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Cave Tubing in Belize – Get Those Butts Up!

“Butts Up! Butts Up!” yelled a park ranger in a neon green t-shirt. Unfortunately, being in the front of our group, his warning came too late for me. My butt slammed into the large rock just beneath the surface of the water. I thought to myself, that’s going to leave a bruise. Welcome to cave tubing in Belize!

We’d come to this small Central American country on a cruise for the holidays with Laura’s mom and sister. In doing some research, Laura discovered Belize cave tubing. We’d been to caves in Turkey, but we’d never been cave tubing before, so this seemed like the perfect way to spend the day.

In the Mayan hills, about half-way from Belize City to the Guatemalan border, the limestone rock underground has been eroded by water to form massive caves. In one area, a tributary of the Sibun River called the Caves Branch River flows through these limestone caves – today this area is known as the Nohoch Che’en Archaeological Reserve (or the locals call it the Caves Branch). It’s the perfect place for river tubing through caves.

Lance and Laura getting ready for a cave tubing Belize adventure
Getting reading for our adventure

There are actually two caves you can float through – the upper cave and lower cave. Unfortunately for us, we were visiting after a period of intense rains and high water, which limited the cave tubing opportunities. Had we visited the week prior, tubing would not have been possible at all. While the waters had subsided a little, for safety, we were only able to do the lower cave portion.

We pre-booked with a company called, operated by a gentleman named Vitalino Reyes, who was one of the pioneers of cave tubing in Belize when the government opened the Nohoch Che’en Archaeological Reserve to tourism in 1995 (locals have been navigating these waters for generations). Laura picked them for the simple fact that they are the only company who transport your tubes up river for you. At the time, I thought that was the height of laziness and surely we could carry our own inner tubes up a dirt trail.

Upon arriving at the Nohoch Che’en Archaeological Reserve, there was a large staging area where all the companies store their gear. We were outfitted with the life jackets, helmets, and headlamps. Since the company was transporting the tubes for us, all that was left for us to do was make a short little hike up the trail. Right? Remember when I said that they had recently had a period of intense rains and high water?

Group of people in life jackets crossing the Caves Branch River in Belize
The first obstacle to cave tubing is getting across the Caves Branch River

The first obstacle was to cross a swiftly flowing river – a river that had swelled due to the recent rains. A rope is stretched across the river to provide guidance, but the Caves Branch River has a pretty strong current. The first jolt of the water (approximately 72 degrees) cooled us off fast, but felt good on a hot day.

After crossing the river, there was a nice little hike along a trail heading upstream. The company’s website describes this walk by saying, “The hike is not strenuous, and the paths are well worn and smooth.” And in ideal conditions, that is probably true.

We found the hike to be quite muddy and the thin soles on my cheap water shoes did nothing to protect my feet from the rocks. (Note: we highly recommend sturdy water shoes for both men and women). Right about this time, I was thanking my brilliant wife for her forethought in booking with a company that carries our inner tubes for us!

But once we got into the water, all challenges were forgotten and we were ready for fun! The inner tubes are tethered together into a small “train” two tubes wide. I was fortunate to have the “pole position” up front to take pictures and videos with my GoPro camera.

Our group cave tubing in Belize
Selfie of our group

As we started our Belize cave tubing experience, the black, gaping mouth of the cave loomed in front of us. The guides pushed the tube formation into the current and then pushed/pulled the tubes through the rapids and channels. As the blackness began to swallow us, we encountered the first set of rapids. The park ranger yelled “Butts Up! Butts Up!” Yeah, I was bruised for a week. But cave tubing in Belize was totally worth it.

Inside the caves, the guides used the light from their headlamps to point out formations in the rock. Our little headlamps did little to illuminate the incredible darkness of these massive caves. I just laid back and enjoyed the journey. Once we emerged from the blackness of the cave, it took our eyes a few minutes to readjust to the light.

Looking back out the cave entrance while river tubing
Entrance to the Cave

After tubing, we stopped for lunch at the business office/café. Laura took some photos while we had lunch of rice, beans and chicken, which was plentiful and flavorful – especially with the local Marie Sharp’s Habanero Pepper Sauce. It’s got a kick, but is awesome! To cool the palate, I washed it down with a Coke. What I didn’t see was the wasp sitting on the lip of my drink.

As I went to take the drink, the wasp stung me on the lip! This might be a good time to mention, my mother is terribly allergic to bee/wasp stings. As my life flashed before, my eyes, I was convinced I was going into anaphylaxis. It didn’t happen. But the left side of my face was numb for the next 8 hours.

In retrospect, we were one of the first groups off our cruise ship and made it to the Caves Branch River early – before the masses of cruisers arrived. As we got out of the river, there were literally hundreds of cruisers waiting to cross the river and begin their cave tubing adventure. Our recommendation is to do everything possible to go cave tubing early!

The masses of cruise ship day-trippers arriving at the Caves Branch River
The cruise ship day-trippers arriving

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Kathy Harding

Tuesday 16th of January 2018

would you recommend taking or leaving your i-phone...even if you have a waterproof (almost) cover ... I really want to take pics, but don't want to buy a GoPro.

Laura Longwell

Tuesday 16th of January 2018

That's a tough one because there's always the chance of losing it. As you can tell, given the conditions, we needed to have our hands free to hold onto the rope and onto the tubes themselves. If you have a holder with a strap you can put around your neck, that might be your best option.


Tuesday 18th of March 2014

There are SO many people! Good call to rush off the ship and get there as early as possible.

Laura Longwell

Wednesday 19th of March 2014

We were there early and knew what to expect, so coming in to things in a positive mindset made all the difference.


Thursday 13th of February 2014

Looks like fun! But all those tourists with boats look like a bunch of rubber ducks floating on the water :) Good job with the post, Frank (bbqboy)

Lance Longwell

Thursday 13th of February 2014

Thanks Frank! Love the analogy. Thinking back, I guess we did feel a little like rubber ducks! :)

Mindy & Ligeia

Wednesday 12th of February 2014

We went tubing in Belize, too! Wish we had your warning to keep our butts up, though, before we did it. Our trip took us through the Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Preserve, and it was awesome. :)


Thursday 6th of February 2014

This post has me itching to return to Belize. Looks like quite an adventure, guys!

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