Here’s Why You Should Explore Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave in Belize
Have you trolled Jerusalem caverns, explored Rome’s underground world and gone spelunking beneath the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico? Don’t hang up your headlight-fitted headband just yet: Your mission to see the top 10 caves on the planet won’t be fully accomplished until you visit what National Geographic magazine photographers and crews from both the Discovery Channel and the History Channel have all called the foremost underground attraction in Caribbean: Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave (known throughout Belize as the ATM Cave).
The ATM Cave is part of the Belize landscape. Tucked deeply underground beneath the Mountain Tapir Reserve, you’ll need both your mind and your gear to be in tip-top shape as you follow trained guides into the jungle and then plunge through 12 feet of water at the mouth of the cave to reach the treasures and spectacular sights that fill chambers and ledges throughout the vast cavern’s interior.
Our advice? Wear comfortable clothes and sturdy shoes as you trudge through some of Mother Nature’s most pristine terrain to reach this secret place.
As you explore the ATM Cave, you’ll begin to catch glimpses of artifacts left behind by the Mayans thousands of years ago. This was, in fact, a sacred cave where incantations, divination, human sacrifice and ritual worship brought spectators, victims and warriors alike to this holy place for mysterious ceremonies. Some returned repeatedly over time to continue religious traditions within the cave’s interior. Others never left.
Also called the Cave of the Stone Sepulcher, the site’s original name was lovingly restored by archaeologists and anthropologists conducting pioneering excavations into the interior chambers. Only when the National Institute of Culture and History of Belize and government entities intent upon rehabilitating and showcasing the treasures left behind by two Maya occupations–AD 300-600 and AD 700-900—was the cave finally opened for public visits.
Because the ground is sacred and Belize is quite serious about keeping the ATM Cave from deteriorating any further than it already has due to time and nature, you can’t just grab a scythe, cut your way through the jungle and explore on your own. Special licenses are awarded to tour guides who also happen to be knowledgeable about history, folklore and religious rituals performed here.
What’s the main attraction? Everyone who has visited this magical site is most impressed by the “Crystal Maiden,” the skeletal remains of an adolescent who was sacrificed and remains behind as an homage to this society lost in time. Weather and climactic change turned this skeleton into a sparkling relic that stands out among other ephemera, so prepare to be mesmerized by the Maiden, the ATM Cave’s chambers and ledges, and lush beauty of Belize!