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.

Cheers again!!

Comments for ATM Cave (Actun Tunichil Muknal) Belize - Central America

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Great Adventure Travel Tale!!
by: Patrick

What a great tale about your tour to one of the major attractions of Belize.

Actun Tunichil Muknal with Action Boys Belize
by: Anonymous

We did the this adventure with a company known as Action Boys Belize. Donald Ramirez made the arrangements for our tour. We left Belize City at exactly 8:00 am. Carlos was on site waiting for us. Donald introduced us and off we went.
It was about two hour hiking, swimming up-stream, and junping over open areas. It was a blast and there is no way we can thank Action Boys Belize for this adventure tour.

Absolutely true
by: Shelly

This story is very well said, it is an awesome cave, but what the story leaves out is one very important thing for anyone not in the best of shape: get in shape first or you won't make it. This is a strenuous cave tour. It's also somewhat scary if you are afraid of caves or the dark. You will be totally wet, and you will be moving fast. Much of the time you will be half submerged in water. You have to be very alert and strong to get through it without getting banged up. Some of the rocks are sharp and even though I was totally ready for this cave trip my guide moved so fast, the water was rushing pretty fast in places, and I got bruised a few places just trying to keep up and grab on the correct rocks. My husband got cut up and was bleeding into the water from his knee. If you slip even a little you can get really hurt. I came very close to really twisting my ankle a few times. This happened even though we both knew what to expect. If a person is not in good physical shape, I would not recommend this cave trip. If you get a guide who wants to go fast, you might even get left behind -- our guide waited for no one and he was really moving fast. He even talked really fast. Get a calm guide!

A70 year old women in the ATM Cave
by: Charlotte

I am a seventy year old female with 2 knee replacements and 2 hip replacements. I went to Belize with my class from Kennesaw State University. If I had known then what I know now I would not have gone to the cave. Although I am very adventuresome and have done a lot of crazy things, there are not many that I would not have done again. However, even though I am a strong swimmer and was grateful for the time that I could get off my legs and just swim in the cold water, there were too many "challenging" places with uneven rock, high cliffs and low areas to go on your all fours! If I had had one of the other guides, they would not have let me continue; however, Jamaal was a great guide and I am grateful to his help (like catching me when I didn't see how I could get down some of the cliffs). He was defintely my hero. Yes, I am grateful to have experienced the inside of the ATM cave and with just a little scratch on my knee. It's going to take me sometime to forget my experience when I see ATM machines everywhere!

Barely made it!
by: Anonymous

I am about 100 pounds overweight snd I don't exercise much. I went on this tour because I knew I'd regret not going. I didn't know exactly what I was getting into, and I'm glad I didn't read this page first or I would have stayed behind. It was an experience of a lifetime. It was so incredible. I can't believe people aren't seriously injured daily with the ridiculous climbing. I managed to get out with only 2 large bruises and 2 scratched and bruised knees. The helmet took what would have been severe head trauma. I'm starting to think the skulls are remains of unsucessful mayans!

by: D From Az

This was the best experience of my life! I am returning next year and hope to get Carlos as a guide again. Although it was mentally trying at times (looking up or down at what your next obsticle will be) I believe I am a stronger person for doing it...

Highly Recommended
by: Tara from MA

I have traveled to many places all over the world and have done some pretty cool things. ATM is definitely at the top of my list. It is such an incredible, natural experience. The history of the cave is fascinating and to know that it has not been excavated or looted is amazing. I am thankful that I was able to experience ATM before it is either closed to the public or excavated.

An Experience of a Lifetime!
by: Maureen

While I knew I was going to get wet, was totally unprepared for the amount of climbing, squeezing and negotiating boulders! It was strenuous, but the total experience more than made up for the tricky bits. Probably the most difficult was climbing up this fifteen foot boulder that was in the middle of the stream only to leverage yourself up onto a rocky shelf with your arms. Going back down was perhaps even more tricky.You really feel that you are in a bit of danger, and is all the more exhilarating for it! I am nearly a 60 year old woman in good condition, and felt that it was doable. Don't miss this one if you are in the area!

ATM, Actun Chapat
by: Anonymous

The ATM cave was remarkable. But definitely no walk in the park. It's an adventure that requires work. And well worth it!

Afterward, we got back on the Western Highway and headed toward the Guatemalan border and to the Actun Chapat, an up-and-coming cave that people are calling the next ATM cave.

I figured this was hype but Chapat was the real deal - huge caverns, tons of artifacts, loads of animal life. Oh, and there's no known ending!

If you love adventure, I highly recommend doing Chapat before the word gets out.

Gonzo - River Rat Expeditions - patient guide
by: Connie Reynolds

I am not an athletic person and the people we spoke to in San Ignacio made it sound relatively easy. If not for Gonzo being extremely patient with me - as well as encouraging - I wouldn't have finished it - and likely would have been injured. The ladder to climb at the end to see the Crystal Maiden really scared me and initially my first reaction was "not a chance - I'm done" but after assuring me I could do it - and he'd make sure I didn't fall - I successfully completed the entire ATM tour. By the time we were done it was dark walking back, but with his help and my husband's - finished that hike without falling over a tree root etc. Do not wear jean shorts - they feel like cement pants after all the water.

Thanks Gonzo.

Really appreciated the help and encouragement.

it is totally doable!!
by: Anonymous

We got back from Belize just yesterday, so the fact that I'm in the library, looking up and reading about ATM should indicate what a cool trip it was. All the reviews about the beauty and adventure already posted are absolutely true. One note, you wear socks in the inner chamber not only to show respect, but to limit the amount of oils/soap coming into the cave and breaking down the floor. What I'd really like to say however, is please don't let all of the write ups about how difficult it is deter you. I am very fit (personal trainer) however; my 11 year old daughter and 8 year old son, and overweight desk lovin' husband did just fine. My son did get considerable help from our wonderful, expert guide Ben, but truly it really isn't that bad! The Crystal Cave is considerably more difficult. If you are adventurous, this site is well worth it. How often are you 400 ft. underground, looking at natural and manmade wonders? I wouldn't recommend it to people who have a hard time moving around on land, or who have knee or hip injuries, or the like. Otherwise, go for it. You won't ever regret it.

ATM and hike
by: Anonymous

I too took the ATM Cave tour with Carlos. What a delightful, knowledgeable, fun guide. Not only proficient within the cave, he also shared personal knowledge and history during the long hike to cave entrance - i.e. nutritional benefits of local vegetation, pointing out some birds, snakes etc.

On tour, female and male in 50's, 2 females in 30's. Was strenuous but doable with a patient guide!

Highly recommended!

You don't have to apply?
by: Bruce Raynor

Absolutely remarkable experience, perhaps the best tour I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Our guide was a Mayan man by the name of Martin who seemed to have been preparing his whole life to provide as complete an experience as possible. His knowledge of the flora and fauna of the area and the geology of the cave was only surpassed by his well grounded archeological knowledge. Even this was eclipsed by his life long passion for this particular place and his belief in its sacredness and mystical nature.

Yes, this is a bit of a challenge to get into, but as a basically fit pair of mid-50 year olds, it was largely a matter of walking/swimming carefully. There was no need for great leaps or impossible squeezes, but there was an absolute need to listen to our guide and follow instructions. This was for our protection, but more importantly, it helped to protect what is within this place from further damage.

Our tour consisted of two couples unknown to each other, one in their 30's, the other in their 50's. It amounted to a VIP level tour because of this low ratio of tourists to guide. It was delivered by MayaWalk Tours and appears have been a heck of a lot longer and more respectfully conducted than the two other groups we passed as they were exiting the main chamber. One of these was actually larger than allowed (max 8 + guide), apparently 2 groups combined, totalling 14 people. In my opinion, the smaller the group, the greater the likelihood of an enriching experience. You can go in and out of the cave and see all of the main attractions in about 90 minutes. Appreciating them and where you are is another matter. We were in there for almost 3 hours, not a minute of which I consider wasted. As far as I am concerned, folks should have to apply to do this tour. It is absurd that tour operators have flog it and "make a deal" to find participants. This is a National Geographic type of experience. NG even used this company when they first came to document this mystical place.

Again... MayaWalk Tours and if you can, go with Martin in as small a group as possible ... even if you have to pay extra.

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