A vacation is one of the greatest opportunities to make new memories. In Belize, that can mean memories of exploring the wildlife-rich jungles, trekking to historic Maya ruins, or even lounging poolside, ice-chilled cocktail in hand. One of the most magical adventures we love sending guests to is Actun Tunichil Muknal, better known as the ATM Cave.
Under an hour from Ka'ana, the cave, whose name translates to "Cave of the Stone Sepulcher," is most famous for a series of archaeological deposits with ancient skeletons. One, "The Crystal Maiden," is from a teenager, whose now-calcified bones sparkle like crystals after over a millennia in the dark. Was she a sacrifice victim? Nobody knows for sure, but she's become a veritable destination in her own right. As just one of the human remains, The Crystal Maiden suggests the ATM Cave's significance to the Maya civilization. The presence of ceramics, stoneware, and even alterations to the actual cave walls—altars, plus carvings that create silhouettes of faces and animals—further showcases that the ATM Cave was an important, sacred place of worship to the underworld gods.
And while seeing the Crystal Maiden and other artifacts is often what entices visitors to the ATM Cave in the first place, it's far from the only draw. Exploring the underground world is a multi-sensory experience like no other, and often becomes a highlight of travelers' journeys.
Getting to the cave starts with a 45-minute walk through the jungle, where you might spot lizards, snakes, butterflies and more. Once you're at the cave, things get a little more hardcore. The trek to its main chamber involves wading across underground rivers, squeezing through tight crevasses, and rounding dark corners. Along the way, you may have close encounters with fish, bats and spiders—all of whom call the ancient cave home.
In all, it's a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience that leaves travelers in awe, both of nature's majesty—the caves themselves are a geologic work of art, able to sustain life that seems out of this world—and of the Maya culture, who ventured deep underground for sacred ceremonies. A ban on cameras—sparked by an accident in 2012, when a tourist dropped a camera on a thousand year-old skull, breaking it—makes the entire visit that much more in-the-moment.
Don't miss this magical opportunity on your next journey to Belize! We partner with expert local guides to make sure that you learn the most, and experience safely the best the ATM Cave has to offer. Learn more here!