Cave Exploring Actun Tunichil Muknal – ATM Belize
When the journey into the cave began with wading through chest deep water, I knew I was in for a unique adventure. The Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM Belize) is a cave in Belize notable as a Maya archaeological site filled with artifacts like ceramics, skeletons, and stoneware. Discovered in 1989 the ATM Belize is a “living museum” – as it is one of the few rare archaeological sites open to the public. We were lead by our guide, Ian, who is one of 22 licensed tour guides to take us deep into the ATM Belize aka the “Cave of the Crystal Sepulchre”. The first pool was a few hundred feet long; next we climbed up a rock ledge and moved deeper into the cave by using all four of our limbs to scramble over the slippery rocks.
The ATM Belize consists of approximately 3.2 kilometers of caves; the main chamber we were heading for was about 1 kilometer into pitchy darkness. At times we were climbing over boulders and at other times neck deep in water, sliding through crevasses with only inches on each side of our heads. Some chambers had high ceilings and were filled with stalactites, stalagmites, and flowstones.
Our headlights illumined our path and when we turned them off it was so dark we could not see our hands in front of our eyes. Ian slowly led our group of seven spelunking until at last we arrived at the entrance of the chamber we had been trekking in to explore. Entrance of this chamber began with us climbing a ladder to a plateau where we were instructed to take off our shoes. With only socks on we entered the room and stood in amazement looking at artifacts everywhere.
Current beliefs explain that the ATM Belize caves were used by the Mayan as a place for human sacrifices. The importance of the ceramic artifacts at this site is they represent “kill holes”, which indicate a place used for sacrifice ceremonial purposes. Our journey inward ended with a view of a human skeleton, which is believed to be a teenage boy who was sacrificed. While there are a handful of human skulls and bones in this cave, the human skeleton at the end was the most complete intact human remains we viewed.
After taking in this skeleton known as the “crystal maiden”, we followed our path back out of the cave. The journey back out was just as exciting as the journey in. We climbed over rocks and squeezed into water filled chambers until we swam out the entrance we had first entered. If you are heading to Belize the Actun Tunichil Muknal is a must see. I have never been inside a “living museum”, and I am confident this site will someday be closed. Tourists have already accidentally destroyed some of the priceless archaeological finds that remain there. One tourist dropped his camera on a skull, damaging it. The guy was probably trying to take a selfie lol. This is why all of the pictures used in this post are from other people. If you would like to learn more about my experience at ATM Belize feel free to contact me at Nathan.firstname.lastname@example.org. While I’m not an expert on the ATM I can provide you with my candid feedback