Che Chem Ha Cave
Che Chem Ha cave is an off-the-beaten-path destination located about 16 miles from San Ignacio Town in the Cayo district. You arrive at Benque Viejo Town near the Guatemalan border, where you will then make a turn unto the hydro road and continue driving for about 8 miles. Here you will see a sign pointing to a small road that leads to Che Chem Ha. There are several gates on this narrow road, but simply swing them open and drive through since there won’t be anybody there to assist you. Just remember to close them again since they were placed there to prevent the cattle in that property from invading the neighbor’s territory.
After a short drive you will reach the farm of the Moralez family. Antonio Moralez and his sons were harvesting bay leaf palms, (used in thatched roofing), when they made the discovery that would change their lives. What they found was a cave system containing precious pottery relics left behind by their Maya ancestors. Today the site is managed by the Archeology Department of Belize and access is only permitted with a guide.
After going over some instructions and a warning about the 45-minute up-hill hike, visitors can proceed to the cave with the resident guide. It is a physically demanding nature trail but an enjoyable one, with the opportunity to rest and replenish fluids several times along the way. The cave entrance is straight out of an Indiana Jones movie, decorated with a Maya motif, with a metal gate to prevent looters from stealing the precious treasure inside.
Upon entering the cave you can feel the strange combination of cool air and thick humidity. This cave is not as spectacular in terms of its formations of stalactites and stalagmites like others in the country, but it is famous for the pottery that the ancient Maya people left behind. As you start walking through the narrow passages of this cave you start seeing indications of what is to come. Pottery shards litter the floor and in some corners on the ground you can find complete but small pieces; and if you look closely you can see some of the details that decorate these relics.
Deeper into the system you come across ladders that lead to chambers high on the walls of the main system. This is where the most impressive pieces of Maya pottery can be found, not only because of their size and condition, but also because of their numbers. Chamber after chamber will reveal over a dozen pots and plates. Some of them with lids, and others with decomposed Maize and other seeds inside.
Che Chem Ha like other caves in the Maya world, were used as ceremonial centers. The ancient Maya believed that caves were the entrance to Xibalba, the “underworld”. The underworld was made up of 9 of the 22 layers of life that made up the world in which they lived. It is in this underworld that the Mayas left offerings to the gods and many times these offerings consisted of human sacrifice. In other caves around the country you can still see the remains of human sacrifice, untouched bones and skulls now calcified.
Che Chem Ha is a unique cave enjoyed more by the archeologist than the geologist. If you are just looking for adventure and exploration, this destination is a must. Just make sure to bring your flashlight and plenty of water.