take dry clothes to change into for the ride back to town.

Some of us had waterproof cameras, actually 3 in our family group of 7 - it was really fun being able to use them during the scrambling/wet part of the tour. If you don't have a waterproof camera they'll keep your camera in a dry bag until you get to the part of the cave with the artifacts.
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Old Feb 15th, 2010, 08:22 AM
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I didn't post all of my ATM photos but I think the ones that are on my flickr site give an idea of what you're in for; click on the Belize 2009 trip and the ATM/San Ignacio set:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/staceyholeman/collections
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Old Feb 15th, 2010, 12:23 PM
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vgirl, you'll love it. No worries! Your swimsuit with quik dry shorts is a good idea. It is nice to have something dry to change into once the tour is over.

On our way out we met a group who had a 4 or 5 year old--having to carry her. I wouldn't want to do that due to the instability of what you are walking on (rocks, large, sloped rocks, etc). 9, 11 years should be okay with a little assistance. The climbing wasn't a big deal as the guides are very good to give specific instructions (where to place your feet and when). He will model it, and each person will do what the person in front of them has been shown. And the climb was short.

As for allowing people to enter such an historical place, we understood from our guide that there are several similar caves (and artifacts) throughout the country. ATM has been the sacrificial lamb into which visitors have been allowed.
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Old Feb 15th, 2010, 01:28 PM
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There are several others that are open to visitors but are less commonly accessed, several on the Caves Branch property and Chechem Ha outside of Benque Viejo near the Guatemala border. The latter is a great alternative for folks who don't want to contend with the water part. You hike for about a mile up through gorgeous jungle and crawl through a small opening after which the cave opens out. There are ladders for viewing the artifacts and one spot where you use a rope to help you down a slope, otherwise easy walking. No bones, though. There are photos in the Belize 2003 collection of that one.
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Old Feb 15th, 2010, 01:41 PM
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hope, thanks for the pictures. I loved them. I had seen some of Shell's too, and they were great. shillmac, good to know I don't need ninja like reflexes. I'm excited about it now! I think I just like to get the scoop before I go so I know what to expect. We did the Baths on Virgin Gorda, and it reminds me a little bit of this.
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Old Feb 15th, 2010, 02:37 PM
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Yes, I can see how it would compare to the Baths. There were some narrow spaces here and there. Beautiful, though--we loved it--and only spent an afternoon there having ferried over from Tortola. I'd love to return to the BVI.

ATM will definitely appeal to the adventurer in you. I'm a little claustophobic (at times, not consistently) and not totally comfortable with water. But honestly, it was nothing but exciting. Never once did it cross my mind that there might be something other than my feet under the water. It was just such a cool thing to be doing. When are you going?
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