10 Compelling Reasons to See Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave For Yourself
Ancient Maya caves dot Belize, but they’re so different, nobody says, “When you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.” One of the most unique is Actun Tunichil Muknal, the site with such a long name, it was called ATM long before the acronym stood for banking kiosks.
How is ATM different from other Maya sites? For one thing, it’s underground. While most ancient Maya ruins are above ground so visitors get easy access to temples, housing and ballparks, this cave, where indigenous peoples dealt with life and death issues, is unique. Here’s why you must see if for yourself:
1. Because “National Geographic” magazine editors urge visitors to visit. Ranked among the Top Ten Caves of the World by the Society, this meandering underground expanse offers the ultimate in bone-chilling atmosphere.
2. Archaeologists cite ATM as the place to go for visitors eager to get a true picture of Maya life hundreds of years ago. The cave is literally filled with artifacts that tell hair-raising stories.
3. You don’t have to invest a bundle in gear to traverse the tropical jungle that takes you to the mouth of the cave because tour operators like Barefoot Rentals and Services already have you covered. Your trek will be a million miles from the ordinary.
4. When last were you given an opportunity to stand on ground once used to sacrifice humans? ATM was a major ceremonial center during its zenith, and the headlamp you wear will pick up artifacts that have been there for hundreds of years.
5. Expert guides are trained to give visitors the skinny on what they can expect to see and experience. They will warn you of the good, the bad and the ugly. Only licensed guides are permitted to lead tours into this sacred world.
6. The time to see ATM is now since the cave is getting long in the tooth. Opened to the public in 1998, tours are limited to preserve the sanctity of the environs and the treasures you’ll see during your three hour walk into the past.
7. Expect close encounters of the cultural and skeletal kind. Mixed amid bones of Mayas sacrificed to the gods are shards and relics of hand-crafted stoneware and ceramics cave occupants brought with them for their ceremonies.
8. The star of the cave is “Crystal Maiden,” a human skeleton preserved over time. This girl gave her life during a sacrificial ritual. Time and geology have coated her bones with organic debris, so she appears to be covered with glitter.
9. Prepare to spend around 3 hours slowly moving from chamber to chamber within the confines of this eerie underground chamber. This is no journey for those who suffer from claustrophobia.
10. Ask your guide to point out ceramics fashioned with kill holes created specifically for rituals performed during human sacrificial rites. Your instructive Barefoot Rentals and Services tour guides will fill you in on the exact use of these ceramics, so be prepared to feel the hair on the back of your neck stand up.