The Black Hole Drop isn’t your typical holiday adventure. You’re trekking through a muddy rainforest, up and down mountains, making your way through winding, overgrown pathways, over rocks and roots holding onto ropes and branches to pull yourself forward. It can be very challenging, for some, exhausting. It takes a certain amount of determination to make it all the way to the top, and a healthy dose of courage to actually step off the edge. But is it worth it? Absolutely!
Your adventure begins by taking a short 15 minute ride in a rustic open-air minibus from the lodge at Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch. The bus ride itself is a unique experience, and the breezy trip through the mountains along the Hummingbird Highway gives you a chance to view the very same rainforest you’ll be venturing into minutes later.
The ride ends by driving into an orange orchard at the foot of the mountains near the rainforest edge. This is where you’ll hop out and start packing for the road ahead. You’ve got to make it to the top, but you’ve also got to take your gear with you. Ropes, helmet, harness, everyone gets their own, along with a few large bottles of drinking water that you’ll be happy you carried with you later on. After everyone is set, bags all packed, gear all accounted for, water bottles full, it’s time to get underway.
Your guide points out a little opening up ahead where the orchard meets the trees and that’s where you’ll be heading.Your first steps off from the lush orange grove takes you into a narrow footpath cut through the thick vegetation into the Cayo rainforest. It can take a few moments for your eyes to adjust since the trees are so tall and so huge they tend to block out most of the sunlight from coming through, leaving the ground below shaded and moist. This is where the true journey begins.
What lies ahead is a steady climb up three different mountains along a winding pathway that leads through the rainforest floor. The entire time your guide keeps you entertained and invigorated with stories of the people who first settled in that area and the animals that call the rainforest their home. “Be on the lookout for snakes” they’ll tell you, and at that point you’ll be glad to know that your guides came to work prepared!
Making your way up to the top, you’ll soon begin to realize just how beautiful untouched nature really is. Listen carefully and you’ll hear the many songs of the different birds perched in the trees overhead. Every now and then you might catch a glimpse of an iguana on a branch soaking up a little bit of sunlight that found its way through the canopy above. You’ll learn which trees are ok to touch and which ones to stay away from, which plants were used in medicine by the Mayas centuries ago and which ones are still used to this day by the local villagers in the surrounding areas. You’ll also learn that even though most of the sunlight is blocked by the trees, the effect humidity has on temperature is abundantly clear. Those bottles of water your guides handed out earlier will certainly come in handy along the way.
For most people though despite being difficult and tiring, the journey up is the easy part. Once you’re at the top staring down into the darkness, that’s where the real challenge is. The Actun Loch Tunich sink hole plunges 300 feet down from the surrounding mountains, 200 feet above the canopy of trees that grow in the basin below. This is the moment of truth, the whole reason you scrambled up those mountains and through the rainforest to make it to the edge of the cliff ready to step off.
The scene itself is undeniably beautiful. A giant cavern filled with lush trees, covered with thick vines criss-crossing from limb to limb and dark caves burrowing into the sides all around. And that’s when it hits you… you’re about to strap into a harness, tie yourself to a rope and rappel down into the darkness.
The sheer size and scale can be overwhelming for some. If you think you might be a little bit scared, don’t worry, you wouldn’t be the only one. Some have had to close their eyes the whole way down. Some stood there trembling the entire time as they slowly stepped backwards closer and closer to the edge. Others had been so terrified that they actually started crying as their turn came near and they realized that at this point there’s no turning back.
But then, this is when you experience what is probably the best part of the journey. When your new-found friends who started this journey with you are there giving you the support and encouragement you need to step forward. Regular people you’ve never met before who might be just as terrified as you are, joking and laughing with you to lift your spirits and help you along. Your guides, who traverse these mountains almost everyday, calmly assure you that no matter how scared you are, you’re in good hands.
With your harness set, ropes tied tight and all clamps in place, you’re ready to take the plunge. A few uneasy steps backward, holding on tight as the walls slowly give away and you’re on your way down.
Now to enjoy the ride and most importantly the view. The truly adventurous ones can take the reigns themselves and rappel all the way down on their own. But for those who prefer a little help, your guides can actually do it for you and gently lower you down the side of the drop leaving you to enjoy the scene on the way down, relaxed and contented in knowing that you did it. You made it to the top and stepped off the edge. Now it’s time for a little reward.
What awaits you down below is a whole new world. A magnificent valley filled with huge boulders, giant trees and incredible walls all around. You’ll notice dozens of caverns and caves dotting the scenery all around, one of which you can actually spend the night in on the Overnight Jungle Expedition. At the bottom is where you’ll get to enjoy a delightful and healthy meal of fresh meats, vegetables and cheeses carefully laid out in a wonderful spread with those same rocks as your table. It’s buffet style… build your own burrito, with natural ingredients grown and produced right there at the lodge at Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch.
When you’re at the bottom sharing a few laughs around the lunch rock, poking fun at each other about the faces they made on the way down and the ones who nearly didn’t make it, it hits you. Getting here really wasn’t that hard and although the drop was short the journey is more than fulfilling, and you realize that you’ve been smiling the whole way.
You made the drop and you stepped off the edge. Now you have an exciting new story to tell. An awesome new adventure to share with your friends back home and an experience that you’ll never forget. But first. It’s time to pack up and make it back down. Save some of that water for the return trip and stuff those burritos to the max.
Adventures in Belize range from your casual days on the water snorkeling, or a slow sunset cruise down a winding river, to the more extreme experiences like hiking through rough mountain terrain and jumping off underground waterfalls. The Black Hole Drop leans firmly on the extreme but is certainly a must-do Belize Adventure.
Photos by Duarte Dellarole Photography