Candelaria Caves National Park
Candelaria Caves National Park is a subterranean system of rivers and caves, considered among the largest and most impressive in Central America. This region has great cultural and natural significance since it was a main pilgrimage site for the ancient Maya civilization and continues to shelter a lot of flora and fauna.
The Candelaria Caves, now a National Park, are actually a system of caves between Chisec and Raxruhá, where the Candelaria River passes through seven big caves, and are famous both for their beauty and archaeological significance. These caves were a major ritual center associated with the Great Western Trade Route, which followed up the Usumacinta and Pasión rivers. A large amount of ceramics from throughout the Classic period were found here. Rituals seem to have been undertaken and amid the ash, incense burners, smashed and burnt pots, hundreds of obsidian blades were found, along with shell "tinklers" and other evidence of ceremonial regalia.
In addition to its speleological attributes, this cave system has great cultural and natural significance, since it was a main pilgrimage site for the ancient Maya civilization and continues to shelter diverse flora and fauna. For the archeology buff there are more than 20 archaeological sites surrounding the cave system and a lot of Maya pottery which attests to the cave's great cultural importance to the ancient Maya civilization. In Mayan lore, caves are thought to be entrances to the underworld, known as Xibalba. The Candelaria caves are one possible location for the mythical Xibalba.
Flora and fauna
Candelaria Camposanto is located between the towns of Chisec and Raxruhá, in the kilometer 309. The Visitors' Center is beside the highway. To access to the caves you must walk between 15 and 30 minutes through different nature trails which is low to medium effort. It is advisable to have a guide or join a group tour, or even a shuttle that is planing to stop in the caves.
There are three main gateways for exploring the caves. The most convenient option is at the Complejo Cultural y Ecoturístico Cuevas de Candelaria, which is near San Antonio Las Cuevas. Created by Daniel Dreux, this organization aims to protect the surrounding forests and also aid in the sustainable development of the local community.
This system cave features massive stalagmites and roof windows that let in light. Side galleries hold evidence of ancient Maya rituals, and the entire system is traversed by the Candelaria River. You can even float through the caves in an inner tube.
The shuttles that go from Coban to Flores Island pass in front of the visitor center. You can visit the Candelaria Caves on a day trip out from Coban, but to really enjoy them, you should stay overnight at the Complejo Cultural y Ecológico Cuevas de Candelaria.