There are tons of adventurous activities on offer from the Belize port, and we chose the cave tubing since we had never done anything like it before. It wasn’t as adventurous as we had hoped it would be, and the only strenuous part of the day was walking with our tubes from the start to the actual caves. It was still a nice day out, and if you’re travelling with a fun group of people, you’ll have a blast.
The cave tubing excursion was booked through Carnival, and thanks to a Black Friday discount code, we got it for the same price as we would have paid had we booked it independently. It certainly takes the stress off since we didn’t have to worry about getting back to port on time.
Belize is unfortunately a small port, so Carnival made use of tender boats to transport guests between the ship and the port. The advantage of booking through Carnival was that we got to disembark before before the rest of the guests, which gave us extra time in the port. The process also takes a lot longer than you’d expect, even though the boat ride itself is just about twenty minutes. On the return trip that afternoon, it took an hour from the time we got onto the tender boat until we stepped onto the ship, so make sure to check what time the last tender boat departs from the port, and not just the ship’s departure time.
We were driven to Jaguar Paw, with the most energetic tour guide ever. He spent the ride there regaling us with trivia and pop-quizzes relevant to the country, and we all failed miserably, but learnt a lot in the process. For example, the sight of burglar bars on house windows didn’t strike us as unusual, and when asked why we thought they were there, we didn’t hesitate for a second before suggesting it was to prevent crimes. Little did we know that it was actually for protection during storms, something we don’t worry about at all at home. Guess you really do learn something new everyday!
By the time we reached Jaguar Paw, the phrase ‘it’s un-Belize-able!’ was firmly imprinted in all our minds. The drive there was almost as fun as the activity itself. After disembarking from our bus, we got into a smaller, pastel-painted school bus to drive us the last 100 metres or so to the site, over a hill too steep for the original bus to navigate. We were split into groups of 8, before renting out lockers for all the belongings we wouldn’t be taking with.
After donning our life-jackets and helmets equipped with headlights, we were given big tubes to carry along. Next came the tricky part. I opted to keep my water shoes on so that I wouldn’t have to carry an extra pair all day, but I had to step quite carefully on the rocky forest floor. Others wore takes (sneakers) and kept a bag for water shoes, but the first walk is only a couple of minutes long before you reach the river. They changed their shoes and crossed the river, floating the tubes along, but after that there was another 20 minutes or so of walking to get to the cave entrance, so the shoe switching was more of an inconvenience than anything. I recommend wearing comfy shoes that you don’t mind getting wet to avoid the hassle.
The guide then tied all nine tubes together with rope, and held it steady for us to get in, one at a time. After some manoeuvring to make sure no ones feet were directly in anyone else’s face, we set off at a leisurely pace, getting towed through the dark caves by our guide. The caves were dark and mysterious, with stalactites forming obscure shapes across the ceilings, which made for fun guessing games as we tried to determine what they most closely resembled. It’s difficult to get good photos in the cave, as it’s quite dark and anything you take with is likely to get wet. An action camera, waterproof phone, or a good waterproof housing for your device is essential. We used a GoPro Hero 5 Session to video the trip, as well as a Huawei Mate 10 Pro to get some photos, which did a much better job in the low light conditions.
The guide also told stories of how the ancient Mayans believed that entering the caves were akin to entering the underworld, a metaphor that was reinforced during the course of the day. Souvenir t-shirts and other trinkets bearing the phrase ‘I’ve been to hell and back’ can be found all over for those wanting to brag about their expedition!
We were lucky to have a fun group, and spent much of the time having splash wars and making eerie noises, which made the ride a bit more fun. We passed a few sombre groups, where everyone sat quiet and stone-faced, so make sure you go on the tour with like-minded individuals to get the most out of the adventure.
The water is icy and refreshing, and your bottom is submerged for most of the ride, unless you go with a company that has closed tubes, in which case you hardly feel the water at all. There are a few reminders along the way to keep your ‘bottom up!’ to prevent scraping some of the larger rocks, which was the inspiration for one of the tour company’s names, ‘Butts Up.’
It seems as though different companies have different launch sites, with some spending more time on the river, and exploring additional cave systems. Chukka, unfortunately, has one of the shorter trips. At one point there is a little waterfall (and I do mean little), and our guide took great pleasure in rotating our group’s tubes so that each member spent some time in the icy showers.
Towards the end of the trip, he pointed out bats and their holes in the ceiling, jokingly reminding everyone to keep their mouths shut. After the ride, which felt way too short, the bright side is that you’ve come full circle so it’s only a short walk to deposit your tube and gear.
Lunch is generally included on all these tours, and consists of a piece of chicken, some rice and beans, and coleslaw. You also get complimentary juice, or can opt to buy cold drinks from the bar. We informed the ship of our food requirements (halaal, or fish and vegetables, but no meat) as soon as we booked the tour, but no one seemed to be aware of this so we had the rice and coleslaw. They did oblige us with some free tortillas, but the meal was quite lacklustre. After a quick lunch, we got back in the bus and set off back to the port, with plenty of time to pick up a few souvenirs and walk around the port area.
We had expected a rough tube ride, through caves and rapids, but the reality was much calmer and more akin to a lazy-river in the dark. It was, however, a unique experience and we enjoyed (almost) every minute.