An Underground Adventure: ATM Cave

This was the highlight of my trip to Belize!  The Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave is a river cave that was used by the Mayans centuries ago for human sacrifices and other ceremonies and rituals.  The government has limited the number of companies that can conduct the tour in order to preserve the site (in fact it may be completely closed to tourists soon), and I traveled to the town of San Ignacio (called Cayo by the locals)to get on board one of these tours.

We turned out to have a fun group of people on the tour, and our tour guide was a local guy with a voice like the British comedian Lenny Henry and a sense of humour to match.  After a bumpy hour long 4WD drive into the mountains, we got changed into our bathers and hiked 45 minutes through the rainforest and across three river fords to the mouth of the cave.  There, we had a quick lunch before gearing up (helmet, lamp and bathers – that’s it!).  The entrance to the cave was definitely dramatic – an ice-cold rock pool leading to the dark abyss beyond!


The cave entrance!

We swam into the cave and then crawled, swam and walked about a mile deep into the cave following the river bed.  We then turned off the main passage and climbed up into a side chamber.  There we saw the remnants of the sacrifices – broken pottery and pots, numerous bones, skulls and even a complete skeleton that over the centuries had been coated by minerals from the cave.

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(L) It can be scary in the dark! That’s me holding one of the stone tools that the Mayans used to use to kill their sacrifices.  (R) Pottery shards and human bones.

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The skeleton of a young girl after whom the cave is named.

Dscn3520  Hiking back to the van.

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