Las Cuevas de la Cobanerita

Nooch Naj Cultunich - Cueva de Galon


Useful Information

Location: 5 km south-east of La Cobanerita, northwest of San Benito.
From San Benito east 10 km to La Cobanerita, at the begin of the town before the cemetery turn sharp left. The hill with the caves is after 5 km on the left side of the road. There is a farm named after the cave with farmstay, 400 m/10 minutes walk to the cave.
(16.896509, -90.002838)
Open: All year daily .
[2021]
Fee: Adults GTQ 10, Foreigners GTQ 80.
[2021]
Classification: SpeleologyKarst Cave ArchaeologyPainted Cave
Light: bring torch
Dimension:  
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: James E. Brady, Gene A. Ware, Barbara Luke, Allan Cobb, John Fogarty, Beverly Shade (1997): Preclassic Cave Utilization Near Cobanerita, San Benito, Petén. Mexicon 19(5): 91–96. academia.edu
Karl Herbert Mayer (1995): Maya Hieroglyphs Discovered in a Guatemalan Cave. Mexicon 17(2): 62–64.
H. González (2004): Cuevas de la Cobanerita Ecotourism Center in San Benito, Petén. Thesis. University of San Carlos of Guatemala. pdf
Address: Cuevas El Tecolote, Caserío Antonio, San Benito, Tel: +502-3014-8459.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

1971 caves discovered by the farmer Salvador Ayala.
1995 Cueva De Las Pinturas discovered by Nikolai Grube.
1995 existence of the caves reported to municipal authorities by students.
1997 Cueva De Las Pinturas explored and excavated by Dr James Brady.
2000 declared Historic Protection Zones by the municipality of San Benito.

Description

Las Cuevas de la Cobanerita is a group of eight caves inside a karstified hill. The caves are mostly single chambers, with numerous karstfensters and a flat floor. They are called Las Cuevas de la Cobanerita named after the La Cobanerita village, which is located to the northwest. A Mayan name is Nooch Naj Cultunich, which means in the Mayan-Itzá language Large Stone House of Worship. The caves are also known among archaeologists as Cueva de Galon. The site is a sort of archaeological preserve, and so there is now an entrance fee and open hours. Nevertheless, the caves are only minimally developed, mostly railings to protect the paintings. There are trails, but they are only at steep places, mostly outside, the caves have an unpaved dirt floor, and there is no electric ligt. If the trail is marked by two rows of rock on the floor, please do not leave this trail, to protect possible archaeological remains in the ground.

The caves were obviously known to the indigenous people and used for various religious purposes. There are paintings, hieroglyphs, engravings, rough sculptures, pottery remains and ruined walls in several caves. The caves were officially re-discovered in 1971 by the farmer Salvador Ayala. Since then a lot of exploration and research happened. However, there are numerous contradictory stories about the discoveries, and we are not sure which is true and which is just local lore. Today there are five interesting caves which are accessible on trails and easy to visit. The floor is flat but there are no trails and no light inside the caves. The paintings are protected by railings, so visitors are able to see them but not to touch or harm them. The caves are named Cueva de las Pinturas, Cueva del Tecolote, Cueva del Mono, Cuevas del Sapo, and Cueva de los Murciélagos.

The Cueva de las Pinturas (Cave of Paintings) is the main attraction with three inscriptions on the walls containing hieroglyphs painted in red, black and yellow. It is the only cave with polychrome glyphs. There is also a stone formation at the entrance with five rustic carved human faces. The huge cave portal is followed by a huge entrance chamber, the paintings are located at the far end. The cave has a huge main chamber with two entrances on opposite sides, and a side passage with a third entrance. On the fourth side is a series of smaller rooms with two more entrances. Most paintings can be found in the passage connecting those smaller rooms. The cave was explored by Dr. James Brady in 1997. He found thousands of Sierra Red preclassic sherds, as well as a number of protoclassic sherds throughout the cave. He has also found mammiform supports, covered with a cream covered slip which he believes date from 1OO BC. At present, all the ceramic remains found in the cave appear to be preclassic, although the inscription appears to be later. There is also evidence of ongoing modifications within the cave which include three layers of added clay floors and dry masonry walls built presumably to limit access to sacred areas within the cave.

Cuevas El Tecolote (Owl Cave) was named after the owls which frequent the cave. The cave has several karstfensters which allow daylight into the cave. It is mostly a portal with a huge chamber behind, which is shaped like a C. The entrance is about 5 m wide and high, the chamber behind is between 10 m and 20 m wide. There is a short side branch, on the right sight, right behind the entrance. The cave was obviously known and used for a long time. There are three faces carved in the cave wall, one at the entrance and two more on the cave wall facing the entrance. They are obviously of Mayan origin. There are also several ruined walls.

The Cueva del Mono (Monkey Cave) contains a rock sculpture in the far end, which was unfortunately vandalized by throwing rocks. It resembles a monkey, hence the name of the cave. The cave has to portals side by side, the chamber behind is connected in the form of a U-turn. On the right side is a small side passage with a third entrance.

The Cuevas del Sapo (Cave of the Toad) was named after a stalactite at the far side which was carved with circular eyes and a line across the mouth. This figure resembles either a frog or toad. The cave is located at the floor of a huge duge, where a part of the cave collapsed. On the floor of this doline are the ruins of a temple. There are two huge chambers on both sides of the doline, which could be interpreted as the remains of a big chamber.

The Cueva de los Murciélagos (Bat Cave) is not accessible because the dry dust of the bat guano in the air is unhealthy, probably histoplasmosis. For security reasons the entrance was walled by a massive, seven meters wide and two meters high wall. Nevertheless, the cave is visited in the evening to see the bats leaving the cave.

The karst here is in a rather late Karstkarst development phase, and forms a sort of Explainkarst tower. which overlooks the completely eroded plains. The caves are more or less cave ruins, huge cave passages where much has already collapsed and with numerous daylights, dolines, and cave entrances. The speleothems are overgrown with algae and moss because of the daylight and have become dead.