Actun Tunichil Muknal

We took a bus from Belize City to San Ignacio, a small town near the Guatemalan border and a hub for adventure activities like caving, tubing, and rainforest canopy tours. We made the trek here mostly to check out Actun Tunichil Muknal, or “The Cave of the Stone Sepulchre,” which we’d heard was the must-see attraction in this part of the world. The cave was once featured in National Geographic Adventure Magazine, and next week the Discovery Channel will be here filming a special.

Often abbreviated ATM, the cave is 5km deep, and it leads to an inner chamber where the Mayans performed sacrificial rites over 1000 years ago. The trek there is an Indiana Jones-style adventure that starts with a short hike and several river crossings to reach the mouth of the cave. The cave is fed by a river, and its entrance is an hourglass-shaped opening with a deep pool of water below. At the entrance we donned helmets and headlamps, stowed away our valuables, got a quick safety talk, and hopped into the water. We spent the next 2 hours or so scrambling over rocks, wading, and often swimming through the dark cave. Our guide told us a bit about the geology of the cave, often pointing out interesting stalactites and stalagmites, and he also told us about the religious ceremonies that took place there.

When we reached the sacrificial chamber, we ditched our shoes and proceeded through with socks on, to avoid breaking any of the artifacts. The chamber contained hundreds of ceramic vessels that were once used in Mayan rituals. We also saw the remains of several skeletons, and our guide described for us in detail how the ritual sacrifices are believed to have been performed (I’ll spare you the details). The climax of the tour was the “Crystal Maiden,” the calcified skeleton of a young female sacrifice victim.

The tour was fantastic – definitely one of the most interesting things I’ve ever done, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who visits Belize!

Kenny on the first river crossing

The entrance to the cave

Removing our shoes before entering the sacrificial chamber. Our guide gave me a temporary tattoo using a chunk of clay from the cave.

Scrambling through the rocks on the way to the inner chamber.

Remains of ancient Mayan pottery

The “Crystal Maiden”

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