Banging out the Bucketlist – The Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave in Belize

Imagine a journey through the rain forest of Belize, crossing multiple wide streams and swimming up into the narrow month of the cave only to begin a slippery descent into the dark Mayan underworld where over a thousand years ago, on the very place you stand they gathered for ceremonial human sacrifices.  If that doesn’t frighten you enough you also get to share the cave with bats, spiders, and ancient scorpion-like amblypygi. Now you are experiencing the ATM Cave

Actun Tunichil Muknal, or the “Cave of the Stone Sepulchre” (ATM Cave) was on our bucketlist ever since we visited Belize for our honeymoon in 2014.  Researching the tour and reading about others descriptions got our heart beating and our nerves racing.  But life is an adventure and you should do things you’re scared of to truly live.  Now that we have conquered I must say it should be on everyone’s bucketlist!

The day of our tour called for a down pour of rain, which ultimately fills up both the streams and the cave creating high water levels.  Hearing rain in the forecast we grew anxious that we were going to get more of an adventure than we bargained for.

Journey from San Ignacio to ATM Cave

This cave is a 45 minute drive from San Ignacio.   At this point it’s sprinkling, and once we are on the small bus heading out to the cave site a torrential downpour ensues!  We turn down a narrow unpaved road towards the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve (cave cite location) and our bus driver speeds through the muddy and wet terrain.  Our guide tries to point out and describe the progressive Mennonite settlements as well as the Amish, which are prominent in the area due to the lush farmland.  We struggle to pay attention as we race through the wilderness and the rain continues to fall, hoping the bus doesn’t tip we start getting super nervous that the cave is going to be full of water and we are going to have to hike in the bucketing rain. CAN WE TURN BACK?

Arriving at the Reserve

Once we arrive at the ranger post of the reserve, the rain still coming down, it’s time to get out and tramp through the jungle. Our guide gives us the old ok guys we are going to need life jackets today. Johnny looks at me and we are thinking the same thing, ohh crap…We get our helmets and life jacket on and leave the bus and civilization behind.  We tramp through the rain and jungle immediately drenched.  The thing about Belize is that it’s in the rain forest which is warm and the rain isn’t cold.  Walking around soaked was surprisingly not uncomfortable and once we were already wet and enjoying the beauty of the jungle we began to relax, clearing our minds and not thinking of the what ifs.  We swam across two widespread rivers leading up to the cave entrance (both have ropes to lead you across).

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Banging out the Bucketlist – The Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave in Belize

Imagine a journey through the rain forest of Belize, crossing multiple wide streams and swimming up into the narrow month of the cave only to begin a slippery descent into the dark Mayan underworld where over a thousand years ago, on the very place you stand they gathered for ceremonial human sacrifices.  If that doesn’t frighten you enough you also get to share the cave with bats, spiders, and ancient scorpion-like amblypygi. Now you are experiencing the ATM Cave

Actun Tunichil Muknal, or the “Cave of the Stone Sepulchre” (ATM Cave) was on our bucketlist ever since we visited Belize for our honeymoon in 2014.  Researching the tour and reading about others descriptions got our heart beating and our nerves racing.  But life is an adventure and you should do things you’re scared of to truly live.  Now that we have conquered I must say it should be on everyone’s bucketlist!

The day of our tour called for a down pour of rain, which ultimately fills up both the streams and the cave creating high water levels.  Hearing rain in the forecast we grew anxious that we were going to get more of an adventure than we bargained for.

Journey from San Ignacio to ATM Cave

This cave is a 45 minute drive from San Ignacio.   At this point it’s sprinkling, and once we are on the small bus heading out to the cave site a torrential downpour ensues!  We turn down a narrow unpaved road towards the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve (cave cite location) and our bus driver speeds through the muddy and wet terrain.  Our guide tries to point out and describe the progressive Mennonite settlements as well as the Amish, which are prominent in the area due to the lush farmland.  We struggle to pay attention as we race through the wilderness and the rain continues to fall, hoping the bus doesn’t tip we start getting super nervous that the cave is going to be full of water and we are going to have to hike in the bucketing rain. CAN WE TURN BACK?

Arriving at the Reserve

Once we arrive at the ranger post of the reserve, the rain still coming down, it’s time to get out and tramp through the jungle. Our guide gives us the old ok guys we are going to need life jackets today. Johnny looks at me and we are thinking the same thing, ohh crap…We get our helmets and life jacket on and leave the bus and civilization behind.  We tramp through the rain and jungle immediately drenched.  The thing about Belize is that it’s in the rain forest which is warm and the rain isn’t cold.  Walking around soaked was surprisingly not uncomfortable and once we were already wet and enjoying the beauty of the jungle we began to relax, clearing our minds and not thinking of the what ifs.  We swam across two widespread rivers leading up to the cave entrance (both have ropes to lead you across).

(Sorry guys no camera’s are allowed in the ATM cave any longer. Best video i could find.)

Inside the ATM cave

After our ~45 minute adventurous hike and swim through the jungle we arrived at the site of the cave.  To access the cave, we swam across a small spring- fed pool and waded into the murky cave entrance.  Underground there is a maze of tunnels, passageways and chambers. We walked and waded most of the way but it does go up to your chest in some places.  After we let go of our fears and just went for it we couldn’t stop smiling and enjoying ourselves, the cave is truly breathtaking.

Turning on our spelunking light, the last rays of sunlight went out and we began our twists and turns though the cavernous depths and tight squeezes of this underworld.  Our guide pointed out crystalline stalactites (formations that hang down from the ceiling) and stalagmites (grow up from the cave’s floor) and what he called “the natural museum” of ancient Mayan artifacts.

Our adventure continued with more swimming and exploring the cave until the grand finale where we climb up, take off our shoes and explore in socks the ceremonial underworld chamber that includes stoneware, ceramics and the famous crystallized skeleton of the “Crystal Maiden,” which in true Mayan fashion was a ritually sacrificed victim.  It is said that they used this chamber for their religious ceremonies of human sacrificing, blood drinking, and getting high out of their minds on hallucinogens; making them see gods of the underworld in the cave’s walls and formations.  The chamber also contains the ruins of 13 other sacrificed men, women, and children.

I definitely don’t want to be invited to one of their dinner parties.

And since the adventure wasn’t enough we got to do it all over again as we made our way back out of the cave.  We even got to slide down a waterfall!  Lastly, the guide instructed us to turn all our lights off and we got to experience utter darkness holding hands with our fellow tour members until we finally reached our way out of the underworld towards the first ray of sunlight.

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