I am doing my best to write about my recent trip to Belize and Guatemala and I figured what better topic to begin with than the elusive Actun Tunichil Muknal, ATM for short. Here you will find Mayan artifacts just the way they were left by the Mayans hundreds of years ago. The cave is ranked as one of the Top Ten Caves Of The World by the National Geographic Society. After doing some research and learning that cameras or any other recording devices are not allowed within the cave, I was even more interested in seeing this place. Nothing is more refreshing to me and an attraction that hasn’t been posted on Instagram by everybody and their momma. I shopped around to find the best price for a guided tour, as I always do. After much consideration, I decided to go with a tour organized by my fabulous hotel, Rumors Resort, simply for convince. The price, $110 USD per person, was comparable to the other prices I’d seen and of course, it included a delicious chicken fajita lunch, transportation, tour guide, and our cave gear.
When the day arrived to finally make our trek to ATM, I was filled with excitement…. Little did I know that excitement would soon be replaced with heart-pounding nervousness and wonder. There are no facilities besides the trusty trees, so I made sure to relieve myself before the hike began. Also, there was one more chance to go to the restroom a few feet before entering the cave. Our guide made sure to remind us that we would be required to leave to cave if we needed a restroom and our tour would be cut short.
We began our 45-minute hike to the cave with an immediate jump into the Mopan river, which we would eventually cross three times before reaching the entrance to the cave. The water was cold but refreshing considering the immense August heat. Along the hike and ride to the cave, our guide pointed out native wildlife and began to explain the history of the sacred caves and temples. I was impressed with his vast knowledge and understanding of the ancient Mayan people.
Once we reached the entrance of the cave, I was confronted with my vast ignorance of what an actual cave would be like. No, I didn’t take into account the impending darkness or the fact that I would be sharing spaces with bats, tarantulas, and god knows what else. But even with all those creepy crawlies I prevailed and made my way through the cave.
This trek is an active one and requires you to climb, slide, and swim all under the cover of calcium-carbonate and red oxide columns. Once inside the cave, you will rely on headlights to guide the way. There is a point within the cave in which you will have to climb into the upper chamber and remove your shoes (socks are required but I saw people going up without socks). Here is where you will find the “crystal maiden” along with tons of ceramics left by the Mayans. He… who was mistaken for a “she” upon discovery, is the crystallized remains of a Mayan man sacrificed to the Gods. In the past tourist have damage the artifacts which is why cameras and recording devices are no longer allowed in the cave. The Belize government sees these as distractions that open the door for such accidents. Since the site has not been fully excavated it is imperative that we try to leave everything in pristine condition for future generations.
Viewing these artifacts were so breathtaking I completely forgot about my irrational fear of arachnids and other gross animals. You could see the desperation increasing as the Maya people moved from ceramic sacrifices to boiling human blood, to actual humans as you navigate deeper into the cave. There aren’t enough words in the English language to accurately describe the tangibility of spirits in the cave.
Once we began making our way back to the entrance all the fear I had at the beginning melted away. I took advantage of the opportunity to study the intricate formations above my head and bask in the Indiana Jones vibes I was feeling. But needless to say, I was beyond happy to be out of the bat infested cave. (No I didn’t actually see any bats that were awake but even seeing them sleeping made my skin crawl)
Overall I will admit that the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave was a life changing experience. I would highly suggest anyone in the area bite the high price tag and take this tour. The history and culture at the site is still being uncovered which makes this cave even more interesting. Not only did I get a history lesson but a great work out as well. I couldn’t have asked for a better tour. I hope you will get to experience it one day as well.
Have you already visited the caves? Leave you comments, suggestions, and tips below.
Check out my article on the Hidden Costs of Seeing the Ancient Mayan Ruins