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In the ancient land of the Maya and Olmec there was a deep belief in the power of the Underworld, the very center of creation according to Meso-American mythology.

So there should be little surprise that the caverns beneath much of the Yucatan Peninsula were sacred spots to the indigenous population, who believed the door to the Underworld was hidden somewhere in the maze-like caverns that tunnel beneath the porous limestone uplift of southern Mexico.

If you're looking more for an adventure than you are a common vacation, these mysterious caverns are the gateway to hidden puzzles that challenge the the body and the mind.

Welcome to the Underworld of the Yucatan, a series of caves and cavern systems that are filled with history, pre-history, and geological wonders. From primitive cave drawings to more intricate wall frescoes of many colors, this underworld environment holds the key to unlocking the mystery of the idenity of the early men who walked the silent halls of limestone. Archeological evidence dates human artifacts found in some of the caves at to more than 7,000 years old.

While a few of the caverns provide official entry and guided group tours, many can only be visited by making arrangments with a local guide, a more adventurous trip if you're feeling a little like Indiana Jones of Lady Laura Croft.

Explore the Underworld of the Yucatan and get ready for an adventure you'll remember for years.

Lol-Tun Caverns
These caverns, whose name comes from the maya "Lol": Flower and "Tun": Stone, are one of the biggest known from the huge cave system that covers a great territory in southern Yucatan. They are located at 4.3 miles southwest from Oxkutzcab and 15 miles northeast from Labná ruins. An illuminated cavern path about two-thirds of a mile long will take you to a number of ramarkable udnerground sites. In one of the caves, known locally as "Huechil" (from the maya "Huech": Armadillo), archaelogical excavations uncovered extinct animal remains including mammoth, bison, feline and other animals bones, indicating a colder climate period with a different environment to that of the modern times.

Cultural features to be found within the cave system include mural paintings representing hands, faces, animals, geometric motifs and inscriptions;  artificial containers carved in rock for gathering natural dripping water, a series of petrogliphs with flower motifs, which give the name to the cavern.

Calcehtok Caves
These are the second-largest caves after Loltun. Their name is derived from the Maya words CAL (neck), CEH (deer) and TOK (stone). These caves have a complicated series of tunnels making it mandatory to use a guide. Within the caves there is a great amount of pre-Hispanic findings like intact plates, quartz hammers, arrow tips, stone sculptures, obsidian knives, human burial sites and holtuns (stone cisterns for water collection). Within various chambers you will see natural formations that resemble objects such as waterfalls, elephants, faces, animals, etc. There are about 30 caves in the Calcehtok region; it is believed that all of them are interconnected.

BALANKANCHE CAVES
Located 6 kilometers from Chichen Itza, these caves were important ceremonial sites for the Maya. There are impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations inside. Six hundred fifty feet from the entrance is the "Balam Throne," an altar where it is believed the Maya celebrated some type of ceremony. In this same chamber there is a 20-foot tall grand stalagmite formation that resembles a ceiba tree, the sacred tree of the Maya. It is called "sacred tree inside the earth." Many ceremonial objects can be seen at the outdoor museum located next to the entrance. There is a light and sound show relating the history of these caves that has been incorporated into the cave tour.

TZABNAH CAVES
Located 25 miles south of Merida in the village of Tecoh (Tee-ko'). The name Tzabnah (Zob'-na) is Maya and means "The Kings Palace." There are stalactites, stalagmites, columns, deep crevices and thirteen cenotes within these caves. Along the principal tour route in these caves there is a huge chamber known as the "Cathedral Cupola" that resembles the Cathedral of Merida. Legend has it that a kidnapped Maya prince and princess escaped to these caves and were herein lost forever. You can visit these caves at any hour as there is always someone there to guide you.

Much of the resource material for this index was borrowed from the SAN FELIPE ASSOCIATION OF RETIRED PERSONS Web site, a handy guide for exploring the caverns of the Yucatan.