Traveling Through the Mayan Underworld in Belize
Thursday, November 15th, 2018
My heart was pumping with anticipation and a little fear as I laid awake dreaming of the mystic caves of Belize. I had heard stories of the magical Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave experience and was thrilled to finally see it with my own eyes. The journey is easy from most resorts in Western Belize and is a must see if you find yourself in the lush Cayo District. The ATM tour will include transportation, lunch and entrance fees.
This experience will test and inspire even the regular adventure seeker. You will need full hiking gear and a complete change of clothes, as you will be immersed in water upon entering the cave. A dry bag is a must if you plan on bringing any electronics and a waterproof camera is recommended. Hiking shoes that can drain water or closed toe hiking sandals will work well. Be prepared for a few bumps and scrapes but trust me, it is all part of this magical journey into the underworld!! You begin by taking multiple river crossings as a group, some crossings can get up to around waist deep.
This adventure is challenging and a good level of physical fitness is required. Each individual must be able to swim and be comfortable with small spaces. The age requirement for the tour is 10 years old.
Our guides are amazing at teaching the local knowledge of the jungle as you make your way to the cave entrance. One part I found intriguing was learning about termite nests and how they played a part in Mayan culture. We even got to sample some of the local delicacy, surprisingly termites tasted like little lemon zest poppers to me, some people thought carrots.
After a nice 45-minute trek, we arrived at the entrance to the cave. We all added our protective helmets with headlamps and were ready to dive into the belly of the Mayan underworld. Your heart races as you stare at the cave wondering about how the ancestors viewed these majestic openings.
One of the most exciting parts is leaping into the mouth of the cave entrance. The water at the cave entrance is about 12 feet deep (and thankfully with little current) and you are quickly exhilarated by the rush of adrenaline. The light slowly creeps away as you make your way back through the cave. Typically, the water remains around chest high and you will use your head lamp as you make your way back through the narrow passages.
The guides take you deep into the labyrinth and you creep your way back around 2 miles in total. The guides will educate you on amazing stalactites and stalagmites as you make your way to the main showcase. My inner Indiana Jones was kicking in as I was waiting for the ancient booby traps to be set off and force me into a modern-day extreme Escape game, luckily this did not happen.
Alas, we arrived at the main cavern and climbed up to the top of a clear landing. Up top in the main grotto there were numerous archaeological objects such as clay pots, tools, weapons and water vessels almost everywhere. Our guides explained how archaeologists determined that these objects were left by the Mayans and had been untouched for 1000 years.
The main attraction is truly what makes this a “One of a Kind Experience”. It is believed that the Maya used this unique cave passage to perform religious human sacrifices. In total, there are around 15 skeletal remains ranging in age, with seven remains identified as children under the age of 5. The most important artifact, known as the Crystal Maiden, lies as a sacrificial victim with crystallized calcified bones, which give her the crystalline appearance. I was awestruck at every turn, I felt truly lucky to be able to experience such a unique and special place that has been buried deep in the earth and untouched for 1000 years.
The journey is smooth on the way out of the cave as you slowly float with the current. This was a great reflective time as I imagine the ancestors that once lived in this part of the world and what life was like in their day. This journey into the Mayan Underworld is a must see and everyone should add this tour to their bucket list. Selecting the best guides is a must and we are happy to help.
Belize offers some of the most magical caves to explore in the entire world. Whether you are cave tubing through a crystal cathedral, rappelling down the black hole or seeing ancient Mayan artifacts, Belize has something for everyone to explore the Mayan underworld.
If your wanderlust is calling, why not start by filling in our travel enquiry form or give us a call at (877)509-6033. Thanks again!
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With an adventurous spirit,
Central America Journeys