Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM Caves)

Category
Attraction
Type of Attraction
Archaeological Site, Cave
District/Region
Cayo
Share

Description
Highlights
  • Cave
  • Maya History
  • Skeletons - Maya Sacrifice
  • Ceramics & Stoneware
Podcast
Virtual Audio Experience
Elias Cambranes, expert ATM cave guide from K'atun Ahau Tours, takes us on the first of its kind virtual audio experience of the ATM cave.
About Location
The Actun Tunichil Muknal, also known as the ATM cave, is an ancient Maya archaeological site that is one of the most popular Mayan burial sites in Western Belize. The ATM cave is nestled in Belize's lush rainforest in the Cayo District. Visit the ATM cave and learn the history of this magnificent cave and the mysteries of the Mayan underworld.

You can't afford to miss this Indiana Jones style adventure. Tours usually leave early in the morning, before 8am. The hike from the starting point to the cave entrance is intense, with three stream crossings and passes through the Tapir Mountain Nature reserve. The hike through the lower part of the caves lasts about 45 minutes. Take note that in the upper chambers of the cave, visitors are required to take off their shoes to prevent damage to the artifacts, plus you’ll need to swim through deep water to enter the cave and wade through more water both in side and outside of the cave. You’ll get to see the crystal maiden skeleton, pottery, and other ancient artifacts. No photography is allowed by order of the Department of Archaeology, but the mental movies will be incredibly worth it.

 
Whats Nearby
Recommended Hotels
 (3)
Private Riverside Villas
Aliana's is a vacation rental property located near San Ignacio, Cayo. Aliana's sits on a 50-acre farm and includes three private riverfront villas. ... more

Gold Standard Transportation is provided via Belize Ground Shuttle.
Relax on the banks of the Mopan river just outside your doorstep and enjoy bird watching or take a refreshing swim to cool off at your pleasure. We have canoes and floating tubes available. A popular guest activity is to float down the Mopan river from the village of Bullet Tree Falls. The float takes about two hours. You can spot monkeys and a variety of bird species along the river. We also have an outdoor grill and brick oven available for use by all guests.

Each unit includes air-conditioned bedrooms for your comfort. The property is filled with many tropical fruit trees that you can enjoy when in season, such as mangoes, breadfruit, plums, star fruit, and others. The property may be booked for private events subject to availability.
Gold Certified:
Yes
Area:
San Ignacio
Region:
Western Belize
 (2)
Conveniently located a short walk from downtown San Ignacio, Rolson Hotel offers comfortable accommodations and free WiFi access.... more

The hotel is a 15-minute drive from the western border, a 10-minute drive from the Xunantunich Maya Site and a 10-minute walk from the Cahal Pech Archaeology Site. The Princess Casino and the Green Iguana Conservation Project are a few minutes' walk away.

The rooms offer a mini-fridge, cable TV, alarm clock and a safety deposit box. They also include coffee and a coffee maker, 2 water bottles and ironing facilities. The private bathroom has a shower and hairdryer.

The on-site Mexican restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with a variety of local dishes. It also has a fully equipped bar with top shelf liquor, cocktails and beers.

Staff at Rolson Hotel's front desk can assist with massage services, laundry and tours. Transfers from and to the airports are available for an additional charge. There is free parking.
Gold Certified:
Yes
Phone Number:
+501 824-2730
Area:
San Ignacio
Region:
Western Belize
Learn More
Most Popular Tours
$
270
-
$
300
/ Person
Departs From:
San Pedro (Ambergris Caye)
Provider:
The ATM Cave is a "must do" tour experience- and it's easily accessible!! The tour starts with a 45 min hike through the jungle in the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve. It is a great ... moreway to soak in the majesty of the surrounding jungle. You will cross three rivers as you wind your way through the jungle to the mouth of the cave. Tour duration is approximately 3 hours. Bring along a change of clothes as you will be completely wet by the time the tour is over. Understanding why this cave was of such sacred importance to the Mayas requires an understanding of their spirituality. In the Maya religion, the gods of agriculture, rain, and fertility were believed to reside in the underworld. It would only seem natural that the ATM Cave, with its seemingly endless pits, would be seen as a potential gateway to the underworld. By making human sacrifices within the cave, they could appeal to these important gods practically at their front door.

Guests should dress as if preparing for a hike, bringing comfortable clothes and sturdy closed-toe shoes. Also, socks are mandatory for walking inside the cave. Bring along a towel and change of clothes (required) for a dry trip on your return transfer. Bear in mind that no cameras are allowed within the cave. The prohibition of cameras prevents damage to remaining skeletons and artifacts and preserves ATM for future generations.
$
125
/ Person
Departs From:
San Ignacio Town
 (8)
Provider:
Discovered in 1989, this cave is a full five kilometres deep. Taking a journey into the Mayan underworld at Actun Tunichil Muknal, or the “Cave of the Stone Sepulchre”, ... morewill be one of the most enlightening, and unique experiences of your life. You will venture into the heart of the Cave with a licensed, experienced tour guide. This cave is not only geologically beautiful with its crystalline stalactites and stalagmites but also historically as it is a natural museum of ancient Mayan artefacts and a sacred offering place for the “Crystal Maiden”. Time spent inside the cave is 2 ½ to 3 hrs. Get an in-depth look at Belize’s Mayan culture.

Inside the dry zone where the artefacts and bones are located all persons need to remove all shoes and walk in socks to reduce damage. To see the Crystal Maiden you need to ascend a 13 ft ladder to reach the area known as the sepulchre.
Tours & Shuttles
$
174
/ Person
Departs From:
Belize City
Actun Tunichil Muknal (the Cave of the Crystal Sepulchre), also known locally as ATM, is a cave near San Ignacio, Cayo District, notable as a Maya archaeological site that includes ... moreskeletons, ceramics, and stoneware. There are several areas with skeletal remains in the main chamber.

Many of the Maya artifacts and remains are completely calcified to the cave floor. The ceramics at the site are significant partly because they are marked with “kill holes”, which indicate that they were used for ceremonial purposes. One artifact, named the “Monkey Pot”, is one of just four of its type found in Central America. The Maya also modified cave formations here, in some instances to create altars for the offerings, in others to create silhouettes of faces and animals or to project a shadow image into the cave. The cave is extensively decorated with cave formations in the upper passages.

Actun Tunichil Muknal cave, 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.

The cave houses various types of artifacts from ceramics and stoneware to the remains of skeletons. The Mayas consider Actun Tunichil Muknal a highly sacred location, enclosing the famous “Crystal Maiden,” who was thought to be a sacrifice victim. After decades of weathering and natural processes, the surface of the skeleton appears to be covered with a geological sanded finish, which gives the maiden a somewhat magical fairy-dust appearance.
$
229
-
$
368
/ Person
Departs From:
Hopkins
Join a soul-touching experience as you get the unique opportunity to explore the sacred underworld of the Mayan with our Mayan descendant expert guide. It is a spiritual experience ... morelike no other as the sharing is done with utmost authenticity. A 2hr road journey takes you to a very secluded jungle location where you hike for approximately 20-30 minutes to the elusive ATM Cave where your guide draws the attention of your soul to the era when the Mayans traversed the Cave in search for hope. Refreshing yourself in the cool stream at the entrance of the cave is a must. You are then asked to partake in the journey of walking along the inner stream in the Cave and to climb Rocks viewing the shimmery stalagmites and stalactites as you make your way to the upper chamber where skeleton remains and potteries can be seen. You are encouraged to engage all your senses to feel the moment
$
210
/ Person
Departs From:
San Ignacio Town
Experience more than a cave! Imagine a world alive and imbued with sacred power divided into three domains: the starry arch of heaven; the stony middle world of the earth made to flower ... moreand bear fruits; and, the dark waters of the underworld below, Xibalba.

A short swim through the crystal blue waters will lead you into this amazing realm. Then working your way through a breakdown leads you into the main water passage, where you get to view amazing geological formations like sparkling stalactites, stalagmites, and flowstones. This hidden chamber promises to reveal ancient secrets and geological processes that have helped to shape the Mayan Underworld known as Xibalba. Xibalba was the fearful world beneath the face of the earth, the parallel unseen world into which kings and shamans could enter in ecstatic trance and please their gods for their benefits.
$
270
-
$
300
/ Person
Departs From:
San Pedro (Ambergris Caye)
Provider:
The ATM Cave is a "must do" tour experience- and it's easily accessible!! The tour starts with a 45 min hike through the jungle in the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve. It is a great ... moreway to soak in the majesty of the surrounding jungle. You will cross three rivers as you wind your way through the jungle to the mouth of the cave. Tour duration is approximately 3 hours. Bring along a change of clothes as you will be completely wet by the time the tour is over. Understanding why this cave was of such sacred importance to the Mayas requires an understanding of their spirituality. In the Maya religion, the gods of agriculture, rain, and fertility were believed to reside in the underworld. It would only seem natural that the ATM Cave, with its seemingly endless pits, would be seen as a potential gateway to the underworld. By making human sacrifices within the cave, they could appeal to these important gods practically at their front door.

Guests should dress as if preparing for a hike, bringing comfortable clothes and sturdy closed-toe shoes. Also, socks are mandatory for walking inside the cave. Bring along a towel and change of clothes (required) for a dry trip on your return transfer. Bear in mind that no cameras are allowed within the cave. The prohibition of cameras prevents damage to remaining skeletons and artifacts and preserves ATM for future generations.
$
350
/ Person
Departs From:
Placencia
ATM Cave is about 7 miles south of the village of Teakettle in the beautiful Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve in the Cayo district. Hike 2 miles through the pristine jungle crossing Roaring ... moreCreek three times to reach the cave entrance with your specially licensed guide. Put on your helmet and headlamp and get ready to swim and clamber into the ancient Maya ritual world.

The first part of the adventure is swimming and wading through the awesome array of stalagmites and stalactites and other limestone feature before reaching the Stella Chamber and the Main Chamber. The Main Chamber is about one kilometer from the cave entrance. To enter these chambers, you need to remove your shoes but wear socks. Your guide will show you and explain the amazing number of valuable artifacts used in Mayan rites. These artifacts include the Skeletal Remains of 14 individuals, 150 ceramic pots, stingray spines and obsidian blades used for bloodletting, grinding stones, whistles and dried remains of corn and other plant remains. These remain in place just as they were when they were discovered about 25 years ago. At the far end of the Main Chamber, you will find the Chrystal Maiden, a young girl who was sacrificed as part of agricultural fertility rites.
$
250
/ Person
Departs From:
Belize City
 (2)
Hike, Crawl and swim through a massive cave system while your guide projects knowledge and facts about the past Mayan families, rituals, and sacrifices that once took place in the ... morecave. Skeletons, Stoneware, and ceramics still lay untouched as proof of existents and sacred activities. This all-day adventure will leave you amazed and yearning for more Mayan history.
$
85
-
$
117
/ Person
Departs From:
San Ignacio Town
Getting There: Your adventure begins at 8:00 AM with a 45 minutes’ drive on the George Price Highway with another 30 minutes’ off-road to the parking lot. ... more

From the parking lot, we have a 45 minutes’ jungle hike toward the cave entrance, crossing a knee-deep river 3 times along the way- enjoy the scenery.

At the cave entrance:
Upon reaching the mouth of the ATM cave, your guide briefs you on the cave’s historical facts while you gear up with helmets and headlamps. The hike inside the cave entails a very short swim of about 30 feet across at the very entrance of the cave. For non-swimmers, there is a by-pass around the corner of the cave’s entrance through which you are assisted by the guide. For the rest of the cave length, it’s mostly wading through the water no deeper than chest-height (at average height) at most. Admire the myriad cave formations along the way until reaching the hidden dry chamber where amazement awaits you.

In the main chamber:
To get to the main chamber, you'll climb over some rocks providing a staircase to the chamber. Once in the chamber, you’ll be asked by your guide to take off your shoes and walk with only your socks on your feet. Here your guide explains the Maya rituals while you awe at the magnificence of this ancient tomb and its grandeur.

You’ll be amazed by all the Mayan artifacts and remains freely scattered throughout the cave as your guide explains how they got there and what lead to this shocking massacre in such a remote location. Walking farther into the cave, we’ll reach a higher but smaller chamber accessible only through the use of a man-made ladder. This is where the prized, intact, crystalized skeletal remains of the Crystal Maiden lay. Take your time, to sink in the reality of what lies before you.

Departure:
After being saturated to capacity with astonishment, we make our way back out of the chambers and the cave. (the way back out always seems so much shorter than the way in). We then hike back onto the parking lot, where the guide will provide you with your lunch as you discuss the reality of what you’ve just witnessed inside. You may choose to change into your dry clothes before or after lunch (your choice). After lunch, we board our vehicle and head back to San Ignacio arriving around 3:30- 4:00 PM.
$
121
/ Person
Departs From:
San Ignacio Town
Provider:
Actun Tunichil Muknal or simple ATM is one of the most popular Mayan burial sites in Belize. The cave contains four skeletons, ceramics, and stoneware left by the Maya. The most famous ... moreskeleton is that of a young girl, the bones of which have been completely covered by the natural processes of the cave, leaving them with a sparkling appearance. The cave itself is several kilometers long with several chambers. Once inside the cave, you will spend several hours swimming, climbing, and be exploring. 

The hike from the starting point to the cave entrance includes three stream crossings and passes through the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve. The hike through the lower portion of the cave is approximately 45 minutes in duration. Once through the inner chambers, you will ascend to the upper chambers, and to do this you will be required to take off your shoes and explore in only your socks to prevent damage to the artifacts. This adventure is challenging and a good level of physical fitness is required. The ability to swim is a plus as you will need to cross deep water to enter the cave and will be wading through water several times both inside and outside the caves. 

At the furthest end of the upper chambers, you will encounter the “crystal maiden”. Cameras are not allowed in the cave for conservation purposes.
$
225
-
$
265
/ Person
Departs From:
San Pedro (Ambergris Caye)
 (1)
Take a Day Trip off the island of San Pedro, Ambergris Caye for a horseback Riding expedition through hidden trails in the jungle. Then paddle underground through sacred caves exploring ... morefreely as your lights reveal crystal formations.
$
115
/ Person
Departs From:
San Ignacio Town
 (2)
Welcome to the gateway of the Mayan Underworld. Actun Tunichil Muknal (cave of the stone sepulchre) is commonly referred to as ATM Cave. Located near San Ignacio, Cayo District, it ... moreis one of the most impressive Maya ceremonial caves containing rare bloodletting altars used in sacrifices by Maya royalty, and where calcified skeletons, ceramics, and stoneware have been found. The best known as “The Crystal Maiden”, the intact skeleton of a teenage girl, whose bones have been calcified over the years to a sparkling crystallized appearance

The hike to the cave entrance through the lush Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve requires visitors to swim to the mouth of the cave and then wade through ankle to chest high water and once inside the magnificent cave, the exploration begins. The tour requires climbing and swimming as well as crawling through small spaces. The cave is extensively decorated with cave formations in the upper passages, a labyrinth of dry chambers which lead to the cathedral-like main hall, a towering chamber 350 meters in length and 50 meters wide and filled with artifacts and sacrificial remains. Visitors remove shoes and explore the cave in socks only, to protect the artifacts on the cave floor. After this, another climb takes you to the stone sepulchre (after which the cave is named) where the Crystal Maiden lies. Photography is now disallowed inside the cave unless special permits are obtained.

This is an extraordinary Belize adventure and a rare opportunity to see ancient Maya ceremonial sites and altars as they were and virtually untouched for centuries. A visit to this site is truly profound and unforgettable. After this memorable adventure, we hike back to our vehicles and sit to enjoy a local lunch before heading back to San Ignacio.
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An incredible experience
Our visit to ATM was one of our trip highlights. The tour was quite an adventure, crossing rivers, swimming into the cave and climbing through narrow passageways. But what made the trip was our tour guide, Basilio, who was topnotch. Love a guide who not only knows a great deal of the subject matter, but clearly has a passion for what they are doing. Highly recommend.
Overall
Scenic
Family Friendly
Interesting
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