What to pack for the ATM Cave was my biggest dilemma when planning my trip to Belize. The “ATM Cave tour” topped all the lists I found of “things to do in Belize,” but no one could tell me what kind of shoes to wear or what else I would need!
For this article and for my ATM Cave tour, I did a ton of research. Online, on the ground, and in the caves. Like, unhealthy amounts of research centered around shoes. It was a dark time in my life.
But like a bear emerges from its den after a long winter, I emerged from my research with an incredible understanding of everything you need when considering what to pack for the ATM Cave. And, I discovered the perfect pair of shoes.
Packing for the ATM Cave tour
Your day exploring the ATM Cave will, undoubtedly, be the most awesome thing you do during your trip to Belize. When deciding what to pack for the ATM Cave, the most important thing to bring is a healthy sense of adventure. However, there are still a few more tangibles. You can’t wear enthusiasm, after all.
What to wear for the ATM Cave tour
As for what to wear to the ATM Cave, here’s what you need to know as far as clothing goes: you’ll be hiking through the jungle, you’ll be swimming, and you’ll be sweating like Richard Simmons in sequins. (No disco anthems were harmed in the making of this ATM Cave packing guide.)
Even though you’ll be “hiking through the jungle” and “hiking through a cave,” the majority of your ATM Cave tour will see you submerged in water.
The hike to the cave includes three river crossings of various water levels. Some are shin-deep, some can get up to your shoulders.
The start of the ATM Cave tour has you swimming into the cave in deep water. And for the rest of the tour you’ll be anywhere from ankle to neck-deep in water. You’ll absolutely need to wear a bathing suit.
Personally, I wore the two-piece teal one featured in my Belize packing guide.
Over your suit you’ll need to wear clothing appropriate for, again, hiking, swimming, climbing boulders, climbing ladders, and a few more surprises.
A simple pair of board shorts and a tank top over my suit did just fine. I was a little cold at times but I was so distracted by the awe of what I was experiencing that it didn’t bother me all that much.
However, some recommend wearing a long sleeve rash guard over your suit and I completely agree with this. This will help keep you a little bit warmer and protect against all the cuts and scrapes you are 100% surely going to leave with.
Pack some cheap sunglasses for the hikes to and from the cave. Especially from the cave after you’ve re-entered a world of torturous blinding light after three hours in the dark Maya underworld. These polarized classics do the trick for me.
But most importantly, you’ll need the right shoes.
What shoes to wear for the ATM Cave tour
Let me guess, you have no idea what kind of shoes to wear for touring the ATM Cave?
I was so lost as to what this tour was going to be like that I really stressed out about what shoes to wear. I didn’t know how I was going to pull off swimming, wading through rivers, climbing boulders, spelunking, and hiking through the jungle all in one pair of shoes. All the laws of fashion would surely be broken, but I did not want to break any toes.
Legends of the Hidden Temple has it that hiking shoes are obviously necessary but out of the question. I needed to be able to swim in them and then, after the tour, what… was I supposed to wear wet hiking boots for the rest of the day? And then again later on my Belize trip?
But I can’t wear sandals since I can’t hike or climb in those and I definitely don’t want to step on any silver snakes, orange iguanas, or blue barracudas in them.
So, I relayed my fears and concerns to Olmec, the ancient God of 90’s Children’s Programming, and my prayers were answered. I was presented with the perfect shoe–a shoe for both water and land, for hiking and swimming, for all levels of dangerous physical activity.
What to pack for the ATM Cave: Keen Newport H2
I give you: the Keen Newport H2s. Ugly as they may be, I’d swear they were made specifically for the ATM Cave in Belize. They’re hardy like a hiking boot, drain like a sandal, and are, you’d never know it to look at them, the most comfortable shoes I own.
It’s true, I typically wear my Chacos for all activities. However, the Keens excel over Chacos, Tevas, and whatever other outdoorsy shoe you’re wearing because of their super tough toe guard. (A huge necessity for hiking the ATM Cave!)
You should probably just go ahead and wear these to your wedding, too. You’re welcome. For actually useful shoe information, watch this video from Zappos:
Where to buy them
Let me save you a few headaches: stop your shoe search now. You won’t find anything better than these Keens for your ATM tour and you’ll be so happy with them. My husband and I both continue to wear ours for hiking, fishing, canoeing, and the occasional fancy dinner party. Get them here:
What to pack for the ATM Cave tour
Besides wearing the essentials, there are a few more specific things you’ll need to include when considering what to pack for the ATM Cave. Such as:
You’ll need a towel to dry off whatever is still wet after your 45-minute hike back to the van under the ruthless Belizean sun. And by that I specifically mean blood, sweat, and tears. I always travel with this 3-piece set of microfiber quick-dry towels.
Extra set of clothes
Bring an extra set of clean, dry clothes to change into after the cave tour. Have no fear, there are on-site restrooms/changing rooms here. You won’t be forced to change clothes in a hot van full of strangers. Save that for Burning Man.
A pair of socks
Welcome to the ancient artifact portion of the ATM Cave tour where we have skeletal remains of human sacrifices, rare tools and pottery, and a very strict footwear policy.
At this point you’ll abandon your Keens on a rock ledge and continue through the cave wearing only a pair of socks on your feet, just like all the greatest cave explorers of yore. Wearing only socks in this part of the cave helps preserve the ancient cave’s already fragile environment.
Also bring a large plastic bag to hold your dirty, stinky, wet clothes and towel until you get back to your lodging where you can hang them up. This is for your benefit as well as for the benefit of all those strangers you’ll be sharing a hot van with.
Small first aid kit
I got a lot of bumps, bruises, scratches, and scrapes during my day hiking the ATM Cave. Make sure you bring some sort of small, travel-sized first aid kit to Belize with you. And make sure it has:
- Neosporin or your antibacterial ointment of choice
- larger sizes bandages
- alcohol wipes
A delicious and plentiful lunch is provided after you return to the park entrance from the cave. On the way to the cave are a healthy number of termite nests your guide will punch a hole into and show you how to eat the live termites. Should you need a little something else, I recommend bringing some snack bars of your choice. My choice is always Clif Bars.
I know this sounds silly considering the borderline unhealthy amount of cave water you’ll unintentionally consume on your ATM Cave tour, but those jungle hikes will still dehydrate you. I take my insulated, refillable Takeya bottle everywhere.
And a dry bag to carry all of it. Besides the shoes, another conundrum was how to tote everything I needed and keep it all dry while not interfering with my desire to live long enough to find out what the hell happened to Barb once and for all.
When deciding what to pack for the ATM Cave tour, I resorted to a series of crappy store brand ziplock bags inside a crappy backpack. However, as evidenced by the wet Clif bar I was forced to eat on the hike back, my plan failed.
Our guide and fellow tour-takers all had these waterproof bags that were seemingly made for touring the ATM Cave. I had never seen these before but if I was planning to sail my army across the Narrow Sea, I’d need to get on board.
I’ve since purchased one of my own and I love it. I use it out on the water when we go fishing, by the pool, at the beach, and, when I get my hands on a time machine, I’ll go back and take it with me to the ATM Cave in Belize and for all the water-related things to do in Caye Caulker.
Which dry bag to get?
For the few things you need with you in the ATM Cave, a 5L dry bag would do just fine. However, if you plan to use this again, say, at the beach, on a snorkeling excursion, or on a Double Dare physical challenge, I’d recommend the 10L.
My Leader Accessories 10L dry bag (shown above) holds a beach towel, a couple bottles of sunscreen, phone/wallet/keys, snacks, a book, and has plenty of room for more (snacks).
What your tour company will provide
There are also a few essentials you’ll absolutely need for the day, but that you don’t have to worry about when deciding what to pack for the ATM Cave. You’ll want to double-check with your specific operator, but most likely your tour company will provide you with:
(I’m speaking from my experience with PacZ Tours)
Helmet with head lamp
You will absolutely need to wear a helmet inside the ATM Cave. The fact that I’m still here and able to speak on the subject is proof of its power. These helmets will also include a very necessary head lamp. (But the part when they tell you to turn them off = pure magic.)
And though a helmet will be provided for you, the strength of will to ignore how bad it smells is all on you.
Yes, if you request it, your tour company will be able to provide you with a life jacket. Your guide will ask you ahead of time how good you feel your swimming skills are. And if you choose to use a life jacket for your ATM Cave tour, that is perfectly acceptable. A few people on my tour used them and they were very happy they chose to.
They won’t provide each of you with your own dry bag. However, the guide does carry one and will offer to carry anything you need him to inside of it, in case you don’t have an adequate bag, etc. But remember that he’s offering that to everyone in your group, so don’t weigh the guy down with all your stuff. (Bring your own dry bag.)
After your ATM Cave tour, your tour company will set up a good, filling lunch at the park while you change into your dry clothes. Small snacks are great to take for the hikes there and back, but you won’t need to bring a full-on meal.
What to never, ever bring to the ATM Cave tour
Under no circumstances should you consider a camera when deciding what to pack for the ATM Cave. Cameras of all kinds are a big no-no and are completely off-limits on the ATM Cave tour.
Why can’t you bring a camera inside the ATM Cave?
So you won’t break things
In 2012, a man dropped his camera inside the ATM Cave and broke one of the 1,100-year-old skeletons. Besides being trapped in a Mayan hell-loop as I’m sure he’s destined to be, he must feel like a real and total ass.
Besides that reason, which should be more than enough, there are a few more important reasons cameras are off-limits in the ATM Cave:
For your own personal safety
Touring the ATM Cave is no “walk in the park.” You’ll need to be on alert the entire time, paying attention to where you’re stepping, watching your head, hanging on to surfaces, swimming, and so much more.
Stopping to take pictures means you’re not paying attention to what you’re doing and, after your ATM Cave tour, you’ll completely understand the importance of this.
To keep pace
Stopping to take pictures means you’re not keeping up with the group, or that the group is having to wait for you. If everyone on the tour did this, you’d never make it through the cave.
It’s so important that the group stays together and that the group stays with the guide. Also, there are multiple tour groups going into and out of the cave. You can’t hold everyone up, Karen!
It’s pitch dark
Seriously, what are you taking pictures of anyway? You’re inside a cave deep in the earth. You can’t see anything. And don’t you dare even think about using a flash down here. Remember Phoebe.
Trust me, no photo you take inside the ATM Cave will do it even the hint of the justice it deserves. You’ll see.
Can I bring my cell phone into the ATM Cave?
No. Cell phone cameras count as cameras and cameras of all types are off-limits inside the ATM Cave. For all the reasons listed above but also because you know some guy is going to forget to turn off his Luke Bryan ringer and that sum’bitch is gonna ring to high Heaven, echoing throughout the entire cave system.
Can I bring my GoPro into the ATM Cave?
No. GoPros count as cameras and cameras of all types are off-limits inside the ATM Cave. Just because it’s possibly hands-free doesn’t mean you can bring it on your ATM Cave tour. You’ll still have to operate it, you’ll still have to take pictures, just no.
Even though you can take photos using only your voice, I can already tell you that your tour group doesn’t want to hear you shouting, “GoPro, take a picture!” all the live-long day.
Can the tour guide take pictures for me?
No, cameras of all types are off-limits inside the ATM Cave. Even if it’s the tour guides that are operating them. Guess what? They still have to do all the hiking, swimming, climbing, etc. that you’ll be doing. Additionally, they’ll be busy leading and keeping you alive in there.
They do have to pay attention. The tour guides also have to keep pace.
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