Known by a myriad of names, including "Cave of the Stone Sepulchre" and "Cave of the Crystal Maiden," the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave is one of the most famous sacred caves in Belize. Featured in several documentaries from prestige networks like National Geographic and the Discovery Channel, the ATM Cave is one of Belize's most interesting and challenging caves to explore.
Last used more than 1,000 years ago, the hidden entrance to ATM Cave protected it from European invaders. Only when a local man stumbled across the entrance in 1992 did anyone learn of the vast horde of archeological treasures within.
To enter ATM Cave, visitors must first make their way to a location in the remote jungles in the jungles of mainland Belize. From there, it's a 45-minute hike through the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve to arrive at the entrance of the cave. Due to the natural geography, visitors must then wade through a spring-fed pool to enter the cave proper.
Once inside, a vast underground labyrinth opens up. Visitors pass through a series of chambers, including one where the ancient Maya carved an altar (sepulcher) from the living rock. Initially, archeologists believed that this was the extent of the cave, but further explorations revealed several chambers hidden away deep inside the cave.
After approximately 90 minutes of wading through streams, walking, and climbing a series of ledges, visitors will arrive at a chamber known as The Cathedral, the most iconic location in the cave. Visitors will be asked to change into dry clothing as a gesture of respect because this part of the cave is where the remains of more than a dozen people lie.
Archeologists believe that all of the people in the cave, including several very young children, were offered up as human sacrifices by the ancient Maya priests. Of particular note is the "Crystal Maiden," the remains of a 20-year-old woman whose bones have fused with the minerals in the cave and have acquired a glittering sheen. Other artifacts in The Cathedral include obsidian weapons and ceramic bowls that once held food offerings.
Due to the sensitive nature of this historical site, the cave can only be visited with an officially licensed tour guide. Cameras and video recording devices are strictly forbidden inside the cave.
If you'd like to explore the ATM Cave or visit any of the other top destinations in Belize, book your tour with the Cahal Pech Village Resort.