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Actun Tunichil Muknal

Actun Tunichil Muknal

Actun Tunichil Muknal cave or simply ATM cave (as it is widely known in Belize) is an underground system used by the Mayans for sacrifices and offerings to the gods of the underworld. Its name translates as "Cave of the Stone Sepulcher". The cave is a fairly recent discovery. Actun Tunichil Muknal cave was re- discovered in 1992.




Location: San Ignacio, Cayo Region   Map

Actun Tunichil Muknal




Description of Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave


Most of items inside Actun Tunichil Muknal cave and bones date back to pre-classical Mayan period which lasted from about 700 to 900 AD. Artifacts and human bones are left there they were dropped centuries ago. It is a fun trip for those who like to hike, cross rivers and explore remote caves. However keep in mind that only few companies (Eva's, Katun Ahaw Tours, Mayatour and Pacz Tours) operate trips to Actun Tunichil Muknal cave and groups cannot exceed more than ten people. It is done for the purposes of safe keeping the artifacts and human remains. So it might be wiser to travel to Belize in the off season than the tourist crowds are low and you have better chances of visiting this destination. Actun Tunichil Muknal is closed during the wet season that lasts from late June to August.


Actun Tunichil Muknal    Actun Tunichil Muknal    Actun Tunichil Muknal

The Belize Tourism Board grants a limited number of groups into a cave with a limited number of tourists, usually 8- 10 people. Each group is accompanied by a guide. You probably won’t be able to join the group if you decide to show up at the entrance. The easiest way to arrange a trip is through your hotel management.


Actun Tunichil Muknal cave does not have roads close by thus you have to hike 45- 60 minutes into a jungle, cross three shallow rivers and finally make to the entrance of the cave. It would be wise to take anti- histamines with you to prevent an allergic reaction that can be triggered by plants, ants, termites and other living creatures that exist in the rich biosphere around Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave. Anti- histamine containing drugs can prevent adverse reactions of hiking in the jungle. These are over the counter drugs and don't require a prescription. Choose the type that doesn't cause drowsiness.


Once you get to the entrance of Actun Tunichil Muknal cave here again you have to make your way through a river. For the next half a mile you have to swim, hike and wade to get to the artifacts. You might encounter a couple of scary looking cave crabs and cave spiders, but they won’t move or attack you. Please do not bother them either. Many species you will see in the cave and around it are rare and often endemic, found only in this geographical location.


Actun Tunichil Muknal  Actun Tunichil Muknal  Actun Tunichil Muknal  Actun Tunichil Muknal  Actun Tunichil Muknal  Actun Tunichil Muknal



Actun Tunichil Muknal

Once you are deep inside the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave you might be told to proceed barefoot through a cave to avoid extra moisture. The remains of 14 people are found in the cave. Execution tools lay near each victim. Besides pottery was left near bodies with offerings. “Kill Holes” were made to prevent stealing from a cave since the practice would make the object unusable. Sacrifices were done over a long period of time that it is logical to assume that taking human lives for religious purposes for the Mayans in the region was a rare and extraordinary measure to please gods. The most famous skeleton is that of “The Crystal Maiden” in the Main Chamber. It belongs to a teenage girl who was killed in the cave. Her body was covered with minerals that enveloped the bones and preserved them keeping the shape. The Belize Tourism Board currently works to demarcate safe areas around human bones and artifacts.


Crystal Maiden  Crystal Maiden

Finally in the depth of the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave there a lot of stalagmites, natural formations of minerals that grow from the bottom up. Ancient Mayans altered stalagmites in a way that shadows from them would look like human figures. In the claustrophobic, dark and moist caves then Mayans performed the rituals in the light of their torches it produced quite an effect. You might ask your guide to shine a light at the right angle otherwise you can miss them. To get out of the cave you have to repeat the same trip backward finally emerging into the sunlight.


Actun Tunichil Muknal  Actun Tunichil Muknal








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