Walking in the Steps of Mayans at ATM (Actun Tunichil Muknal)

Today was my second and my Mom’s first visit to ATM.  It was tied for my favorite things to do in Belize when I visited in December 2010.  Today I wasn’t sure what to expect…would it be exactly the same?…would it be completely different?…what would be different?

I was definitely not let down.  We had an absolutely amazing day with Francisco from Pacz Tours.  The hike there was EXCELLENT.  It was pouring rain and I just love playing in the mud.  😉 The best part was we saw Jaguar tracks!!!  One of the things I’ve been dying to see in Belize is a Jaguar in the wild.  I know that my chances are slim to none given that many people have lived here their entire lives and not seen one in the wild (our guide included), but a girl can have dreams…right?  To me seeing the tracks was the next best thing.  Francisco wasn’t too surprised because he had seen a dog up in the area the day before and assumed that the Jaguar was hunting.

Last time I went to ATM, the waters were really high due to rainfall.  This time, even though it had been raining off and on for several days, the water levels were much lower.  To get to ATM you have to cross Roaring Creek River three times.  Don’t let the word ‘creek’ foul you.  It’s not overly difficult, but it’s not easy either.  Once at the cave entrance we had to swim in (you don’t have to dive under the water…the water is just too deep to walk in that area).  Then you hike approximately one kilometer while in the cave.  Doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s all upstream while submerged ankle to chest deep.

So, what’s worth all of this?  ATM is a cave that Mayans used for years to perform rituals and offerings.  There are a lot of clay pots.  None are without damage, as the Mayans broke them during the rituals, but some are pretty close.  One is called the Monkey Pot because of a marking on it.  Our guide said that only eight pots have been found with similar markings.  There have also been fourteen skeletons discovered in this cave, but they know there are many more still buried within.  The most intact is a skeleton of a young woman called the Crystal Maiden (her bones have calcified and now glimmer in the light).  We also got to see an interesting shadow from one of the rock formations…imagine being a Mayan in a dark cave with just a torch…wouldn’t this look like something evil?

Just being in the cave gives me a feeling of honor…walking in the same footsteps of the Mayans from so many years ago.

On the way out our guide gave us a special treat (something I did not experience that last time I was there).  We had the opportunity to go through some pretty tight spaces and challenging obstacles, but it was amazing.  To top off the experience the guide had us all hold the hand of the person next to us and then turn off our headlamps.  Then he slowly guided us through a section of the cave in complete darkness.  No words can describe.  You have to look at some of the pictures to understand what fun we had.  I would definitely go again.  It seems that each time will be a new experience.

Note: These pictures were taken with my Olympus Tough 8010 camera (shockproof and waterproof). Highly recommended for this adventure. It was submerged all day and it hit many walls as I tried to squeeze through some tight places.

Another Note: If you are leery about the tight spaces, there are other options. Please GO…it’s worth it and the tour can be adjusted to a lot of different physical abilities.

3 thoughts on “Walking in the Steps of Mayans at ATM (Actun Tunichil Muknal)

  1. Pingback: 2012 on Alaska Girl at Heart | Travel, Photography, and Other Fun Adventures

  2. Pam, What an awesome job your doing recording all of this. Is your Mother enjoying it as much as you.?

    Love Lois

    • We are both having a great time. Saw Gary and Meredith today. Sure would be great if you could have come with us.