Candelaria Caves National Park
From Sebol, the dirt road branches west to Raxrujá, from where a paved road continues west to San Antonio Las Cuevas. The road from Petén also connects to San Antonio Las Cuevas from the “Cruce del Pato” Junction. The main attraction along this corridor is a visit to the fantastic Candelaria caves, recently awarded national park status.
The cave system, discovered in 1974 by Frenchman Daniel Dreux, is composed of seven separate caves interconnected by the Río Candelaria and spanning about 22 kilometers. The caves are 20–30 meters wide in places with ceilings typically 10–60 meters high.
Caves were sacred to the Mayans and it is thought that nearby cities such as Cancuén lacked the substantial temple pyramids found elsewhere in the Mayan world because of the proximity of the Candelaria caves, which were used as a center for worship.
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; the Chiquibul caves running east-west from the northern Petén department into Belize are another.
In 2002, the Guatemalan government awarded management of the caves to local villagers, though Dreux continues to operate a lodge he built adjacent to one of the cave’s entrances. The lodge is staffed by local villagers working for Dreux and there are at least two other options for visiting the caves operated by local tourism initiatives. Among the recreational highlights is the chance to explore the caves via underground rivers on an inner tube or inflatable raft.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com