Belize is full of karsty, cave-filled landscapes and no one takes full adventure travel advantage of them like an outfit called Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch where we signed up for something called the Black Hole Drop which combined jungle hiking and a rappel into the abyss.
Owner Ian Andersen pioneered cave tourism more than two decades ago when a group of Peace Corp volunteers showed him some of the caves in the area. Ian fell in love with the terrain and saw opportunity in the fact that no one was offering cave tours in Belize at the time.
He also fell in love with one particular bend in the Caves Branch River–a bend that is now home to the his Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Adventure Company which includes a lodge, his personal home, and his adventure tour operation. In his spare time (chuckle) Ian also pioneered search and rescue training, procedures, and operations in Belize, creating an infrastructure that’s still used country-wide.
We absolutely wanted to experience the caving (preferably without the search and rescue part) so during our stay we signed up for three of Ian’s adventures. The first was ominously called Black Hole Drop (US$105 per person including transport, gear, guide and lunch).
This is why it’s called Black Hole Drop
After a sweaty 30 minute hike through the jungle in the foothills of the Maya Mountains we arrived at the top of a giant cliff over the Actun Loch Tunich sinkhole. Guides had gone ahead and checked ropes and rigging and they were waiting to get us into our harnesses and helmets, ready to rappel
Karen has a fear of falling, so the longer she thinks about things like rappelling over the edge of a sheer cliff into a space where you can’t even see the bottom 300 feet (92 meters) below, the harder it gets. So we volunteered to go first.
First rule of rappelling: “Just lean back…”
If you’ve ever done any rappelling you know that the first step is a doozy. As the guide urges you to “just lean back” into the harness and over the abyss you struggle with the voice in your head that’s shouting DANGER at the top of its tiny little lungs. True, leaning back makes it easier to walk down the wall (which is, essentially, what rappelling is all about), counters the logical voice in your head. But it’s still easier said than done (for Karen, anyway).
Adrenaline pumping, we inched over the edge then started a leisurely descent, reaching the treetop canopy after about 200 feet (62 meters) and solid ground after about 300 feet (92 meters).
Experience the Black Hole Drop in our video, below.
All safely on the ground, we scarfed down a picnic, then hiked back out of the jungle, this time past a wide-mouthed cave which Ian uses as the site of a very unique honeymoon in Belize. Staff set up a suite just inside the cave which comes complete with a real bed, candles, champagne, flowers and a discreet guide to do your cooking and carrying.
Staying at Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Jungle Lodge
The turn off for Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Adventure Company & Jungle Lodge is almost directly across from the entrance to the St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park. Arriving at the lodge was a surprise. Ian Anderson’s website works hard to make the operation seem bare bones, rustic, “not for everyone.” That may be true, but the place was way more polished than we expected with stylish design and architecture, Wi-Fi, lovely grounds, and a very pretty pool.
Gregarious owner Ian Anderson may shun the words “luxury” and “resort” but his ever-expanding lodge now encompass everything from camping to charming and spotless US$34 bunk rooms to new split-level, 800 square foot Treehouse Suites with two showers (one outdoor), wrap-around views and a full living room (private hot tubs and morning coffee service are coming) that go for US$400 a night.
Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Jungle Lodge offers, by far, the broadest spectrum of accommodation choices we’ve ever seen in one spot. There’s truly something for everyone and every budget and that’s how Ian likes it. He’s into mingling travelers from all spheres which is why meals are served family style, often accompanied by Ian’s storytelling.
Here’s more about travel in Belize