Rated by National Geographic and the Discovery Channel as the number one sacred cave in the world, Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave was an important religious center for the ancient Maya but was abandoned more than 1,000 years ago.
Only rediscovered in the 1980s, ATM Cave has provided archeologists with an undisturbed look into the secret ceremonies performed by ancient Maya priests. The ATM Cave is located near San Ignacio in central Belize and is a treasure trove of ceramic objects, obsidian blades, stoneware, and other religious artifacts.
The most famous attraction in the ATM Cave is the “Crystal Maiden,” a skeleton of a young adult whose bones have fused with the crystalline minerals inside the cave to give the bones a sparkling appearance. The Crystal Maiden lies in a remote chamber deep within the labyrinth of the cave alongside the remains of approximately a dozen other people, including several young children.
By examining the religious artifacts in the cave as well as forensic evidence from the bones, it is now known that the human remains in the cave are of humans who were sacrificed by ancient priests in a futile attempt to appease the gods during one of the most troubling periods in Maya history. As crops began to fail and warfare destabilized the region, priests offered up young children and adults in a grisly ceremony that involved crushing the victim’s skulls with a blunt object.
Due to the sensitive nature of the archeological evidence in the cave, only licensed tour guides are allowed to accompany visitors to the cave. Photography of any kind is forbidden, but visitors will likely never forget their experience into the underworld in this unique cave structure.
Entrance to the cave is gained by swimming across a pool of fresh, spring-fed water. After slogging through an underground river, visitors will enter a series of colossal stone chambers, many of them filled with artifacts and religious objects, including a large sepulcher (altar) carved from the stone of the cave. To reach the remote chamber where the Crystal Maiden lies, visitors must climb up and around a series of passages. The entire interior of the cave measures approximately three miles (4.8 kilometers) long.
Barefoot Rentals and Services can help you book a guided tour to the ATM Cave. A locally-owned and operated company, Barefoot also has a full fleet of modern vehicles for rent that can be delivered or picked up anywhere in the country.
Questions about this tour? Send us an email or call +(501) 523-3066. We will love to help you plan your Belize tours and activities.