In 1989, a group of Belizean explorers discovered the sacred ceremonial cave of Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM), used by the Ancient Maya to conduct religious sacrifices. After nine years of documenting and exploring the more than five kilometers (3 miles) of winding passages and deep pools, the cave was opened to the public in 1998.
Today, adventurous visitors can explore this fabulous underground world. The tour begins with a refreshing 45-minute hike through the rainforest, fording three streams along the way. Entering the cave, visitors swim across a small pool to arrive at a rock shelf. From there, the spelunking adventure truly begins with 600 meters (2000 feet) of crossing over slippery terrain and deep pools, marveling at the large stalagmites that the Ancient Maya carved with religious symbols.
Entering into the sacred heart of ATM cave, the next step is to climb three meters up (30 feet) to a flat shelf that overlooks the river. No shoes are allowed past this point as the floor and sides of the cave are littered with pieces of pottery and ceremonial items dating more than a thousand years ago, left behind by the Mayan priests. Artwork, much of it mysterious and still not understood by modern archeologists, covers the wall.
Further on, spelunkers get to see further evidence of Mayan religious ceremonies, many which were performed to appease the gods of Xibalba. More broken pottery can be seen along with the remains of human sacrifices. Archeologists have discovered 14 individuals so far, seven adults and seven small children under the age of 5. The most famous remains are that of the Crystal Maiden, a woman in her early 20s whose complete skeleton has become covered in a layer of glittering calcite.
While there is much to marvel at inside the ATM cave, the physical requirements of swimming through the entrance, ascending sheer rock faces and traversing the treacherous interior terrain require that visitors be in good physical condition.
The magical adventure to the ATM Cave begins with an early morning boat ride from Yok Ha to the mainland and from there overland to San Ignacio in Cayo District.
Book a tour of Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave with the resort’s concierge today!