Mayan Caves - A Large Part of Belize's Tourism Industry
The Central American country of Belize gained its independence from Great Britain in 1981. It is in a tropical region, located in between Mexico and Guatemala and to its east is bordered by the Caribbean Sea. Belize is a very culturally diverse nation, and the only Central American country that has English as its official language. Spanish and Belizean Creole or Kriol are also spoken by the ancestors of the Mayan, Spanish, British, African and other ethnic groups in the region, with Kriol being the most popular language actually spoken by the people.
Belize's limestone rich mountains are also home to many caves, and these caves were the home to the religious ceremonies of the Mayans. Archaeologists discovered the use of these caves dates back as far as 1000BC, or more than 3000 years ago. The Mayans believed that the natural karst topography of the region that lends itself toward these types of caves in the sides of limestone or dolomite rock were actually passage ways to the underworld, or the world of the dead.
This tangible ancient history has made Belize a natural tourist attraction for anyone with an interest in the mystical, the ancient, or simply beautiful landscape. The tourism industry in Belize accounts for 25 percent of all employment in there and 18 percent of the country's Gross Domestic Product. The interesting habits of the Mayans during their rituals also makes the goings on inside the caves in Belize so fascinating to many people. There is some evidence that many sacrifices of humans of all ages were likely a typical occurrence.
The Caves Branch Cave System is a very popular tourist destination. Cave tubing tours allow visitors to ride the rivers inside the caves on inner tubes in guided tours of the ancient site. There are also caverns including the Actun Tunichil Muknal, or more easily pronounced ATM, that are accessed on foot. Visitors walk through the river and once inside the cave are able to climb above the water. Inside ATM are many representations of pottery and skeletons.
There is one skeleton of a teenaged female sacrifice victim inside one area of the cave called the Crystal Maiden that has been covered in a sparkling stone over time and who draws a lot of visitors to the cave. Visitors in canoes, on inner tubes, and those swimming and hiking on foot frequently visit Belize to navigate the caves.
Because tourism is such a large part of Belize's economy, there is a lot of attention paid to ensure the safety and entertainment of the tourists that come to this country. The Belizean Tourism Department plays a large role in trying to educate the tourists that come to their country of the rich heritage and long history of the region.
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