57. San Igancio, Belize - The Barton Creek Cave and Other Mayan Adventures

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June 18, 2007

While the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave is the most action packed day-trip we did from San Iganico, there are other worthwhile Mayan attractions to check out, especially for travelers with their own vehicle.

The 10-kilometer long Barton Creek Cave was discovered in the 1950s, but not investigated until the mid 1990s. Archaeologists believe the Mayans used the cave between 250 and 500 AD for human sacrifices.

To reach the cave from our home-base in San Ignacio - the tree-covered, back lawn of the tidy Midas Resort, a five minute walk from the town's main street - we drove east along the Western Highway for several kilometers to Georgeville.

At Georgeville, we turned down an unmarked, gravel side road that wove kilometre after kilometre past rudimentary houses and endless orchards.

After taking a wrong turn into the small Amish community of Upper Barton Creek, and after coaxing the van through some rough sections of the road, we met a swollen river that made the road impassable.

So we parked the van under a mangrove patch, waded across the river (and past the fully clothed Amish men who were bathing in it) and walked the final few kilometers to the entrance of the cave.

Like the ATM tour, visitors need a licensed guide to enter the Barton Creek Cave. This can be arranged for at two different establishments at the end of the road. We settled on the tour offered from Mike's Place - a beautiful thatched-hut restaurant owned by a family originally from Ontario - which is located right at the entrance to the cave and was offering a cheaper rate.

The 90-minute tour by canoe took us one kilometre into the cave, where skeletons of young children and various artifacts were found.

Although interesting, it is not the adventure that the ATM tour is, and if money and/or time is a concern we would highly recommend doing only ATM.

San Jose Succotz is 12 kilometers east of San Ignacio, and the Trek Shop eco-resort was a comfy place to finish our due diligence (in English) before taking our vehicle into Guatemala.

(We had read on Lonely Planet's Thorntree forum and various embassy websites that tourists had been targeted in years past on the stretch of road from the Belize/Guatemala border to the Tikal ruins).

The Trek Shop has communal kitchen facilities, a quaint butterfly museum, wood-chip composting toilets, free internet, and a small library full of guidebooks. The affable owner had a certain Hugh Hefner quality about him (in a good way), with a pipe usually dangling from his mouth.

While there are no campsites there per se, the back parking lot suited our VW van camping needs just fine.

The Trek Shop is also about a 30-second drive from the single-car, hand-winched ferry that takes visitors across the narrow Mopan River to the Xunatunich ruins.

While much smaller in scale than the more well known Mayan sites in Mexico and Central America, the Xunatunich ruins are well worth a visit, if only to climb El Castillo, the highest building, and look out at the rolling highlands into Guatemala.

Key Facts & Figures:

-Midas Resort campsite: $8/night
-Barton Creek Cave Tour: $22.50/person
-The Trek Shop campsite: $10/night
-Xunantunich Ruins: $5/person