Skip to content

Actun Tunichil Muknal, The entrance to the underworld in Belize

I’m going to tell you straight up, visiting the ATM cave (Actun Tunichil Muknal) is one of the most incredible activities we have done, to give you an idea it is like entering Xibalba; Xibalba for the Mayas was the underworld and the place where some gods lived and believe me the experience of visiting the underworld will surprise you!

The reason why it is so special is because archaeologists have not looted this sacred place, which means that you can observe traces (from utensils to human bodies) of one of the most important ancient cultures of America.

Not for nothing is it considered by National Geographic as the most sacred cave in the world. Here I will share with you everything you need to know to visit the ATM Cave.

Actun Tunichil Muknal is one of the most important natural and archeological discoveries in the world. We know that visiting the cave is expensive; however, we want to share with you the reasons why you should visit it.

10 reasons to visit the Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave

The famous National Geographic company has ranked the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave as the most sacred cave in the world above places in India, Greece and China.

2.- People are rarely allowed to visit places of such historical value. The Actun Tunichil Muknal cave is a place of great importance for archaeologists, doumentarists and historians and the fact that it is open to the public is simply magnificent.

ATM Belize Cave

The Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave in Belize is a unique living museum in the world. When Danny and I walked in, our mouths dropped open at the sheer number of artifacts and the unusual size of them; to be able to see them in the wild, buried and merged with the ground was unparalleled.

You can see real human bodies that have been there for thousands of years and it is something indescribable and amazing. I promise you that the emotions are completely different when you see a skeleton in a display case than when you see it merged with the ground.

Theopportunity to enter Shibalba, if you ever saw the movie “El Dorado” you will understand what shibalba means. For those who do not know what shibalba is, I can share with you that visiting the cave is like entering the Mayan underworld.

Cave Actun Tunichil Muknal

6.- The route to get to and inside the cave Actun Tunichil Muknal is beautiful and makes you feel like you are in an Indiana Jones or Tom Raider movie. Basically, you feel like an explorer.

7.- You can appreciate the beauties of the cave such as the stalagmites and stalagmites, and the fascinating crystalline walls that shine as if they were diamonds.

Actun Tunichil Muknal

You will learn about the Mayan culture, about the reason for human sacrifices and about the beliefs that one of the most important ancient cultures in the world had.

9.- It is not known how long it will remain open to the public. Unfortunately, the interior of the cave is delicate and there have already been several accidents where tourism has damaged the artifacts, the ecosystem inside the cave and even the remains of the bodies. It is well known that it is becoming increasingly difficult to access and that it is very likely to close at some point, so if you have the opportunity to visit it, you should take it.

10.- We do not know how long this place will last. The cave is constantly traversed by water, during the rainy season it is not even possible to enter and, due to the strong climatic changes that the world is experiencing, anything could happen. The price of the experience may seem high but believe me it is worth it.

Where is Actun Tunichil Muknal located?

The famous cave is in Belize, in the department of Cayo and belongs to the Tapir Mountain Natural Reserve.

Where to stay to visit Actun Tunichil Muknal

The best location to stay near the famous cavern is in San Ignacio Belize. Our recommendation is to stay here, it was where we stayed and the truth is pretty good.

History of the Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave

The meaning of Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave is “Cave of the stone burial” and for the Maya this was a sacred place. It is known that the Maya used the cave between 700 and 900 AD as a sacred place where human sacrifices were made for the welfare of the local people.

The cave was discovered in 1989 by archaeologists but was kept secret until 1998 when it was decided to open it to the public. More than 1400 human artifacts have been found and one of the most impressive things is to see the excellent condition in which several human remains are found, about 14 bodies have been found.

To understand why there are so many Mayan artifacts in the cave, one must know that in the Mayan religion it was believed that the gods of agriculture, rain and fertility lived in the underworld and therefore, the caves were an access point to this dimension, which allowed them to be close to the gods or to communicate with them in a better way. The deeper the cave, the greater the contact with the gods.

And if you decide to look for the tour arriving in San Ignacio, we recommend going with Pacz.

If you see the map you will understand why the only way to get to know it is by hiring an excursion.

How to visit the most sacred cave in the world

The cave is open to the general public; however, it must be entered with a certified guide, otherwise, access is not possible.

This means that there is only one way to visit Actun Tunichil Muknal: You must travel to Belize and use a tour, sorry to say but this is one of those experiences that you simply cannot do on your own.

Only a maximum of 125 people per day is allowed, not one more, not one less.

What to expect from ATM Cave in Belize

The cavern is about 6 kilometers long, however, visitors only travel about 4 kilometers.

Access is in groups of 8 people per guide and there is a long walk before reaching the entrance of the cave.

The tour starts at the door of your hotel, a shuttle will pick you up and it will take you about 45 minutes (from San Ignacio) to get to the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve.

You will hike for 45 minutes and cross 3 rivers before reaching the ATM cave, think about it, by the time you get to the entrance you will be wet.

The tour inside the cavern is approximately 3 hours, inside you will swim, walk and even climb a little (you don’t need any climbing skills).

Actun Tunichil Muknal

The interesting thing about the cavern is to get to the place where the Mayan remains that were abandoned there thousands of years ago are preserved. It is impressive to see the amount of remains preserved in this place, the guides will explain and give you information about the discoveries that have been made in the place and why the cave preserves so many remains.

After visiting xibalbá and touring the cavern, you can enjoy a Belizean meal. The tour ends when you are dropped off at your hotel.

Who to go with? Tours to visit the ATM Cave

‼Tovisit the cave you need a tour and to be accompanied by a guide.

Here are some options:

  1. Tour to ATM Cave des Caye Caulker (English)
  2. ATM Grotto Tour from Belize City(English)
  3. Excursion to ATM Cave from San Ignacio(English)
  4. Tour from San Ignacio to ATM Cave (in Spanish)

TIP: Tours from San Ignacio have the best price due to its proximity to the cave.

We recommend that you book online because this allows you to secure your place and set aside the day you want to visit the cave.

Booking from one day to the next or waiting until you have arrived at San Ignacio can be a mistake, since the risk of not getting a place is high, as only 125 visitors are allowed per day.

To give you an idea, we went in low season and were surprised to see that the maximum allowed capacity was reached. This basically means that if you go in high season and do not have a tour booked it is almost impossible to get a place.

This is the option we recommend to book on the Internet: ATM Cave Excursion from San Ignacio (in Spanish)

And if you decide to look for the tour arriving in San Ignacio, we recommend going with Pacz.

Who is the tour for?

Cave Actun Tunichil Muknal

It is a fact that to live this experience you need some physical condition; however, we were in a group where there were people over 70 years old.

It is definitely a tour that will be more strenuous for seniors than for young people; however, if they are healthy, not overweight and used to walking, they should have no problems to live this experience.

Although the most attractive point is usually the remains inside Actun Tunichil Muknal, the reality is that the nature of the interior and the tour itself are spectacular, so for nature lovers and adventurers this is an activity not to be missed.

What to wear and how to dress

You have to think of this activity as a jungle excursion, where you will swim, climb and hike. That is why it is important to wear non-skid shoes (good tennis shoes or hiking boots) and light clothing that you don’t mind getting wet.

Important! Wearing socks is mandatory. Forget about huaraches, flip-flops or open-toed shoes with non-skid soles. If for some reason you want to wear this type of footwear then don’t forget to bring an extra pair of socks.

The most important part of the cave should be visited without footwear, but as our skin has fats that hurt the inner nature, it is mandatory to bring socks.

You will see that the Belizeans are really strict with the care of the place, it is highly prohibited to carry cameras, cell phones or any equipment to take pictures.

🏨 If you need accommodation, we recommend looking here 🏨

In summary this is what you MUST CONSIDER:

What to bring:

  • Socks (Required)
  • Slip-resistant closed-toe shoes or sneakers for wet conditions
  • Lightweight clothing
  • Water Bottle
  • Change of clothes (optional)

It is forbidden:

  • Cameras, video cameras and cell phones
  • Use of sunscreen : You don’t need it if you are going to be inside a cave most of the time.

The tour includes helmets, life jackets in case you can’t swim, lamps and lunch at the end of the excursion.

Don’t miss other activities in Belize

Back to the page of Belize Tourism