Cave tubing tours popular attraction in Belize, particularly among cruisers, but not all cave tube tours are created equal. Here’s a guide to what you need, what you need to know, and who you need to choose as your cave tubing guide.
The Basics: Wait, I Need a Tour?
- The tubing caves are owned by the National Park and cannot be accessed without a licensed guide. In other words, you must book some kind of tour and can’t go it on your own.
- Tours can be booked through the cruise line, with a local company, or on an independent basis. Be aware that not all tour companies offer the same type of tour or level of service with their tour. Be sure to do your homework and know what you want to make the experience memorable.
- Tours are weather dependent and can be closed if the water in the cave is too high. Be sure to check with your tour company to ensure that you have other options if the cave is closed, particularly in the rainy season (June-November).
- All tours begin by crossing the river at a low point and ascending into the jungle. From that point it is slightly less than a one mile hike to mouth of the cave where you will put in and use the current to propel you through the cave. It is not an overly strenuous activity, but there are stairs and some stamina involved.
- Cruise ship tours place height and age restrictions on the tour. If booking a cruise ship tour, participants must be 8 or older, but younger than 70. All participants must also be at least 48 inches tall. Most local companies have no height or age restrictions.
- There are several differences between the tours offered by cruise lines and the tours offered by the locals. The major difference is that cruise line tubers are not allowed to free float down the river, so the tubing experience is shorter. Tubers booking with the cruise line will also traverse through a different part of the rainforest and have less access to the informational portion of the rainforest tour.
Gear, Guides, and Other Supplies
- The river is fed from mountain springs, so the temperature can best be described as refreshing. An average of 70 degrees F is typical for the river water. Our guides advised that the hotter the air, the colder the water due to evaporation, so expect a slightly chilly experience, even in the warm months. We brought along wetsuits and were very happy to have the extra layer of warmth.
- The tour begins by crossing the river along some very large river rocks. Tennis shoes or water shoes are a must for your feet. Flip flops and sandals will absolutely not hold up in the current, as evidenced by the pile of flips that had lost their flop on the other side of the river.
- Part two of the tour involves walking through the rainforest. The path is well marked, so no machetes are needed, but some bug spray is advised.
- Swim wear is appropriate for tubing, but our guides advised that guests are more comfortable wearing shorts and t-shirts over their swimwear
- Life vests, lights, and tubes will all be provided as a part of any package.
- The entire tour lasts approximately two hours-one hour walking through the rainforest and one hour tubing. Any drinks, snacks, bottles, etc will need to be brought along in a bag that can get wet or is waterproof.
Our Charlie’s Cave Tubing Experience
For this blog, I am often offered the opportunity to experience free of charge and while I strive to be as honest about my experience as possible, free often makes it seem a little sweeter. In this case, though, we paid full price and can heartily say that Charlie’s Cave Tubing was worth every penny.
Our tour began with a one hour ride from the cruise ship pier to the National Park where the caves are located. During the ride, our guide shared a wealth of information about the history of Belize, all the way back to the Mayans. Parts of the ride were extremely bumpy on gravel roads, but the stories made the time pass quickly and we got an excellent view of the Belizean countryside.
When we arrived at the National Park, we changed into our suits and headed out into the jungle. For the next hour, we walked slowly through the rainforest, learning about the various flora and fauna. Our guide was clearly the most well versed in the secrets of the rainforest, and his knowledge really made the tour. As other tours were marching through the jungle ignoring the delights along the trail, we were busy getting a real education. The tour would not have been complete without this detail.
At the end of the trail, we arrived to find our tubes waiting for us near the river. Grateful that we had not needed to carry them through the jungle, we climbed into the refreshing water and our guide clipped our tubes together so we could float as one raft.
After floating through the amazing stalactites and entertaining rapids, we emerged from the cave and floated down the river until we arrived back at the point where we had crossed the river to begin the trek. After changing, we were treated to a Belizean lunch of rice, beans, and chicken before catching the van for a bumpy ride back to the pier.
100% Belizean, 100% Satisfied
The biggest reason I chose Charlie’s Cave Tubing was because it is a 100% Belizean company. When I visit a country, I like to be sure that my money is circulating within the local economy. There are several other large cave tubing tour companies in the area, but their websites seemed to value quantity over quality and the reality was true to that fact. Our tour guide, Roberto, shared that Charlie Chan (the owner) is always quoted as saying that he did not want to get rich, he only wanted to make a living and that his reputation was more valuable than a huge pocketbook. True to that sentiment, Charlie’s offered many extras in order to provide a high quality experience to their guests. These extras made the experience so much more memorable for us, and when we saw the other
suckers guests who had booked with the bigger tour companies, we could really see the value in what Charlie’s provided.
The Charlie Difference
As I began to research the cave tubing options, I was drawn to Charlie’s Cave Tubing for several reasons. First of all, they offer “luxury” tubes. Yes, luxury tubes do exist and they have mesh bottoms and headrests. For a family, mesh bottoms are a must. I appreciated not needing to worry about losing anyone through the hole in the tube. Charlie’s also carries the tubes through the rainforest for their clients, rather than requiring that you schlep your own tube on the journey. After trekking through the jungle with four kids, I cannot imagine all of us carrying our tubes ourselves. I would have been carrying at least two tubes for much of the trip, and there would have been whining. That bonus was huge for our family. In keeping with the family friendliness of the company, Charlie’s likes to keep their groups small and manageable, limiting each group to only eight tubes per group. Other groups we encountered would have 25 to 30 tubes per group, creating sort of a party barge atmosphere. Our group was small and informative and tailored to our interests.
Charlie’s offers a local flavor that is not available with other companies. The guided rainforest tour was just as much a highlight of the trip as the cave tubing, and we emerged from the jungle with so much information about how the locals use their resources in the past and today. We learned which leaves the locals use for sandpaper, and which leaves are boiled and used to ward off malaria. We were treated to a delicacy of termites and sampled several other edible fruits and plants along our walk. And we held a tarantula! At the end of the tour, we were treated to an authentic Belizean lunch as a part of our package. Although Americanized food was available elsewhere, Charlie’s likes to celebrate their heritage by sharing a typical lunch enjoyed by the locals. For all this added quality, we paid the same price as any other tour company, but reaped huge benefits in local culture and family friendly fun.