General Information

Actun Che Chem Ha (Cave of the Poisonwood Water) was one of my personal favorites on our trip. We went by ourselves and had William as our own private guide in the cave. A guide from the site is required for entry to protect artifacts and to avoid missing persons.

At the time of our visit, two tours a day ran at 9:00 am and 1:00 pm. We kind of think there is not a phone there and hotels radio in advance to let them know people are coming, but William who lives there said sometimes people just show up. That is OK, but to get lunch you have to give them notice in the morning. The lunch was awesome.

Getting There

map showing Che Chem Ha off the Western Highway about 8 miles sign pointing to the turn off the Western Highway detail of the sign

Take the Western Highway towards Guatemala. Shortly after Xunantunich, there is a left turn with a sign pointing to Che Chem Ha. The road becomes a bit rugged and slow, but eventually (about 7 miles) you will get to a sign on the left pointing the turn in to their bed and breakfast and the caves. We had to open cow gates and pass though and close the cow gates to get there.

The Place

What a nice little paradise. The place remains primitive true to spirit with towering trees alongside a cascading waterfall leading to a cliff with astounding views of nature. You don't hear the traffic, you don't see power lines everywhere, and the jungle is not hacked up for developments. You can stay here overnight, though we did not do so ourselves, we would consider so on a future trip.

the buildings the stream the drive in the view at the top of the falls

We met some people who had roomed there mentioned they got cold showers, but we found that we only got cold showers at our hotel, too. We did not see the rooms or the area where one would stay, but The meals cooked here are fabulous beyond words. Just for the food, it would be worth the night's stay. We think there is also hiking and horseback riding near here.

The Cave

The cave is uphill from the residence, and makes for a good hike unless you hate hiking, then it is a bad hike. The cave itself is a dry cave - at least relative to other caves we visited. The clay floor is a bit gummy, but there is no need to wade in water, puddles, or to swim. The walk in the cave is easy. There are ladders in the cave that you can stand on to take photos of the artifacts on shelves or to get closer to bats.

A tight squeeze on an optional detour. Stela with a circle of stones surrounding it. one of two in teh region The porous cave proviodes natural shelves and pockets for pots.

This cave had several archeological points of interest. Corn cobs as well as anato seeds were discovered in two of the pots at the site. There was also a pot with a man or monkey figure that was pressed frmo the inside to form the figure on the outside. A third point of interest is the stela that was used for 'special ceremony' (you know archeologists and ceremony theories) and there are only two stela like this in the region.

'Cave Cricket' - I did not like this Pots line the walls and sit in pockets in the cave What we shimmied into we had to climb out of

At one point, there is an option to take the easy way back or to do a bit of scrambling. The scrambling is not very technical and it allows you to see more of the cave on the return trip. In one of the rooms, the location of the stela surrounded by a circle of stones, there is a small hole you can crawl though. Actually you need to lie on your stomach and slither through. Somewhere in there you turn right and head up and end up on a small shelf in the same room you started in. it was pretty neat.


The cave is loaded with artifacts. The family who lives there keeps the entrance under lock and key to help preserve and protect the artifacts where they have laid for over a thousand years. Along the side of the passageways lie shards of broken pots. This is not due to vandalism, but were broken by the Mayans during ceremony. On shelves everywhere lie pots in cracked, broken, or whole form.

painted bird on pottery a row of pots A person pressed into the pot

Ladders are provided to climb for a closer look in several areas, but for the less agile, there is still a room to enjoy the pots up close on the same floor you walk. Some of the treasures included a bird painted in black on a red shard and a little man (or monkey) pressed from the inside out on the side of a pot. If we understand correctly, the number found with that design can be counted on one hand. Another lies in Tunichil Muknal.

Painted pottery A pot in a pocket A cracked pot Many are broken Colors from time and elements A pot with bowls

Though this trip only takes half a day, it seems like you are in the cave for hours, yet it is over so quickly. Che Chem Ha is a treasure for anyone who is able to make the 40 minute hike up the hill. We highly recommend it!