Actun Tunichil Muknal: A Caving Adventure in Belize

Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave Tour

My journey started with an early morning flight from San Pedro to Belize City. In the city, I was greeted by our guide for the first leg of the caving adventure. He took us for a light breakfast and we chit-chatted about the experience ahead of us. 

It was my first time on this caving adventure in Belize. There was so much hype around it, that it quickly made my “Things I HAVE to do in Belize” list. To be honest, I didn’t even know where the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave was located. I discover that it’s located 7 miles off the Western Highway, in the village of Teakettle. The scenery from Belize City to the village is quite striking. The terrain changes as you make your way along the winding highway; from flat lands, to valleys and then to mountains of rich vegetation. Along the way, you can even get a glimpse of the thousands of years old – Sleeping Giant.

On the way to ATM Cave

Tea Kettle is your last chance to stock up on Red Bull – okay, well maybe that’s just me. However, anticipating the adventure, I thought it would be necessary! Now, here is a little known, interesting fact about Tea Kettle and ME. This is where I spent the first ten years of my childhood. As the van made its way through the rocky Cinderella road, heading towards our destination, memories of my younger years came to mind. I could not help but smile, as visions of running around in the front yard with my siblings and childhood friends resurfaced. 

The village itself has so much history and was part of a thriving Mayan Civilization. These stories and more were shared by our knowledgeable guide, Brainard. The road is rocky, however the air conditioning inside the van, made it bearable. After about 7 miles and 45 minutes we arrived at our disembark point.

Bathroom at ATM Cave

The picture above depicts our last chance to use the bathroom. It was all adventure for the next 4 hours from there. The trek up to the cave entrance was definitely a challenge! The guide will take you at an appropriate pace based on your fitness level. The Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave tells the wretched tale of a civilization plagued with drought and other unfavorable conditions – becoming more and more desperate in their attempts to appease the Gods – and bring forth rain and good conditions for farming. Seen as a gateway to the underworld, the caves instilled fear in the souls of the community members. For eons, entering the caves was strictly prohibited. Residents also feared curses upon the family lines of anyone who would dare to enter the caves. As we entered the cave, the story of the ancient civilization came to life, in the remains, that are so perfectly preserved. Good thing the guide told us to leave all items that we didn’t want to get wet inside the van. Because we got wet with some really cold cave water!

Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave

The entrance to the cave is a squeeze! We maneuvered our way into the cave with water up to our necks. There was the option to climb over the mounds to get in the cave, but we wanted a serious adventure. In the first section of the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave, there is evidence of times when things were good. The locals would come to the entrance and just throw their offerings to the Gods. There was no need to even enter. As you traverse deeper though, that’s where it gets interesting. There are the tell-tale signs of the first human sacrifice. At this point, the sacrifices were offered by willing martyrs. They saw it as an honor to be offered to the gods. We also saw evidence of the noble ones venturing deeper into the caves in an attempt to better connect with the Gods.

ATM Cave

Even deeper into the cave, there is evidence of the sacrifices being of more prominent members of society. This is where you see some resistance. These noble men are not giving themselves willingly. We see evidence of them being bounded, feet and hands tied as they are dragged even deeper into the caves to be sacrificed. There is even a shallow graveyard; it seemed, with what appears to be bones from children. The leaders had become truly desperate, in their attempt to appease the Gods.

To the very end of the cave – there is the famed “Crystal Maiden”, which according to our knowledgeable guide, is actual a “Crystal Maiden Boy” so NOT a maiden.

Crystal Maiden in ATM Cave

Skull-in-ATM-Cave

There aren’t words in the world that can truly explain the experience of being inside the Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave. The sheer knowledge of walking the route taken is Mayan Queens / Nobility, being in the midst of the Many Sacrificial Offerings that were held, beholding human remains that are thousands of years old, pottery and other items that are as ancient as the bones – is a truly un-matched experience.

Pottery-in-ATM-Cave

Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave

And if the history alone isn’t enough to blow your mind, the monumental stalactites and stalagmites formations, the crystal laden walls, the seemingly magical formations of mythical creatures, and the sheer monstrosity of the great room – will certainly blow your mind away.

ATM Cave Tour

As I made my way back to San Pedro, in the van ride and then later the plane; re-runs of my experience empowered all my thoughts.  I wanted everyone that I knew, to experience what I just experienced.

Would I do it again? Heck yeah!!!

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