Spectacular Underground Caves Underneath the Yucatan Peninsula
Caves of Loltun - Video spoken in Spanish
An Underground Paradise
What are Grutas?
Yucatan Caves is another cool feature of this area, something you must not miss when you travel to Yucatan.
Under the surface of the Yucatan Peninsula there is an intricate and complex labyrinth of dry tunnels, these lead to spectacular underground caves, called grutas.
Even though they are formed in a similar way to cenotes (sinkholes), they exist in places where the water level is below these rock formations, that is the reason they remain dry.
Just as cenotes, these formidable caves were considered sacred places by the Mayan people. They believed these caves as well as the underground rivers called cenotes were the entrance to the underworld where their gods dwelled and the spirits of their people when they died.
Interesting legends and stories that explain the origin of Yucatan caves and describe strange and grotesque beings dwelling in them, have been told and passed from generation to generation by the Mayan people.
Some of these grutas or underground caves, are of easy access with huge chambers and some of them have very narrow and mysterious passageways which can make your adventurous experience even more thrilling, exciting and fun.
The different rock formations that are found inside Yucatan Caves make each one of them unique, but.... human imagination plays a very important role too.
Inside these magnificent caves the different stalactites (rock formations hanging from the roof of a cavern, formed from the dripping of mineral-rich water), and stalagmites (rock formations built up on the floor of a cavern formed from the dripping of mineral-rich water), take the distinct shape of different animals, people or things.
If we use our imaginations we have endless possibilities!
A word of friendly advice, as beautiful and unique as they are:
If you are claustrophobic do not enter these caves.
Never go inside the caves without a guide.
Do not wear flip-flops.
Tennis shoes or hiking boots are fine.
Be prepared with a flashlight of your own..
Take a couple of water bottles with you, because it gets hot and humid as you go down deeper and deeper.
Three of the Best Known Yucatan Caves
The Caves of Loltun - (lohl - TOON)
Its name is composed of two Mayan words, LOL (lohl) (flower) and TUN (TOON) (stone), “Stone Flower”.
They are located along the Puuc Route about 110 km. (68 miles) from Merida, the capital city of the state of Yucatan, 5 km (3.1 miles) from the town of Oxkutzcab and 24 km (15 miles) northeast from the Mayan Ruins of Labna. Yucatan Caves were discovered in 1887.
There are safe (2 km - 1.5 miles) one hour tours, (45 meters - 148 feet) underground, which you can take, and where you will admire the enormous chambers full of stalactites and stalagmites that are lit with different colors and look like frozen fountains.
These photos are courtesy of Davecurry8 - Flickr
Also the rupestrian paintings (wall paintings) and petroglyphs (rock engravings), and many other amazing things these caves have to offer.
Loltun Caves are considered the largest cave system in the Yucatan Peninsula.
A special feature in these caves are the columns that when struck with the flat side of your fist, can be played like musical instruments creating a deep sound similar to bells.
Up to this day Yucatan Caves have not been completely explored.
These caverns must be visited with a guide for your own safety. The guided tours are given throughout the day from 9 am to 4 pm.
The entrance fee is $ 105.00 pesos ($ 9.00 USD) for foreigners, $ 78.00 ($ 7.00 USD) pesos for Mexican Citizens, $ 6.00 pesos for children ($ .50 USD).
Technically the bilingual guides do not charge for their services, but they will ask for a tip, so....just to be on the safe side, you might want to ask them how much they expect to get, before hand.
Actually, this is what they do for a living. They will usually ask for about $ 600.00 pesos per group ($ 50.00 USD).
The Mayan word Balankanche means “Hidden Throne or Altar”. These caves are located 6 km (3 mi) from the Mayan Pyramids of Chichen Itza.
This was an important sacred ceremonial center. And, just as in the caves of Loltun and Calcehtok, You will find impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations, this is due to the extreme humidity that prevails inside these caves.
One of the most impressive features of Balankanche Yucatan Caves are the hundreds of glittering stalactites surrounding an enormous stalagmite in the shape of a Ceiba Tree, which was the sacred tree of the ancient Maya.
It is about 6 meters tall (23 feet) and it is located about 200 meters from the entrance to the cave, next to the Balan Throne, which is an altar where the religious ceremonies took place.
It is said to be “The Sacred Tree Inside the Earth”.
Another feature that Balankanche caves offer is the light and sound show which narrates the history of these caverns.
At the entrance of the caves there is a museum and a botanical garden which are worth looking at.
I remind you that you must wear comfortable walking shoes. Entrance fee is $105.00 pesos ($ 9.00 USD) for foreigners, $ 78 pesos ($ 6.50 USD) for Mexican Citizens, and $ 6.00 pesos (.50 cents USD) for children.
There are many more caves in the Yucatan Peninsula, just waiting for you to explore them
Calcehtok (kahl - keh - TOHK) Caves
These caves are also located along the Puuc Route, about 3 km ( 1.5 mi ) from the village of Maxcanu. (Mahsh - Ka - NOO)
The name comes from the Mayan words CAL (Kahl) (neck), CEH (keh) (deer) TOK (TOHK) (stone). “Deer - Neck - Stone” Just like Loltun it is a very large dry cave system.
It has an elaborate series of tunnels, in an area that spreads out for 5 km (3.1 miles) where you can get lost easily if you go by yourself.
About 30 other caves exist in the Calcehtok area and it is believed that they are linked to each other through these tunnels most of which are not open and ready for use just yet.
Be prepared to get dirty, crawl through muddy passageways and squeeze through narrow gaps, do not take flip-flops because the ground is slippery in some areas, tennis shoes or hiking boots are the best.
Most of Yucatan Caves have been taken over by the government, Calcehtok is not one of them, which means that there are no electric lights inside, it’s completely dark, and you have to depend on your flashlight, and that makes it more exciting.
Most of the guides are descendants of the original Mayans who discovered these caves, a few do not speak much English, but don’t let that bother you, they are very good with hand signals and body language, you won’t have any trouble understanding what they are telling you to do.
They will provide you with flashlights and expect to pay around $ 200.00 pesos for one hour. It is always a good idea to take your own flashlight, just in case.
Prices will vary depending on how far and deep into the cave you or your group wants to go, tours may last from two to five hours.
Before entering the caves, it is advisable to come to an agreement with your guide as to how long the tour will be and how much it will cost.
Inside the different chambers you will see natural formations that resemble waterfalls, different animals, faces of people etc.
And besides the natural wonders that these Yucatan Caves offer you will be able to admire Mayan objects of art, ceramic plates and stone sculptures, obsidian knives and many other artifacts left there by the Mayan people.
Pottery found inside showed that these caverns were used in religious ceremonies.
If you really like caving, be prepared for EXTREME ADVENTURE!