“Jump in!” one of the tour guides shouted when it was my turn to immerse myself in the crystal clear, freezing cold stream leading into the mouth of the cave. The cave was Actun Tunichil Muknal—better known as ATM by the locals—one of the natural cave systems in Belize that was used by the Mayan civilization for rituals and ceremonies.
It was like something straight out of an “Indiana Jones” movie; after being outfitted with a helmet, headlamp and life vest, we set off on a 45-minute hike through the jungle, crossing three shallow waterways before we literally jumped in. Once inside the cave it got very dark and was a vigorous workout to climb over and through rocks, occasionally stopping to admire the stalagmites and stalactites that had formed over thousands of years.
Once we had ventured far enough into the caves, we came across a grand ceremonial room where relics were left by the Mayans that they used in their rituals, like clay pots and tools. This was indeed a very spiritual place where the Mayans made human sacrifices to the gods—and even the skeletal remains were there to be seen!
My trek deep into the heart of the Belizean Jungle was even more rewarded by what I found at Mariposa Jungle Lodge. It was only a short flight from Florida to Belize City, then a car ride to the lodge was about two and a half hours; not really a long distance away from the airport but because some roads are unpaved it takes a little longer.
This secluded, out-of-the-way spot was the perfect combination of nature, sensuality, adventure and relaxation. The resort is small and intimate, with only six guest cabañas, all separate to ensure privacy and space while you’re there. My cabaña had a king-size bed and all the usual comforts (most gratefully, indoor plumbing and purified water). There is a main lodge, which was the meeting space for meals and a “bar” for refreshments. Mariposa has newly built its Malachite Spa, featuring techniques from Swedish massage to Mayan Purification massage, a swimming pool with an outdoor cooking area and a brand-new yoga deck. There are many hiking trails winding around the property, as well a bird-watching tower and outdoor games like frisbee golf. All in all, there were many excuses to get outside and explore.
The day after I arrived, we jumped right into seeing the surrounding jungle to explore the Mayan ruins at Caracol. This site was once a city home to approximately 150,000 people. Unlike some other sites with Mayan ruins, here at Caracol we were able to climb up the steep stone steps of the temples—which were only accessible to the elite during the times they were in use for ritualistic purposes. Like the pyramids in Egypt, it’s easy to stare at these prolific monuments and wonder how in the world a primitive society managed to build them.
After Caracol, we made a stop to hike down to Big Rock Falls for an afternoon swim in the mesmerizing waterfalls.
As of Sept. 1, Mariposa, now under new ownership, will be going fully vegan and alcohol-free. Instead of alcohol, the lodge’s “bartender” Freddy serves up heavenly, fresh-squeezed juices, like lime, orange and watermelon (my favorite). The hotel’s skilled head chef Esau and kitchen staff put together delectable meals, which included a vegan meatloaf, quinoa lettuce wraps and surprisingly delicious desserts like banana ice cream and carrot cake. I never would have known I was eating vegan if I hadn’t been told!
The resort felt very welcoming to folks from all walks of life and is soon to become a haven for those who are health-minded and crave the chance to refresh among nature. An upcoming gay wellness and yoga retreat will be offered in August, coinciding with Belize’s LGBTQ Pride in August. If you are interested in joining, visit MariposaJungleLodge.com for more info!