Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave (ATM Cave)
Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave
Even to the untrained eye, a peek inside a cave that was once home to an ancient civilization holds plenty of fascination. Rock walls. Strange ceiling and floor projectiles formed as water and minerals dripped and solidified for centuries. Spiders, bats and even fish coexist nicely, yet for the purist, no cavern is created equal—especially if that cave happens to be Belize’s Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave, otherwise known as the ATM Cave. This stronghold of ancient Mayan secrets and rituals will keep you spellbound from the moment you arrive.
Here are six things you should know before you go there to make your visit even more magical.
Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave (ATM Cave)
Once your eyes are accustomed to varying shades of black to grey that fill the ATM’s interior and you turn on your helmet light, you’ll spot the interiors of chamber after chamber until you arrive at The Cathedral. The cave’s most dramatic finds are here, including calcified skeletal remains of “The Crystal Maiden” whose bones sparkle like jewels due to centuries of mineral buildup. She’s not alone. Scan shelves and nooks to discover bones, relics, pottery and other ancient treasures in the dark silence of this inner chamber.
Why You Should Visit the ATM Cave
The skulls, bones and pottery on display are distinguished by “kill holes” inflicted upon each so spirits lurking inside are released. After all, the Gods of the Underworld have lots to do and they can’t be loitering around lifeless objects. Seeing such a spectacle is the best way to grasp the primitive religious beliefs practiced by ancient Mayans who selected this cave as a primary sacrificial epicenter thousands of years ago. You’ll learn so much more about this hidden world by visiting rather than just reading about it.
Where to find the ATM Cave
Your journey begins in the Cayo District—specifically, the town of San Ignacio. You’ll need a guide to find your way, so check with the concierge at your resort or seek help in town. Once you’ve secured a guide, you’ll be driven to the banks of the Tapir Mountain Reserve, at which point, expect to hike about 45-minutes through jungle and streams to reach the entrance. It’s a tight fit and not for the claustrophobic, but once you reach your goal, the ATM Cave will reward you with sights and ambiance that has no equal.
The best time to visit the ATM Cave
Most of the year, but if you take your vacations over the summer months, this could be problematic. Between late June and August, river waters rise throughout Belize as a result of green season rains that replenish the land. Does this happen every summer? Of course not. But it’s important that you know that the cave is closed to visitors if the waters get too high, but if you schedule your tour for any morning between September and mid-June you won’t be disappointed.
Best way to get to the ATM Cave
The bumpy rural road that transects a section of the Belize River will be your first step in reaching the cave. National Geographic travel experts–who put this cave atop its “Sacred Places of a Lifetime” list–join other resources in suggesting travelers stretch before hiking into the jungle to begin the aquatic slog into the cave’s depths. You’ll get wet and stay damp during the four to six hours spent in ATM Cave, so bring dry clothing along and forget about wearing sandals.
The best way to experience the ATM cave
While the ancient Mayans referred to the ATM Cave as Xibalba, the place of fear, you needn’t worry because only skilled and well-trained licensed guides are permitted to accompany tourists into the cave. You will be provided a helmet outfitted with a light and as you view the cave’s contents, your guide will captivate you with tales of Mayan superstitions and practices. You might even be told that the Crystal Maiden may actually be the Crystal Dude since experts are still debating the gender question.
As one of the million tourists who visit ATM Cave each year, you’ll be asked to be cautious due to the fragile nature of the cave’s contents and to protect the cave’s integrity, no cameras are permitted. This is one experience you’ll remember forever, so prepare properly for your adventure so you remain comfortable and attuned to the atmosphere, and if you believe in ancient spirits, you’ll certainly want to be in top form!
Interested in visiting the ATM Cave on your Belize Vacation? Contact us and we will recommend you with the best tour company in Belize to do this tour.