If you ever wanted to discover some cool caves, ancient ruins, human sacrifice burial grounds, and the occasional climb up rocks in pitch black, then the ATM Cave tour in Belize is where you would like to go. This cave is one of the coolest caves I have ever visited.
It has a sense of adventure. You get to plunge into the water in order to swim to the opening of the cave. You will be in the entrance of a Mayan human sacrificial burial ground named Actun Tunichil Muknal (aka. ATM). It is the place where the Mayans would go, and sacrifice humans in order to find some favor with their gods.
A Brief History of the ATM Cave
The ATM Cave, or Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave, is a spiritual site of the Mayan Empire. The Cave was discovered by the Mayans between 300-600 A.D. It became a spiritual site for the Mayan Empire during 700-800 A.D.
After the Mayans had left, the cave sat vacant until 1989, when it was rediscovered. The cave was opened up to the public for adventure in 1998. There has been about 1400 different artifacts discovered inside the cave to help give history about the Mayan people.
It is not only a great archelogical find, but it is also one of the best sites to see in Belize. The cave offers adrenaline outdoor enthusiasts some fun and adventure.
San Ignacio has many tour companies to choose from. There will be multiple tour companies all around. On the main street, the tour companies will bombard each tourist with information and sales pitches.
The main 2 tour companies I recommend would be:
These two tours offer the best. They are all highly rated tour groups. The price of the tour will range from $85-95 USD per person. It is quite high for a backpacker or even a budget minded traveler, but the adventure inside the cave is worth it.
We went with Pacz tours. After some recommendations from people in our hostel, we decided they were the best for price and adventure. They were the cheapest. It was $85. We were lucky. Our group was just Sarah and I plus our guide Oscar. It was going to be a great time.
The ATM Cave Tour:
The ATM Cave tour would be a 45 minute walk to the cave from the parking lot. Inside the cave, we would spend 3 hours going to the highlight and back. We would then come back for some lunch, change clothes, and go back home.
The tour starts at around 8:30 a.m. departure in San Ignacio, and we would be back around 5 p.m. Cameras are not allowed inside the cave due to a tourist dropping it on a skull inside the cave.
We walked to the tour office to get picked up by our guide. Oscar is a burly strong individual ready to take us on an adventure.
We drove about an hour to the caves. We drove through many fields that were occupied by the Minnonites, and eventually stopped at the spot of no return, aka, the parking lot.
Oscar geared us up with helmets, head lamps, and drank some water. It was going to be an adventure, and we were about to get wet, muddy, and have a blast.
Next we hiked through rain forest like conditions for about 45 minutes then we saw the opening of the cave. It was not a great opening, but a big enough one for us to jump in and get wet.
We climbed to the high part, and jumped straight into the water of the cave. At this point we needed to swim to the next section. It was not a far swim, but the water was a cooling affect after a hot day in the Belizean jungle.
Afterwards, we climbed through the cave. We were making sure we went through every crevice, and speeding around slower tour groups. Our guide made this fun, and took us on the harder routes since we were a smaller group and up for an adventure.
As we ventured through the cave, we came across Mayan pottery. There were broken pots and bowls. The pottery is part of their ceremonies that did inside the cave.
It was amazing to learn of the Mayan culture in this cave. These people would worship and make food sacrifices to their gods for hope of good farming seasons. They started to experiement with human blood as well.
As we kept getting further inside the cave, we found out their scarifices started to become blood sacrifices. Then there would be sacrifices of babies, and finally we get to the highlight as they like to call it. It is the full body of 18 year old man.
It was crazy. There was a full skeleton just laying there preserved by the cave. We had never seen anything like it. Just to think, this cave was not discovered until 1986.
The Mayans were starting to train kids young to be sacrificed to the gods. After a while the Mayans had abandoned this practice. It was most likely due to famine. They may have migrated to other parts of Central America.
1. Bring a swimsuit.
Make sure that you bring your swimsuit. You will be getting wet. You can bring shorts or leggings as well. It could help out with the cave if you are going against some of the rocks.
2. Shoes and socks
Bring shoes and socks, or at least some sort of close toes footware. You will be walking on hard cave rock. You will be swimming with them on, and at some point you will take off your shoes to walk at the end of the cave.
3. No camera
You are not allowed to bring a camera. It is illegal. A tourist, a couple of years ago, dropped their camera on a skull. The pictures you may see of the inside of the cave are not ours due to the fact we did not have any cameras.
That is the end of the ATM Cave Tour. It is a crazy tour with lots of fun. If you are in Belize you should go out and visit the cave in San Ignacio. It is one of the only things to do in San Ignacio. San Ignacio is a also a great place to book a tour to Tikkal in Guatemala if you wanted.
Have you been to some cool places like these caves before?
“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”