(NAPA, Calif., February 2012) "“ Francis Ford Coppola's famed Blancaneaux Lodge in Belize is commemorating the highly-anticipated final year of the Maya calendar by launching five exciting Cave Explorations within Belize's Maya Mountain Massif, a collection of twelve protected areas considered to be one of the largest, most biodiverse and pristine wilderness regions remaining in Central America.


Blancaneaux Lodge's new cave explorations, available throughout 2012 and beyond, are a fascinating and engaging way to celebrate the completion of the Maya Long Count Calendar's significant 13th b'aktun, ending on December 21, 2012 and marking the end of a 5,125 year era before resetting at year zero.  As a large civilization that spanned Mesoamerica thousands of years ago, the Maya's unique discoveries on astronomy and mathematics are still relevant today. Commonly debated is this ancient prophecy of a new cosmic cycle, or b'aktun, resetting at year zero, causing reason to further explore and understand Maya culture this year.


"Belize is embedded with a rich cultural heritage and the best way to discover the region's mystery and beauty is with an adventurous glimpse into the enigmatic Maya underworld," said Neil Rogers, Director of Marketing for Coppola Resorts.  Adding, "This is a great way to engage in the b'aktun celebrations this year. Furthermore, the caves are such an authentic piece of our landscape; we're really looking forward to offering these expeditions long after we've rung in the new Maya millennium."


Suitable for guests of all ages, Blancaneaux Lodge's cave explorations range from the easily accessible Rio Frio Cave to the strenuous Actun Tunichil Mucnal Cave (ATM). Culturally imperative to the Maya, caves represented a mythical zone of life and death and are often described as entries into the underworld.  Evidence of religious rituals, ancient burials and offerings to the deities is abundant to this day. Maya remains can be found among the caves near Blancaneaux Lodge and guests may gain knowledge of the country's ancient inhabitants by caving in the Rio Frio Cave, Barton Creek Cave, Offering Cave, ATM Cave or cave tubing in the'Caves Branch' Nohuch Che'en Reserve.


The Rio Frio Cave trip suits guests of all ages and physical abilities. Trails within the Rio Frio Cave are 'dry' and the 'tube-like' cavern has good levels of natural light as well as a sandy beach on the side. Artifacts left by the Maya have long since been removed and are housed at the Department of Archaeology in Belmopan but the cave continues to be an easily accessible site to those interested in a light outdoor adventure.  Rio Frio Cave is available to guests as part of the Caracol excursion.


The Barton Creek Cave is a unique river cave located less than an hour's drive from Blancaneaux Lodge. Anyone who is fit enough to paddle a canoe can enjoy exploring this 4.5 mile long cave. Along with the stunning beauty of the cave, it's also possible to see an ancient Maya skull as well as pottery shards and ceramics. Most of the cultural materials in the cave are results of agricultural rituals with evidence of bloodletting rites and sacrifice. To date, excavations at the cave have revealed the remains of 28 sacrificial victims along with necklaces, carved animal bones and pottery. Guests are provided with headlamps and life vests as well as the accompaniment of a knowledgeable guide.


The Offering Cave is lesser known but a favorite among the staff at Blancaneaux Lodge. It's located in the Noj Kaax Meen Elijio Panti National Park less than five miles from the resort. From the vehicle, a nice 20-minute jungle walk will bring guests to the 'dry' cave that is open and easy to navigate. At less than 3,000 feet long, the exploration of the cave takes two to three hours. The cave is stacked with huge Maya storage pots called 'Ollas.' There are also sacrificial remains, ceramics and tools left untouched since the Maya collapse at the end of the Late Classic Period. For many, the highlight of the cave is the mysterious Maya sculptures that glow amber when light is shined on them. For experienced horseback riders, it's possible to ride to the cave in two and a half hours.


The Actun Tunichil Mucnal, or ATM Cave, is one of Belize's main inland attractions.  Ranked as one of the 'Top 10 Caves in the World' by National Geographic Magazine, the cave trip starts with a 70-minute drive from Blancaneaux Lodge followed by a 40-minute trek through the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve to the cave entrance. ATM Cave is only recommended for those of an adventurous spirit who have a good level of fitness. The underground stream flows out of the cave and it's necessary to take a short swim into the cave (water depth is about 12 feet). About three hours is spent inside the cave and it's necessary to squeeze through some tight spaces and climb over rocks to reach different levels. The rewards are worth it. Two small carved stelae are located above the stream, one carved in the shape of an obsidian blade and the other a stingray spine. On the next level lies the cave's most famous occupant, the crystal maiden, a victim of ritual sacrifice from the Late Classic Period.


The 'Caves Branch' Nohuch Che'en Reserve cave tubing experience is Belize's most popular on-shore activity for cruise ships while visiting the country. In order to miss the crowds for this amazing experience, Blancaneaux Lodge offers a daily early morning transfer option for all guests traveling to Belize Municipal Airport or Turtle Inn resort. The transfer stops at the Nohuch Che'en Reserve for an hour's float along the Caves Branch River and a gentle jungle walk to reach the starting point for cave tubing. Each participant has a special 'tube' for the float, a headlamp, life vest and 'water shoes.' The float goes through a series of huge inter-connection caves separated by open sections where the river is flanked by high jungle.


For information on Blancaneaux Lodge, please visitwww.CoppolaResorts.com.