Cuevas de Pencaligüe

Cueva de Pencaligue - Sumidero of the Rio San Jose de Atima

Useful Information

Location: Atima, department of Santa Bárbara.
45 minutes walk from the end of the road.
(14.961734, -88.504168)
Open: no restrictions.
Fee: free.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst Cave SpeleologyRiver Cave
Light: bring torch
Guided tours: self guided/local guides/tour operator
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Steve Knutson (1988): Sumidero of the Rio San Jose de Atima, N.S.S. News, Aug. 1988, pp.320–326. pdf
Steve Knutson (1986): Honduras - Sumidero of the Rio Atima, N.S.S. News, May 1986, pp.117–122.
Address: Cuevas de Pencaligüe
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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1988 expedition of NSS cavers crossed the cave.


The Cuevas de Pencaligüe (Pencaligue Cave) is the first sink of the San José River. Pencaligüe is Nahual and means Stone House. The river flows into the cave and crosses the mountain underground, just to reappear 12 km to the north the municipality of San Luis. The cave inbetween is a huge cave system which is only partly explored. It is possible to enter the cave at the portal and follow the river for some time underground.

The guides are quite excited that the silhouette of the cave portal from the inside looks like the map of Honduras. For non-Hondurans not really impressive. The tour follows a ledge above the cave river, which is more or less level. Nevertheless, good shoes are essential and the ability to manage rough terrain. The first chamber is inhabited by a colony of bats which sleep here during the day. The tour ends at the first obstacle, which requires climbing gear. During the tour you should definitely avoid entering the river. The river has much water and a high energy, and there is the danger that you are pulled deeper into the cave. That's why the tours stay on the ledge above the river.

The cave was explored by cavers of the NSS led by Steve Knutson in 1988, who actually crossed the mountain underground. They needed three days for this through trip. The cave was called Sumidero of the Rio San Jose de Atima at that time, we are not sure if the locals actually used the name Pencaligüeor, and just did not tell the cavers, or if it was renamed later. The expedition has become some kind of fuzzy legend, in general people remember that the expedition was from Canada and that they made a camp with tents in the cave. Both obviously far from the daily life of the locals and thus noteworthy. In the 90s cavers learned to ask for locals who are willig to accompany them into the cave. This has two benefits: the guests are often a source of knowledge, and they tell the other locals what happened inside the cave. After 30 years the local now believe that those guys from Canada stole valuables from the cave, which is obviously nonsense because there never were any valuables. But if they had local companions, they would have told in detail what they found and what they took with them: photographs and probably animal specimens.

This is a rather new opened cave trekking tour, it seems the first tours were immediately cancelled due to Covid-19. The idea is to walk along the river The tour is a very easy caving tour, but nevertheless appropriate equipment is essential. Good walking shoes, a helmet with headlamp, gloves, clothes to change, towel and plastic bags for the dirty stuff as always. Bring sun protection, mosquito repellent, some food and enough to drink for the walk to the cave and back. We have seen pictures with parties using actually burning torches, which is bad behaviour, even in such a big cave. Please bring the best light you own, the cave passage is huge. The tour takes about 3 hours, depending on how much time you spend underground, with the time to get to Atima it's a half day trip. After the pandemic the tours will most likely again be offered, check your hotel reception for info. If you go there on your own you should ask at the village for local guides. There are no official cave guides, but numerous locals know the cave good enough.

In a certain part of the cave there is a clearing where the most daring can find many fruit trees and eat nacatamales. Nacatamales are a local dish made of masa, a dough from nixtamalized corn, steamed in a corn husk or banana leaf, filled with meat, vegetables and olives. They can be found here growing already prepared at the walls. But these foods can only be eaten here, when you take them out of the cave, the fruits turn into stone and the nacatamales into sand.

The area is riddled with caves, and it is possible to visit two more caves nearby, higher up the hill.