Deep within the forests lies Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave (ATM), a wonder of both ancient and natural Belize. Following a 45-minute drive from San Ignacio, and a 45-minute hike through the beautiful Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve, with numerous jungle streams crossing, visitors find a crystal-clear stream flowing from the cave opening.
Take a short swim into the cave and a guided hike through the passage through one of most impressive Maya sites in Belize. Also, known locally as “Xibalba” (“Underworld”), you will find evidence of ceramics stoneware and skeletons. One artifact named the “Monkey Pot” is one of just four found in Central America. One skeleton known as the “Crystal Maiden” is the calcified bones of a teenage girl, giving the skeleton sparkling appearance. The cave contains magnificent stalagmites and stalactites formations, and it is also a perfectly preserved environment for the ancient remains of the “Crystal Maiden”. As the “underworld” of the ancient Maya, sacrifices were done inside the cave. Remains of potteries can also be seen in its original state.
The Actun Tunichil Muknal cave is ranked as one of the Top Ten Caves of The World by the National Geographic Society. National Geographic and the Discovery and History Channels have produced documentaries on this spectacular cave.
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 administered by the government to ensure that only experienced and licensed guides take in visitors.
The ATM cave, otherwise known as the Cave of the Stone Sepulcher, was first entered by the Mayas in AD 300-600. It was not until the late AD 700-900 that the Mayas went deeper into the cave to perform their ceremonies. The cave was officially opened to the public in 1998.