What to Bring Along:
- Must: 1 extra set of dry clothing & 1 pair of socks
- Footwear: You must wear hiking boots or tennis shoes
- Dress Code: Shorts & T-shirt, dress light & comfortable – a change of clothes is necessary for the ride home
- Bug Repellant
Taking a journey into the Mayan underworld at Actun Tunichil Muknal, or the “Cave of the Stone Sepulcher”, will be one of the most enlightening and unique experiences of your life. The ATM cave is not only beautiful geologically, with its crystalline stalactites and stalagmites, but also historically, as is a natural museum of ancient Mayan artifacts, as well as a sacred burial place. This is the final resting place of the “Crystal Maiden”, an ancient Mayan ceremonial victim, as well as the remains of 13 other sacrificed men, women, and children.
The site is accessed by one hour drive from San Ignacio and about 45 minute hike through the Tapir Nature Mountain Reserve (which is 6,741 acres of protected land) to the entrance of the cave. The ATM cave is an archeological cave located in the Roaring Creek Valley in the Cayo District of Belize. It is approximately 5 Km long and contains a perennial stream that passes through it. The name translates to “Cave of the stone Sepulcher" and was given in reference to the number of human remains found inside. To access the cave, we swim across a small spring- fed pool and wade into the dark underworld of the cave that allows us access to the extensive underground maze of tunnels, passageways and chambers, climaxing in the ceremonial chamber housing stoneware, ceramics and the famed crystallized skeleton of the “Crystal Maiden”. We spend approximately 3 hours in the cave.
This cave was formed over several hundred thousand years by water erosion along the karstic limestone foothills which encircle the Maya Mountains. The cave was used by the Mayas in the late classic period between 700 - 900 AD, to conduct their ceremonies and rituals (bloodletting, food offering and human sacrifice) to please their Gods. The Main Chamber contains the skeletal remains of 14 individuals, approximately 150 ceramic vessels, and several grinding stones. From the 14 individuals, 6 are infants under the age of 3 years, 1 is a child of roughly 7 years of age, and the remaining 7 are adults ranging in age from their early 20s to approximately 40 years old.