Exploring the Lanquin Bat Caves

Lanquin Cave Guatemala

Entrance to Lanquin Caves

I spent 4 hours exploring deep, dark, & dirty caves filled with bats. Spelunking through these caverns at Lanquin was a lot more fun than I expected it would be, and there were a few surprises along the way.

I finally emerged from the earth, covered with mud & bat shit.

The Q’eqchi’ Maya town of Lanquin is surrounded by a large network of caves. The local Maya have used them for hundreds of years as sacred places of ceremony and worship. They believe the cave is the “Heart of Heaven”. Armed with my camera, water, and a powerful headlamp, I walked from my hostel for 25 minutes to go exploring in the Lanquin caves.

The beginning of the cave system is lit with a few lightbulbs strung-up in the air, which helps show off how impressive they really are. Giant cathedral ceilings that must be at least 50 feet high, covered in amazing stalactite formations.

I wanted to visit the caves without a guide to save money and really take my time enjoying them, I’m certainly glad I did. Because I took the initiative to go early on my own, I had the whole place to myself!

Lanquin Cave River Guatemala

Hidden Underground River

Time to Explore

Right away I found an unlit side chamber that I decided to explore. After a little bit of squeezing and sliding, I found an old iron ladder going down deeper. The whole area was covered in dazzling white limestone with specks of quartz or some other mineral that reflected the light of my headlamp.

When I turned off my light, everything went completely black. Sitting silently in the darkness, I heard water running in the distance. I decided to go on a bit further to see if I could find it. The source of the sound was an underground river running through the cave.

I was able to take a photo by setting up my Gorillapod Tripod and painting the area with the light from my headlamp as the camera took a long 30 second exposure. It took a few tries to get a good shot! (photo above)

Lanquin Cave Chamber Guatemala

Large Cave Chamber

Chamber of Bats

I climbed back out the way I had come, and continued on the regular lit pathway. Deeper in the cave now, the caverns just grew larger and larger. When the lights stopped, the cave kept going. I could hear noises back in the darkness, and still wanted to explore.

It was getting hot in there, and I was dripping with sweat. After some more climbing and squeezing, I found the source of the noises… a huge colony of bats! They were high up on the ceiling of the cave, surrounded in complete darkness, so I couldn’t get a good photo.

Lanquin Cave Bats Guatemala

Bats in Laguin Cave

Emerging from the Earth

But once I began heading back, they all started flying by me out to the entrance for a night of mosquito hunting. In the narrow areas of the cave, thousands of the flying mammals whizzed right past my head! It was crazy. Their echolocation senses are pretty impressive, none of the bats hit me at all.

Back at the entrance to the cave, it had become dark outside. The bats were still flying past me, off into the night. I finally emerged from the earth covered with mud & bat shit. But I was smiling from ear to ear. :)

UPDATE:
I’ve since learned that repeated camera flashes are not good for the bats. It affects their ability to hunt at night. Try not to flash them too much.

Specific Details & Tips

Location: Lanquin, Guatemala
Company: None
Cost: $30 Quetzales ($3.75 US)
Difficulty: Easy
Tips: You don’t need a guide, and you can walk for 25 minutes to the site from the town of Lanquin (or hitch a ride). Go before 4:30 pm to avoid other tourists. The bats start flying out at dusk.

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Any Questions Or Comments?

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16 Comments

  1. As I was reading this, all I could think of was the movie The Descent. I don’t think I would have gone exploring the caves on my own. You got some amazing photos though. Makes me wish I had brought a tripod.

  2. Crazy looking cave! Not a big fan of bats, though… I mean, they’re ok, just a little freaked out about the whole rabies thing.

  3. I hope you didn’t blow your hands apart with the New Years fireworks, get eaten by man-eating plants or fall into underground rivers. Happy 2011.

  4. You sure you didn’t get a little nibble from one of those bats? We won’t need to worry about you only coming out at night and having an aversion to mirrors when you come back, will we?? Wild pictures but be careful with all that squeezing and sliding we don’t want to have to send Val looking for you. = )

  5. So many thoughts and emotions, Matt. First, I’m so grateful Ryan is not doing this and I really hope he doesn’t get any crazy ideas from you (smile). I was reading your story out loud to Dennis and had to pause every sentence to go “EEEEEWWWWW.!” No matter what your adventure is, I’m almost always shocked and impressed and scared to death. Where you are drawn to go further and deeper to explore, all I would be thinking (and saying) is “what if we fall” or “what if we get lost.” I would be your worst possible nightmare as a travel partner!!! So we’ll just continue to live vicariously through you and let you enjoy the bat shit and stuff. Hugs and kisses from NC (where it’s finally above freezing) and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

  6. Great photos and what a fun adventure. There is something to say for guides ,you know-less chance of getting lost. Happy & safe 2011.

    1. I try to avoid guides/tours whenever possible. They cost more, and rarely do you get an actual benefit.

      More often you have to rush through the site because the guide just wants to get paid & go home.

      There is also no way I would have been able to take these cave photos on a group tour. No one is going to wait 30 minutes for me to set up my gear & test different exposure settings all for one shot. :)

      Don’t worry Pat, I don’t do these things without learning if a guide is necessary or not.

  7. I’m scared of bats due to past experiences when I was younger, but the caves look awesome!! And I agree with your mom, I like that first photo too! ;)

  8. WOW!! Amazing photos!! I think that I want to collect the photos of YOU, with the pensive pose, in different places–they are wonderful! Your father communicates with turkeys, and, you, with bats!! Happy New Year!!

  9. That looks like a fun place. Bats, bat doo, caverns. Any witches, flying monkeys, or trolls? You never know. Trolls are everywhere. Glad the departing bats didn’t get caught in your hair! Oh, sorry!