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The Actun Tunichil Muknal
The Actun Tunichil Muknal

The following is a first-person account of one woman’s visit to explore the mysterious cave of the Maya underworld at Actun Tunichil Muknal – also known as the ATM Cave. This attraction is located in the western part of the country and is one of the more interesting places to visit.

The ATM cave is a hiking and adventure experience with the added dimension of being an educational trip for those interested in archaeology. Here you will find Maya artifacts just the way they were left by the Mayas hundreds of years ago. The cave is ranked as one of the Top Ten Caves Of The World by the National Geographic Society. National Geographic and the Discovery Channels and History have done documentaries on this spectacular cave.

The ATM cave is located in an area known as the Mountain Tapir Reserve. This is a tropical jungle, so your guides will prepare you with suitable jungle hiking gear. The ATM cave is about a 45-minute drive from the nearest population centers of San Ignacio – Santa Elena, or the City of Belmopan. From the ATM site’s parking lot, expect a refreshing 40-minute hike to the cave entrance. It is best to start the tour early in the morning when it is still relatively cool. The entrance to the cave is through 12 feet of water and for this reason the site is government-administered to ensure that only experienced and licensed guides take in visitors.

Tour guides will brief visitors on the history of the cave where the Maya performed human sacrifices to their gods. This is a “must-see” attraction in Belize. As one visitor put it: “The best way to sum up this fabulous experience is that if you go to Guatemala you must see Tikal; if you visit Egypt you have to experience the Giza Pyramids or if you go to China you have to see the Great Wall. If you come to Belize you must include ATM Tour as your number one choice of destination.”

The following is an account by a Doctoral student who visited the ATM Cave:

As a student of life and Archaeology, I have been exposed to certain aspects of civilizations and cultures that many are not familiar with. The remnants of the past, as well as the ritualistic acts that occurred throughout history, have left artifacts in places that resume the role of a sacred place.

So, when I arrived at Actun Tunichil Muknal cave, I knew there were certain steps I had to take before planting my feet firmly on the ground.

As a show of respect to the culture, I made my first stop at the Belize Tourism Board to find out which agent would be conducting tours of Actun Tunichil Muknal cave. Entrance to the cave is strictly limited to certain license holders in an attempt to preserve the foundation and its holdings. (Picture below: Preparing to enter the Belize ATM Cave).

 

 

The Actun Tunichil Muknal - ATM Cave is a cave located in the Cayo District of Belize.

The name Actun Tunichil Muknal translates to "cave of the stone faces." The name refers to the Mesoamerican god of death, Ah Puch, and his helpers who are carved into the walls and ceiling of the cave.

The ATM Cave is considered to be one of the most significant archeological discoveries in Central America. The excavation at this site has revealed artifacts that date back as far as 900 BC, including pottery, tools, human skeletons, and various religious items.

Located on private property owned by a company called Chiquibul Forest Exploration (CFX), there are no public tours available for this site. Its location