To make the final leg of the journey to Guatemala’s Lanquín Caves (Grutas de Lanquin) intrepid travelers have two options: The first is to walk the path along the banks of the Lanquín River. The second is to take float down the river on an inner tube to—and then into—the caves. Regardless of the mode of transport, if you arrive at the caves around dusk and you’ll witness an extraordinary event!
You’ll hear what’s in store for you before you see it. It is a strange sound, really difficult to describe but the best adjective may be busy. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, you’ll be overwhelmed by the site of bats, thousands and thousands of them, making their nightly ritual from their cave home in search of food.
The scene isn’t a frightening one, like something out of Batman Begins or ReturnsThe bats aren’t focused on anything other than their tasty eats: fruits and flowers. Still, the effect of this awesome sight, even if anticipated for hours, can not be fully grasped!
Guatemala is the land of the Maya. Their majestic ancient cities stand proud even if rain forests have overtaken most of them. Along with these sacred cities, the Maya knew holy ground way before the white man came around. They considered caves to be ‘hearts of heaven’ and passages to the underworld. They have been performing ceremonies of all sorts in them for centuries.
The Mayas did not overlook the Lanquín Caves. Make your way approximately 100 meters/yards into the caves and you’ll see the ceremonial alters of the ancient and present Maya. You’ll find these sacred places full of burnt out copal incense and bloody stones, left overs from sacrificing chickens and other animals. But on top of the creepiness and the powerful heartbeat of the living bats that fill the musky air, you’re eyes get a visual overload. The huge chambers with their cathedral ceilings are full of limestone formations. Some of the actual chambers are called different animal names because they resemble animals and other figures. On top of that, there is no shortage of colorful stalactites and stalagmites that have been slowing forming for the past millions of years!
This cave system is so wide spread that not a single explorer nor hardcore spelunker have been known to see where it ends. For the less-than-average caver there is a well lit path that goes for a good half kilometer (500 yards) in, deep enough to feel its magical power.
Lanquín Caves is a definite must see if you’re in Guatemela! Where else can you get a private bat dance and see magical alters deep within unending caves?
Getting There: From Lanquín town the caves are about a 15 minute walk or inner tube ride, or a 5 minute drive, away. Lanquín is a popular day trip from Coban, from where the caves are a two hour drive.
If You Go: Bright a flashlight for the walk back—the path to the caves may be lit but power outages are a norm here. Also, the humidity and staleness of the air forms lots and lots of moss on the super slippery ground. Wear really good walk shoes.
Muchas gracias to Marina K. Villatoro for guest blogging this post. Marina has been living in Central America for over 7 years and her site Travel Experta is all about traveling in Central America. Marina loves to help people plan the perfect vacation to this amazing part of the world! Follow her on Twitter at @MarinaVillatoro.
photos are copyright Marina Villatoro unless otherwise marked