Black-water rafting sounds dark and mysterious, right? It is. Sort of. Black-water rafting is essentially cave tubing, and it involves climbing, rappelling, and floating subterranean rivers—both freely (in the safety position, feet downstream) or in inner tubes.
New Zealand's Black Water Rafting Company leads tours in the Raukuri cave, in the Waitomo district, which is best known for glowworm caves where Arachnocampa luminosa alight on limestone stalactites and stalagmites. (Guided tours are the only way to access these caves.) With only glowworm constellations and headlamps illuminating the way through the pitch, visitors descend seemingly bottomless abysses and waterfalls, and float waterways.
Black-water rafting is possible in the Yucatan. The Caves Branch River in Belize flows in and out of a cave system popular for guided trips but navigable by indie travelers. The two major put-ins are at Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Jungle Lodge and just above Jaguar Paw resort. Ian Anderson’s Resort offers outfitted trips that travel seven miles underground, including into the Crystal Cathedral, a cave with intricate formations that was a spiritual center for Mayan peoples.
Challenge Travel and Tours and Belize Jungle Trek are other outfitters for this area. Adventurers can amp up the thrill-factor by taking unguided trips in these destinations. For example, there’s a government-operated parking area near Jaguar Paw and an entry point just upstream.
Either way, "if you want to do these activities, you'll need to bring along a swimsuit, a towel, and a sense of adventure," says Black Water Rafting Company's Angus Stubbs. "Expect a unique experience like nothing else in the world."