This is a cathedral-like wet cave, once used for ceremonial purposes and human sacrifices by the Maya. A pair of Peace Corps volunteers stumbled on the cave in 1970 and found that it had been looted but still contained an enormous amount of pottery and artifacts. Archaeologists didn’t study the cave until 1998; they found large ceramics on high ledges, plus evidence of 20 human remains, including a necklace made of finger bones.
Barton Creek Cave is popular among Cayo visitors who fancy floating through the tall, quiet cavern. The experience is impressive and available to anybody physically able enough to step into a canoe.
Contemplate the quiet as your guide slowly paddles you deeper into the earth, the watery sound of his paddle echoing on the limestone. The cave is at least seven miles deep, but tours only go in about a mile or so before turning around.
Barton Creek is protected and managed by government archaeologists and is accessed by turning off the Chiquibul Road around Mile 4, then driving 20–30 minutes on a bumpy road through orange groves and a small Mennonite settlement (you’ll need to have someone who knows the way with you, as there are many roads and no signs).
The visitors center charges US$10 per person, then you’ll have to rent canoes (US$7.50 per boat), lights, and a guide, all available at Mike’s Place, right at the cave’s entrance. If you come as part of a prepaid tour, you won’t need to worry about such details.
Sleep to the sound of rushing water at Barton Creek Outpost (tel. 501/662-4797, www.bartoncreekoutpost.com , from US$10 per person), run by Jacquelyn and Jim Brit, an American couple who met while serving as divers for the U.S. Navy and decided to bring their family to the bush. Jacquelyn is a fantastic cook who serves three meals a day and is happy to do veg/vegan on request. Jim loves to take guests on all-day hikes on their 165-acre property and in the surrounding area.
If you bring your own camping gear, you can stay for US$2.50, or they rent tents and mattresses (US$10 per tent). There’s a bunkhouse for US$7.50 per person and a single cabana in the orange grove for US$20. Staying here puts you at the end of a very rough road, but there is plenty to do for active nature lovers, as well as discounted access to local tour companies for trips to waterfalls, ruins, horseback riding, and of course, Barton Creek Cave, which is a stone’s throw upstream.