ATM Cave (Actun Tunichil Muknal) Belize - Central America
by Andrew Haylock
(San Ignacio, Cayo - Belize)
I have experience a variety of tours in my life but there is one tour that definitely is in a class all in its own. This cave is highly regarded and is in the top echelon. Discovery Channel, National Geographic and the History Channel have done a special documentary in this spectacular cave.
Here is a basic summary of this fascinating experience so you will get a better feel for it. Actun Tunichil Muknal is by far the best tour in Belize, and is considered by the NSS as one of the top ten caves in the world. This amazing tour departed from the Mayawalk office at 8:30am and it took about forty five minutes to get to the parking lot. We strapped on our helmets and enjoyed a flat, refreshing jungle hike that lasted 40 minutes. The area that we hiked through is known as the Mountain Tapir Reserve. During our fascinating hike, we crossed a crystal clear river three rivers. The crystal clear water stemmed from the Mountain Pine Ridge area but the hike was not strenuous.
We got to the camp site, and had a twenty minute lunch. At this point, our knowledgeable guides gave us a short briefing regarding the geology of the cave, Mayan culture, and why the Mayan people would go into caves and perform human sacrifices. There were fourteen human sacrifices that were performed in this magnificent cave. We entered the cave by doing a short ten second swim. At this point of the tour we got soaking wet including our footwear. The depth of the water at the entrance of the cave is about 12 feet deep, but you swim at the top of the water instead of submerging. The cave is decorated with beautiful stalactites/stalagmites formations. We climbed over rocks in the cave and hiked “in” and “out” of water. The first
section of the cave consisted of a breakdown where huge boulders collapsed thousand of years ago. We had to maneuver through this boulder section by using our 4 points of contact for leverage and support; four points of contacts meaning our feet and arms. It was NOT your traditional rock climbing but instead we simply climbed over boulders.
We departed the wet section of the cave and then enter the “dry chamber”. It is like a cathedral inside. Since it is a very sacred area, we had to take our footwear off and walked around with our wet socks on soft, limestone floor for about an hour and a half. This process is done because our body has oil and bacterias and we had to preserve the cave. We were totally impressed by the vast amount of Mayan potteries, and Mayan skeletal remains that were displayed all over the limestone floor. These priceless artifacts are over a thousand years old, and haven’t been touched or removed. This cave is in fact a “living museum” and we all viewed the “crystal lady”, which is a full skeletal remain at the end of the dry chamber.
This is the “must see”, “must do” tour. You can’t do a tour like this no where else in the world. There are so many adjectives, phrases to describe this tour. It is amazing, breathtaking, invigorating, educational, and thrilling. The best way to sum up this fabulous experience is that if you go to Guatemala you must see Tikal; if you visit Egypt you have to experience the Giza Pyramids or if you go to China you have to see the Great Wall. If you come to Belize you must include ATM Tour as your number one choice of destination.
I will always be appreciative of Mayawalk Tours for arranging the best experience in my life.