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Actun Tunichil Muknal
Experience An Extraordinary Cave Tour with Amazing Guide

Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave, also known as the “Cave of the Stone Sepulcher” or “Cave of the Stone Altar”, is a significant archaeological site located in Belize. The name, derived from the Maya language, hints at its historical depth and cultural importance. Discovered by local archaeologists in 1989 and opened to the public in 1998, this cave system stretches over 3.1 miles and is traversed by an underground river flowing eastward.

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Actun Tunichil Muknal Description

Is this cave worth it?

The uniqueness of ATM Cave extends far beyond its size or the fact that it houses over 12 skeletal remains, some of which are believed to be children. This cave is a treasure trove of Maya civilization, housing over 1400 catalogued artifacts, including rare bloodletting altars used for sacrifices. These artifacts provide a window into the ceremonial practices and rituals that were central to Maya culture.

Among the most compelling discoveries within ATM Cave is the “Crystal Maiden,” the intact skeleton of a young female. This skeleton is particularly remarkable because it is covered with a layer of calcium carbonate, which makes it sparkle eerily in the lamp light. The presence of such well-preserved remains, coupled with the array of ceremonial items, underscores the cave’s function as a significant Maya sacrificial site.

Recognized by both National Geographic and Travel & Leisure, ATM Cave offers visitors a unique opportunity to explore the mysteries and unravel the secrets of this ancient site. Each step inside the cave reveals more about the advanced rituals and the spiritual significance this incredible location held for the Maya people. It’s not just a journey into a physical space, but a travel back in time to an era that continues to fascinate and intrigue modern civilization.

Don’t miss the chance to explore the ATM Cave, where every corner holds a story and every artifact is a whisper from the past. Embark on this adventure and unravel the mysteries of the ATM Cave for yourself!

The Cave Experience

Prepare yourself for an unforgettable adventure as you embark on a day trip to the enigmatic Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave in Belize. As you journey into the depths of the cave, you’ll be surrounded by the pitch-black embrace of the cave’s chambers, your way illuminated only by the flicker of your headlamp. Here, nature reveals its incredible artistry in the form of breathtaking stalagmites and stalactites, turning the cave system into a natural museum.

Yet, what truly sets this cave apart is its deep-rooted connection to the ancient Maya civilization, where it was used for human sacrifice and sacred rituals. The echoes of this fascinating history resonate throughout the cave, where you can still witness the haunting evidence of this past, including skeletal remains and precious Mayan artifacts.

The tour’s highlight, without a doubt, is the extraordinarily famous crystal maiden, a calcified skeleton preserved within the main chamber of the cave. This mesmerizing sight is a testament to the cave’s rich history and its role in the Mayan culture.

Here's what you need to know!

This cave will be one of the coolest things you’ve done in Central America. Claustrophobic? The cave may be out of your comfort zone and if you’re feeling nervous don’t let that stop you!

Physically, the tour demands good hydration, a hearty breakfast, and at least 15 minutes of stretching before beginning. You’ll embark on a 45-minute jungle trek, which includes crossing streams and navigating varied terrains. Once at the cave, expect to spend around three hours exploring its wonders. Conservation efforts dictate that shoes be removed to protect the cave’s delicate ecosystem, so wearing socks is mandatory. This comprehensive preparation ensures a safe and enriching experience as you explore one of Belize’s most fascinating natural attractions.

A doctoral student who recently explored the ATM Cave in Belize provided a very positive review of their experience. Describing it as an enlightening encounter that surpassed their expectations, the student stressed the profound impact of the cave’s sacred ambiance.

They found it to be a gratifying and educational journey, expressing a strong recommendation for anyone visiting Belize to take the time to see this natural marvel for themselves.

Table of Contents

Actun Tunichil Muknal skull

Booking Cancellation Policy

  • Secure Online Payment Link
  • Tour is confirmed when a payment is received.
  • Cancellation must be made 48hrs in advanced to received a refund, less 4.5%.
  • Booking made less than 24hours, must be paid in full. Please read our cancellation policy for more information.

ATM Cave Tour Guide

Have A Bona Fide Guided Caving Experience

PACZ Tours stands out as the premier choice for the ATM Cave Tour in Belize due to our team’s unmatched expertise and dedication. With over 25 years of guiding experience and extensive research in Mayan history, our guides offer a depth of knowledge and passion that is unparalleled. We pride ourselves on providing an educational and unforgettable adventure, ensuring each visitor gains a profound understanding of the rich cultural heritage and natural beauty of the cave.

The guide is what makes or breaks this experience. Oscar Carbajal, our main and one the best Guides specializes in the ATM Tour. He does an amazing job helping and explaining while guiding you through the cave. Oscar has been guiding for more than 24 years. 

You will find the reviews of him on Facebook, Trip Advisor, and Google Maps helpful for his amazing guiding service and expertise.

How much water?

You will be doing 3 river crossings before you even get to the cave. Including one crossing that is in chest-high water, for someone who is 5 foot 6 inches. The water is flowing out of the cave at the entrance. You step into the river and swim (dog paddling) because of your shoes and life jackets, for about 30 feet.  That is if you are not a strong swimmer! After that, you’re in the ankle or waist-deep water.

How much climbing?

You will hike (it’s walking) to the cave entrance. Once inside feel like modern day Indiana Jones as you will be climbing over and through rocks inside. This is why the sturdy shoes are critical! Our guide will tell you exactly where to put your hands and feet. There are a few tight spaces that aren’t favorable to tall people! But guys over 6 feet has done the Belize ATM Cave Tour.

What to bring?

Prepare for an unforgettable journey with our guided tours of the Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave. Prices vary by group size, and we offer various hiking tours and outdoor activities to cater to diverse preferences. To make the most of your adventure, ensure you bring along the following essentials:

  • Sunscreen to protect against the tropical sun
  • Bug spray to keep the insects at bay
  • Light hiking shoes or other protective footwear for safety and comfort on uneven terrain
  • A change of clothes, as you will likely get wet during the tour
  • A hat and sunglasses for additional sun protection

Don’t miss this remarkable experience and the chance to unravel the mysteries of the Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave. Come prepared and ready to explore!

ATM Caves Pictures

The ATM Cave, situated within the Caves Branch system, presents an intriguing geological landscape shaped by both erosive forces and structural collapses. Here are the key geological features highlighted:

Cave Structure and Composition:

  • The ATM Cave consists of multiple connected passages known as ‘sewer’ passages. This term references the narrow, water-filled channels running through the cave system.
  • It includes expansive rooms developed from collapsed sections, significantly enlarging parts of the cave corridor. These areas vary from submerged paths to dry chambers, suggesting a dynamic geological history of water influence and structural failure.

Process of Formation and Change:

  • Geologically, the cave system exhibits a transformative lifecycle. What was once a singular, elongate cave has, over time, fractionated into a collection of shorter caves due to continuous erosion and collapse.
  • Separate chambers and offshoots, such as the renowned Crystal Cave, have evolved as distinct entities as parts of the main cave deteriorated and segmented.

Hydrological Activity:

  • The cave stream within ATM remains active, influencing both the cave’s structure and accessibility. During the wet and hurricane seasons, water levels within the cave can rise significantly, entirely submerging its passages.
  • Observations of large logs lodged against the ceiling and a substantial presence of sand and gravel within the streambed confirm the powerful hydrodynamic forces at play.

Experts’ Insights:

  • Dr. Jaime Awe, as the Belize Archaeological Commissioner, offers insights into the cave’s dynamic state, indicating its constant evolution driven by natural geological and hydrological processes.

These elements combine to paint a picture of ATM Cave as not only a geological artifact but also an active, evolving natural system.

The earliest recorded usage of the ATM Cave during the Classic Maya Period has been scientifically determined. By employing methods like radiocarbon dating, researchers have established that the cave was in use from as early as 250 AD to 909 AD. This evidence places the ATM Cave’s initial activities squarely within this historic timeframe.

The ATM Cave, or Actun Tunichil Muknal, is not only a natural wonder but also a treasure trove of archaeological significance. This cave, prominently featured by prestigious organizations like National Geographic, holds key to understanding the ancient Maya civilization. Here’s why the artifacts found within are so significant:

Capture of Maya Ritual Practices

The ATM Cave served as a sacred site where the Maya conducted spiritual and ritualistic practices, including human sacrifices. This is evidenced by numerous well-preserved artifacts and skeletal remains that have been discovered throughout the network of chambers inside the cave.

Insight into Daily and Ceremonial Life

Artifacts such as ceramics with ‘kill holes’—purposely made to release spirits to the gods during rituals—offer a glimpse into the complex religious practices and day-to-day activities of the Maya. These objects were not only used in daily life but were integral to the ceremonies that were central to Maya culture.

Preservation of Heritage

The most iconic find in the ATM Cave is the ‘Crystal Maiden,’ a skeleton believed to be that of a young woman, possibly a sacrifice, whose bones have calcified over the centuries to a sparkling crystalline appearance. This and other finds have been remarkably preserved in the cave’s unique environment, giving us an almost intact look at the ancient Maya way of life.

Educational and Cultural Importance

Each artifact in the ATM Cave provides educational value and deepens the cultural narrative of Belize and the Maya civilization. For scholars and visitors alike, these discoveries are crucial for understanding the historical context and the socio-religious dynamics of the area.

The ATM Cave, with its blend of thrilling adventure and profound historical significance, thus offers more than just a tourist experience; it is a gateway to the past, providing invaluable insights into the ancient Maya civilization through its preserved artifacts and remnants.

Before you embark on the thrilling adventure of the ATM Cave tour, there are several key considerations to keep in mind to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience:

  1. No Cameras Allowed: To preserve the natural environment and cultural artifacts within the cave, photography is strictly prohibited. Make sure to leave your cameras behind and enjoy the beauty of the cave without digital distractions.

  2. Age Restrictions: The ATM Cave tour may not be suitable for everyone. Specifically, it is recommended that children under the age of 12 refrain from participating. The cave environment can be challenging, and the tour requires a certain level of physical fitness and maturity.

Taking these considerations into account will help you prepare adequately for your visit, ensuring that you have a safe and memorable adventure exploring one of nature’s hidden treasures.

actun turnichil muknal cave map
Map of the ATM Cave

Location and Getting There

Doing the ATM Cave tour from other destinations

From Placencia or Hopkins – You can range to meet at Teakettle Village at the ATM Sign. We can also arrange transportation to and from the ATM Cave from these locations.
From Belize City – If you are staying in San Pedro or Caye Caulker. You will need to take the Earliest water taxi to Belize City. We can have transportation waiting to take you to meet our Guide at the ATM Cave Sign in Teakettle Village around 8:45 AM.

Expanding your adventure beyond ATM Cave, engage with the rich tapestry of Belize’s cultural heritage by visiting other nearby attractions. Join us as we take a virtual walk-through of the captivating cave tubing destination of Nohoch Che’en. Experience the thrill as you float through underground river systems, enveloped by the lush tropical forest.

Additionally, explore the ancient Mayan ruins of Altun Ha, located just a short drive from Belize City. Wander through the remnants of this significant historical site where once great Mayan temples stood, and immerse yourself in the mystique of Belize’s ancient civilizations.

Each of these experiences, from the depths of ATM Cave to the historical ruins of Altun Ha, offers a unique glimpse into the natural and historical wealth of Belize, making your visit an enriching exploration of this

ATM Cave tour price vary by group size, and we offer various hiking tours and outdoor activities to cater to diverse preferences. Don’t miss this remarkable experience and the chance to unravel the mysteries of the Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave.

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