Actun Tunichal Muknal: Cave Spelunking in the Jungle

Published on Aug 16, 2010


Jungle Offroading

I am not sure if Belize is known for it’s caves but I think it should be. The Mayan civilization that lived in Central America revered caves. Caves were seen as the entrances into the underworld and played a major role in Mayan myth and religion. So it shouldn’t be such a surprise that many if not all of the caves in Belize contain Mayan artifacts. That reddish-brown flat “stone” right under your feet may in fact be a piece of Mayan pottery. Incredibly, many of it’s caves still remain unexplored.

While in Belize, I arrived at the hypothesis that many of the caves are unexplored primarily because they are on private land. So, if you want to be the first to officially explore a virgin cave system then maybe you could make arrangements with a private land owner.
ATM River Wading

One such cave that was only recently publicized in the last ten years, is the Actun Tunichal Muknal (ATM). When this cave was first being explored it was kept a secret until archeologists were finished documenting and studying this cave. The ATM is one of the more popular caves and has even been visited and filmed by National Geographic.

After a 45 minute off-road drive from San Ignacio through farmland and streams, you park you begin a hike through the jungle. The hike will take you winding along a muddy jungle trail and wading Mayan Pottery in the ATMacross three rivers (the older trail had seven river crossings). Along the trail, you will see leaf cutter ants, beautiful fauna, termite mounds in the trees, and butterflies.

The trail ends at a small jungle stream emptying out of a large cave entrance. The hike then continues into the cave. Some areas of the ATM involve some parts that require swimming, squeezing through tight spaces, and an easy up-climb into a large open cavern. The calcium encrusted floor is littered with pottery and human remains.

Skull in the ATM

The Mayans sacrificed many people in the cave, including babies. The human remains that are still found are only the few that did not get scattered by the running cave water. At the end of the ATM is the full skeletal remains of a 4’6”, 31 year old woman who was sacrificed.

If the macabre environment wasn’t enough for you, the cave is full of ghostly sounds. Although, there was only 4 of us in the cave, our group thought we were hearing the faint sound of human speech when no one else was in the cave. Granted the cave is full of ambient noise but it only adds to the cave’s spooky atmosphere.

The entrance to the Actun Tunichal Muknal Cave


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