Growing up as a Marine Biologist, living in a very small town surrounded by caves, woods, and
rocks, and always looking for the next big adventure, it was no surprise that I would find myself
seeking unique adrenaline activities around the world. I learned to free climb, hike, and camp at
a very young age. Most of my weekend trips during high school involved rock climbing and
swimming in rivers and lakes within the freshwaters of Pennsylvania, USA.
The Marine Biologist in me loves the water and after exploring 62+ countries and 48 US states
and counting, I find myself trekking around the globe in search of wet caving expeditions. The
best caving experiences have been in the North America, Africa, Europe, and South America.
The most memorable caving excursion was in Belize located in Central America.
My Central America adventure tour had me plummeting, abseiling, white water rafting, boarding
volcanoes, submerging underwater in submarines, free climbing, snorkeling, hiking, diving, and exploring
the countries of Mexico, Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica.
As I started my solo adventures in Belize, I was intrigued by the Mayan civilization that once
encompassed a good portion of Central America. Fortunately, I stayed in a town called San
Ignacio and quickly was persuaded to do both a wet and dry caving expedition. The wet Actun
Tunichil Muknal (ATM) tour was fantastic and should not be missed! Actun Tunichil Muknal
means “cave of the crystal sepulcher” in Mayan.
Photographs were not allowed and for very good reasons! I found myself climbing on the wet
layers of the cave and helping others keep their balance on the sharp rocks below that were
engulfed by cold rushing water. Once we were midway through the cave, there was an increase
of smaller dark holes that my body had to carefully crawl through and a series of narrow
passages ahead, claustrophobia was certainly not an issue anymore. After battling my way 100m
up slippery rocks, holding tightly on the non-crystalized portion of the cave, and meticulously
planting my feet with every step that I took, I reached an opening that appeared right out of a
scene of an Indiana Jones’s film. A light crept through the top of the cave revealing ancient
artifacts of Mayan skulls and old shattered pieces of pottery in the distance. After such an
extreme caving expedition, I was prepared to trek through the jungle, abseil in a secluded cave,
and discover a part of myself that I never knew existed.
The following day I met up with an avid bird conservationist and experienced caver, Diego. He
and I would embark on a 4 hour journey deep within the jungle and explore a world where cave
crystallizations were plentiful. After hiking in the mosquito driven jungle for 20 minutes, we
finally laid eyes on the cave that for the first time, I would abseil into and reach the very bottom
of her mouth. Ironically, the jungle hike was to take 45 minutes, but with all the mosquitoes
buzzing around me and biting me through my heavier clothes, I decided to jog most of the hike.
Diego quickly tied a rope around the “perfect” tree that he had decided to use as our base to
abseil. Though I am coined a “world traveler” and adore caving, I had never abseiled into a cave.
This was my moment, where I pushed myself off the ledge and slowly walked down the side of
the cave. I wish I could say that I gracefully plunged myself into the 200ft cave below, but the
mist off the rocks made my leap into the cave slipper and gave me less control over my descent.
Finally I reached the bottom and watched Diego blissfully propel flawlessly into the mouth of
the cave and land right beside me. I took a few minutes before continuing and brushed off a few
cuts and scrapes that I had accumulated during my jump in the cave.
Once I recollected my thoughts and noticed where I was, I felt a wave of goosebumps and
excitement take over my body. I was about to discover 1,500ft of this ginormous dark cave with
just a head torch and a thrill for adventure. I followed Diego through a maze of boulders that
outstretched the sides of the cave. Then he disappeared in a small dark opening with a sharp rock
pointing upwards. I gazed ahead of me, turned on my torch, and looked around the cave. The
cave was silent; the only sound that caught my attention was a few drops of water alongside the
cave. The silence was interrupted when Diego yelled, “Jessica, come down here, you are going
to love this!” Glancing at this tiny hole, I had begun to push my limbs in directions that I did not
know that they could bend. As soon as I lowered my body into this hole, my right foot kicked
forward and I could feel a rather slippery rock underneath my grip. I held on tightly to the rock
above and slid my left foot outwards, catching on to a dry rock where I pushed most of my
weight on. I positioned my left hand behind me and kept my right hand latched on the rock
above, slithering myself down the rock and following the torch light with every move that I
I found Diego nestled up against one of the inactive or “dead” crystallizations with a huge smile
on his face as he hovered over a smaller rock on the ground. As I approached him, he said that
this expedition will be like no other, that I will feel the presence of the Mayans that once
accompanied this cave. His words certainly made me eager for what was in store in the next few
hours exploring this cave. A piece of clay was embedded into the side of the cave, as I got closer;
I noticed etchings on several sections of the old pottery. Diego had begun to tell me the story of
how Mayans broke the pots at the end of a ceremony to release the pot’s spirit–otherwise the
spirit would be eternally trapped. The knowledge that Diego knew about Mayans and caves was
astonishing, and though I was excited to be in that moment listening to him, I remember
experiencing an eerie feeling of solitude deep within the cave walls.
As we walked deeper into the cave, more “active” crystallizations were present and further
interesting Mayan artifacts were found. There was an area called the “jellyfish” lair and it was
beaming with active crystals and was one of my favorite formations in the cave. I crawled on my
hands and knees and pushed myself under a rock to get a better view of it – I was amazed that
this shape had carved itself out of droplets of water and crystals. I heard Diego echo further
beneath me telling me that he has saved the best piece of Mayan culture for last. We were at the
very bottom of the cave; he grabs my video camera and starts filming a long segment about the
I slid myself down a rock to get a better image of what footage he was gathering, and to
my surprise here was a Mayan skull carefully surfaced into the ground with a small hole revealed
in the center of the skull. As I sat there thinking about all that I have learned during my wet and
dry caving expeditions, a tear ran down my cheek and I finally understood the sacrifices that the
Mayans had made to keep their culture thriving and their blessings met. I have been in many
cave systems around the world, but have never felt a combination of accomplishment and
sadness at the same time. Perhaps at that moment, I knew that this caving expedition was so
much more than just adventure and adrenaline, but it was about understanding a culture and
being in a place where only few had been before. A cave of hope, pride, and love surrounded me
in the darkest place that I have ever experienced.
We made our way out of the cave, free climbing on “dead” crystallizations, and securing my feet
in places to hoist myself over the large boulders that laid before me. With no rope and a head
lamp that flickered, I climbed 250ft out of the most difficult exit of the cave. I reached the top,
sat down, and looked over the edge – a bright shimmering cave rested beneath me and a world
that others only ever dreamt about.
As I continue to drive my Jeep around the world on “The Voyage of Discovery,” I know that I
will definitely venture on this same cave tour again with Diego. During this cave expedition
dozens of photographs and several videos were made. These can be found on my website,
If you are keen to join the adventure and scope out other adrenaline activities that I have done,
please check out the following social media platforms:
Facebook: International Travelingmarinebiologist
Youtube Channel: Travelingmarinebiologist
Hello! My name is Jessica and I have been coined the term “World Traveler.” I have trekked to 60+ countries, 48 US states, and even started driving my Jeep around the world on “The Voyage of Discovery!” I suppose you can say I am a bit addicted to global travels! My career as a Marine Mammal Scientist allows me to spend a few months researching whales, dolphins, turtles, sharks, fish, and endangered species within various international regions. I am a conservationist, thrill seeker, and constantly showing the world how awesome it is, both above and beneath the surface! Feel free to come along for the adventure!
Dream. Explore. Live.