A Subterranean Paradise under the surface of the Yucatan, a veritable maze of spectacular intertwined tunnels, caves were sacred places for the Maya and are truly impressive.
The abundant natural rock formations lure the vaulted ceilings; narrow passages and mysterious alcoves make your pulse race. Some interesting legends explain the origin of the caves, and describe the fantastic creatures that live there.
Among the most fascinating sites are the following:
Loltun: The name in Maya means “Flower of Stone”. Evidence has been found of human settlements here from 400 to 7,000 years ago. The trail begins at the entrance to Nahkab, also known as the beehive, where the famous bas-relief known as the “Warrior of Loltun” is found. The warrior, believed to be the God of the underworld, appears to be emerging from the caves.
At the entrance, stone blocks used for grinding vegetables grains attest to the activity which took place sheltered within is walls. Visitors can admire many other formations with imaginative names, including the “The Cathedral”, “The Gallery of the Canyon”, “The Ear of Corn” and “The Stalactite Room”. There’s also the “Room of the Musical Columns”, where huge stalactites produce different tones when they are struck.
Another interesting attraction is the rock painting; one mural shows hands in negatives, another has more elaborately painted faces, animals and staggered motifs.
Various archeological finds have been made in the various caves, galleries and chambers almost 60 meters below the surface and stretching more than 700 meters in length. Including ceramics, stone artefacts, marine shells and petroglyphs corresponding to the different stages of Maya evolution.
Bones and other remains of now extinct mammoth, bison and cat species have also been discovered here.
Balankanche: This cavern functioned as a ceremonial center for the ancient Mayas. At the entrance is the throne of Balam, a kind of altar, which gives its name to the cave. In the center of the vault an imposing stalactite, reaching down to the floor resembling a giant Ceiba tree. It is home to pieces left by Mayan priests over 1,000 years ago.
In the next chamber Maya offerings of conches and jade lay scattered in a semi-dry lagoon. A variety of objects have been found throughout the grotto, such as incense burners, metals, miniature plates, jewelry and ceramic offerings, figures of the rain god, Chaac, jade jaguars and impressions of hands in the walls.
Calcehtok: Also known as X-Pukil, Calcehtok has a complex system of interior tunnels. Stalagmites, stalactites and other limestone formations are plentiful in the great vault over 30 meters high. There’s an abundance of pre-Hispanic material here, including intact pots.
Many rooms are still unexplored. The system extends underground for some 5 km and has produced findings such as Maya ceramics, human and deer bones, broken dishes, pans, grinding stones, arrowheads and Hal tunes, which the Maya built to container water.