The most convenient gateway for exploring one of Central America’s largest cave systems is a stop at the Complejo Cultural y Ecoturístico Cuevas de Candelaria (tel. 4035-0566, www.cuevasdecandelaria.com ), at Km. 316.5 of the paved road (RN-5), near San Antonio Las Cuevas.
The complex is the brainchild of Daniel Dreux, who quickly set out to map the extensive cave system shortly after discovering it. His growing concern over the long-term survival of this unique natural area led him to establish “Tierra Maya,” a conservation and sustainable development organization that aims to protect the forests surrounding the cave system while improving living conditions for local residents.
Entrance to the complex costs $3.50 (two-person minimum), including a guide and two-hour tour of the “Cueva del Mico” section of the caves, featuring large chambers that in places are 20–30 meters wide with ceilings 10–60 meters high. The impressive 200-meter-long “Tzul Tacca” chamber is a standout, with ethereal shafts of light shining from the ceiling onto the rocks below.
For more in-depth explorations, Maya Expeditions (tel. 2363-4955, www.mayaexpeditions.com ) runs a fantastic three-day/two-night trip to the Candelaria caves ($398) from Guatemala City, allowing the opportunity to journey on inflatable rafts through rarely seen sections of this incredible cavern and its underground rivers.
The Complejo Cultural y Ecoturístico also includes the wonderful
Candelaria Lodge (tel. 4035-0566, reservaciones [at] cuevasdecandelaria [dot] com, $15–20 per person), which serves as the perfect base for exploring the caves and several other local attractions. The comfortable, stylishly decorated cabins (all with shared bath) are set amid the tropical forest.
Delectable French and international dishes (including crepes that are to die for) are served in the lodge’s main dining room and your gracious host, Arnoldo, will cater to your every need. There are packages, including one night’s accommodations and three meals for $50 per person per night. Otherwise, meals range from $5 for breakfast to $15 for lunch or dinner.
If arriving by car, you’ll have to park your vehicle at a parking lot across the road from the entrance to the complex. From there, it’s a 15-minute walk to the main entrance and another five minutes to the lodge.
If staying at the lodge, bring a clean pair of flip-flops, as you’ll be required to remove muddy shoes and leave them at the lodge’s main door so as not to muddy the wooden walkways crisscrossing the property.
Another alternative for visiting the Candelaria caves is via one of the local community tourism organizations at Candelaria Muq’b’il Ha’, which you’ll find farther west along the Raxrujá–Chisec road (RN-5) at Km. 315. You’ll find a marked entrance indicating the turnoff for a two-kilometer dirt road to the parking lot. A 30-minute walk down a trail leads to the visitors center. From here you can take a guided tour of the Venado Seco cave (1.5 hours, $5.50), take a guided cave-tubing tour (1.5 hours, $7), or do both for $10. Food is available and you can stay at the rustic ecolodge Peña del Tigre for $7 per person or camp for $3.50 p/p. Overnight parking costs $5, $1.50 for the day.
Yet another option is found at Km. 309 along the same road, where there are two dry caves and one river-tubing section available for exploration. The visitors center is right beside the highway. The caves are a 20-minute walk away. You can tour the “Ventana de Seguridad” and “Cúpula de los Murciélagos” caves for $5.50, go cave tubing for $7, or combine all three for $10. Camping costs $3 and there is meal service with prior arrangement ($3–5). Parking is $1.50.