Actun Tunichil Muknal
Actun Tunichil Muknal- commonly known by its shorter name, ATM Cave – is the crown jewel of all of Belize’s archaeological treasures. It’s also one of the two most popular tours offered by PACZ. You take a ride through beautiful Cayo countryside to the village of Teakettle, where you turn off into the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve and pass through mahogany groves and orange orchards. Then you hike through gorgeous green jungle, back and forth across a gentle river, along which your guide will show you staples of the native flora like rubber trees, cacao trees, and chicle trees, before arriving at the cave itself. Many who have seen the entrance to this cave never forget it as long as they live.
The ancient Maya felt that way, too. The cave was profoundly sacred to them as a spiritual and ceremonial site. Deep inside are the signs of their presence, perfectly preserved for over a thousand years: carvings, vessels, and the bones of human beings who were sacrificed to Chaac, the rain god. To reach these wonders, your guide will lead you with care and respect–both for your safety, and for the preservation of the cave–up a gentle subterranean river, through passages as wide as cathedrals and narrow as canals. You’ll be surrounded on all sides by beautiful cave formations, made by water percolating through ancient seabed for millions of years, a drop at a time.
Then you’ll leave the river to climb to an upper chamber, a terrace of pools that once flowed with water, but are now dry, where most of the human remains lie in their final resting places. Your guide will tell you what we know about these individuals–and what remains a mystery. The last individual you meet is the “Crystal Maiden,” a teenager who was sacrificed in a clandestine upper chamber. As the centuries passed and the water flowed, her skeleton slowly turned to crystal, anchoring her to the cave floor.
There is a fellowship of travelers from all over the world who remember the darkness, the rushing water, and the quiet eternal repose of the Crystal Maiden. Come take a journey you’ll never forget.