Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM)

Wed 28 March, 2012

Now listen very carefully. A wrong move on your part could cause an injury; and you are far from proper medical facilities. The guide, at the front of our single-file line of roughly 10 spelunking museum goers, gave very clear, and very precise instructions. I was right behind him, so there could be no misunderstandings... "With your left hand, grasp this edge of rock," as our guide patted the protuberance. Then, "Place your left foot here on this rock..." he said as he pointed the beam from his headlamp at a rock shimmering about one foot beneath the surface of the crisp clear water. "Then with your right foot stretch across to here," indicating the rounded point on a rock perched upon a submerged boulder, a few feet away. "And then shift your weight to your right foot as you pull yourself forward and grasp that larger boulder over there... like this..." as he quickly demonstrated, the splashing water sounding eery in the hollow sounding chamber. He then moved along further up the stream, deep within a cave, deep within the remote western jungle of Belize. But wait! Before you can go, turn around and tell the person directly behind you the instructions, and then send off a silent prayer for that unlucky one at the back of the line. A mistake here, in this "whisper down the lane" real life game, can cost you some skin or worse.

Actun Tunichil Muknal, or ATM, is one of the most well known ceremonial caves in the entire world. It has been voted by National Geographic to be the #1 sacred cave to visit, and is a big draw for tourism in Western Belize. Caves were considered to be very spiritual places to the ancient Maya. As an entrance to the underworld, the Mayans would often hold ceremony and prepare offerings to their Gods, and occasionally ritual sacrifice. Deep within the ATM cave is a cavernous series of dry chambers that hold the remains of hundreds of ceramic bowls, pots, and shards which have essentially calcified over the years by the natural drippings of limestone. Rather than remove the items, the government of Belize decided to leave them in their positions, and to make the cave, and its contents, the museum. Guides must also be certified as museum curators; and clean socks are packed into the cave to be worn when you reach the inner chambers.

But this day long adventure is not an easy task. First you must be transported from your lodge, picking up other tourists and a picnic lunch along the way, and maneuver along another interminable road of packed dirt sprinkled with random gullies and holes. After arriving at a trail head you hike for about 45 mins... wait, I can just show you with pictures!

A 45 min jungle hike crosses the river 3 times,A 45 min jungle hike crosses the river 3 times,

to reach the mouth of the ATM reach the mouth of the ATM cave.

You must be prepared to swim, and use a headlamp.You must be prepared to swim, and use a headlamp.

After jumping into the cool refreshing water,After jumping into the cool refreshing water,

you follow your guides careful follow your guides careful lead.

The way can be tight and tricky,The way can be tight and tricky,

and include plenty of climbing.and include plenty of climbing.

After about an hour we ascended to the dry upper chamber,After about an hour we ascended to the dry upper chamber,

and were shown many calcified artifacts in our newly donned socks.and were shown many calcified artifacts in our newly donned socks.

There were human sacrifices,There were human sacrifices,

amidst wonderous formations.amidst wonderous formations.

In places the cave sparkled,In places the cave sparkled,

and stalagmites grew.and stalagmites grew.

It was very beautiful.It was very beautiful.

1,400 years ago this teenage girl was sacrificed. She is now called the "crystal maiden".1,400 years ago this teenage girl was sacrificed. She is now called the "crystal maiden".

And this is a sacrificed child.And this is a sacrificed child.

But when times were better, it was much more common to make offerings to their Gods within pottery.But when times were better, it was much more common to make offerings to their Gods within pottery.

By the time you retrace your careful steps out of the cave, hike to the van, and drive back to your lodge it is time for dinner. What a magnificent day that was; and uniquely one of the most memorable experiences I have ever had. 


Re: Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM)

thanks for the pics...very exciting. The energy seemed over whelming even through the internet. Whew! I'm tired. Right, what a day....Avizahn

Re: Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM)


Re: Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM)

I am with you every step of the way.

Re: Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM)

Holy cow, what will you find next.
It looks amazing!!

Re: Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM)

so I still want to hear about the tarantulas....

Re: Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM)

The rest is coming... sorry its slow producing this journey; I've been busy packing for my next escapade!

Reply to comment | blending together

My spouse and I stumbled over here by a different page and thought I might as well check things out.
I like what I see so now i am following you. Look forward to going over your web page yet again.

19 February, 2012 - 28 February, 2012

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Few clouds
  • Belize City
  • August 19, 2:05 am
  • Few clouds
  • Temp: 82.4 °F
  • Wind: ESE, 3.5 mph
  • Humidity: 84 %
  • Sunrise: 5:37 am
  • Sunset: 6:17 pm