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.
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!
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)
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.
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. :)
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
Cost: $30 Quetzales ($3.75 US)
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.