Actun Tunichil Muknal
Discover the world of the ancient Maya as you pass through the hourglass-shaped opening of the beautiful Actun Tunichil Muknal cave located in the karstic limestone terrain of Roaring Creek Valley. Actun Tunichil Muknal- the Cave of the Stone Sepulcher is one of the most thrilling caving experiences Belize has to offer.
Your caving adventure begins with a hike through the tropical forest at the edge of Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve. The heat and humidity will be forgotten once you swim across the deep pool at the gateway of the underworld. Wading through the cool water of the Muknal stream, climbing over rocks, and crawling through narrow passageways requires a good level of fitness. If you are up to the challenge you will be greatly rewarded.
Actun Tunichil Muknal was a sacred place to the Maya people, who used the cave during the Classic period (AD 250-909). The Mayas believed that gods, who provided rain and agricultural fertility, resided in this underworld. The Actun Tunichil Muknal cave offers a unique historical perspective; as you will see many of the artifacts are exactly as they were when the cave was first explored by archaeologists. Visitors also enjoy beautiful stalagmites, stalactites, and flow stones.
The Stelae Chamber is a major archaeological interest in the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave. It contains two slate stelae in front of which high status individuals performed rituals, where they cut themselves with obsidian blades to offer their blood to the gods.
The Crystal Maiden was a young woman of about 20. It is believed she was clubbed and left for dead, and with the passage of time she has been encased in calcite. The Mayas sacrificed humans in the hopes of appeasing the gods and bringing fertility to the land. The skeletal remains of 14 have been discovered in Actun Tunichil Muknal's Main Chamber.
The History of ATM
Actun Tunichil Muknal was discovered in 1989 and opened to the public in 1998. Dr. Jaime Awe, a Belizean archaeologist was the first to explore the cave. Dr. Awe and his Western Belize Regional Cave Project (WBRCP) conducted archaeological research at Actun Tunichil Muknal from 1993-2000.
In January of 2003, it was decided that 455 acres of the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve would be re-designated as a natural monument. Official signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Belize Audubon Society and the Institute of Archaeology (IoA) occurred on June 10, 2004. This agreement was the first of its kind to be signed by the Society for the co-management of an archeological site.
Actun Tunichil Muknal Natural Monument is located south of Teakettle Village in the Cayo District. The junction is at mile 52 on the Western Highway. Due to the sensitive nature of this cave only two tour companies are licensed to take guests here: Pacz Tours and Mayawalk Tours, which are based in San Ignacio. Tickets must be purchased in advance.
Plan Your Visit
Hours of Operation
Nationals- BZ $30.00
Non-nationals- BZ $30.00
Did You Know?
Actun is the Mayan word for cave- ac-hollow, tun-stone.
the Place of Fright: Belize's Sacred Maya Caverns
By David Roberts
National Geographic Adventure
On the Trail Of the Maya In Belize
By Herbert Buchsbaum
New York Times
April 7, 2002
Mysteries of the Underworld
By Jad Davenport
Scuba Diving Magazine