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Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM)

February 10, 2012

We stopped in San Ignacio on the Western side of Belize.  There is a camping place called Inglewood Camping at which we were the only guests where we stayed. There was a fair bit of unseasonable rain while we were there.

We drove into the town when the rain stopped to arrange a tour for the next day to the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave system (ATM cave) .  The town itself was pretty small and uninspiring but the people there were very friendly as they seem to be throughout Belize – and of course English speaking which is great.

The ATM cave is a 1hr drive from San Ignacio – the bulk of it down a narrow bumpy track. You arrive at a small parking area with some pretty horrible toilets which is about a 45 minute walk through the jungle to the cave entrance.


The walk has its challenges including crossing the same river 3 times – it never gets more than waist deep though. More challenging is the mud that the path is made out of which makes it all very slippery.

We were pretty lucky in that there was only the two of us plus 1 other on the trip. Other groups had up to 8 people per guide.

On arrival at the cave entrance we were given head torches by the guide and put our cameras in dry bags. The entrance to the cave is deep water as a river flows out of the cave. You have to swim about 10 metres until you get into shallower water and can walk.

The cave itself is very big with the ceiling often 20m or more high. The river running through it varies in depth and in some places you have to swim short distances and in others the water is only ankle deep.

After walking about ½ a mile inside the cave we climbed out of the river into a dry tunnel which was 5m or so above the water.  The rules say that you have to take off any shoes at this stage – put on a shirt if you haven’t been wearing one – and put socks on your feet. All rules to protect what is to come.

This dry cave was used by the Mayans as a burial chamber and as a site for some of their religious ceremonies. Inside the cave 13 skeletons have been found often in pairs where an older person is paired with a younger one who would be their helper in the afterlife. Also there are large quantities of Mayan pottery which would have been used to hold offerings to the gods.

Everything is remarkably well preserved and you can’t help but feel if this was in any other country there is absolutely no way tourists would be allowed in.

This part of the cave has some brilliant decorations as well.

On the way back out of the cave I saw another gallery above the river and asked our guide if there were any Mayan remains up there. He said he didn’t know and suggested we check it out. It turns out that this was a shortcut across the cave and we dropped down into the river after about 50m.

This was an excellent trip. Even without the Mayan remains the caving bit of the trip would have been cool but the Mayan artifacts make the trip amazing.

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