The ceramics at the site are significant partly because they are marked with “kill holes”, which indicates they were used for ceremonial purposes. Many of the Mayan artifacts and remains are completely calcified to the cave floor. One artifact named the “Monkey Pot” is one of just four found in Central America. The Mayans also modified cave formations here, in some instances to create altars for the offerings, in others to create silhouettes of faces and animals, or to project a shadow image into the cave. The cave is extensively decorated with cave formations in the upper passages.
The cave is located in the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve. The main cave system is about 3 miles long and consists of a long river passage for approximately two miles, which ends at an upstream sump. A series of upper prehistoric passages continues another mile past the sump through massive breakdown boulders and giant rooms. The cave can be exited through a tight squeeze ending in a giant sink hole collapse in the jungle. The cave’s upper passage is located about 1/3 of the way in from the lower entrance. Here 14 skeletal remains have been found, and numerous examples of ancient Maya pottery remain.
A natural museum, located in the district of Cayo in Western Belize, the A.T.M. Cave is an hour drive from the town of San Ignacio.
The Western Highway takes you past the village of Teakettle for a 7 mile drive on dirt roads to the sites parking lot. There a 45 minute walk awaits you. Pack lunches, helmets, lights, dry bags, and water are shared and carried by guests and guide. You will hike forest trails and through water across the Roaring River at waist level, to an abandoned archaeologist camp, where you enter the cave.
You need to be in good physical conditions for the Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave, able to traverse in water, rocks, boulders, climb cave walls on a ladder and you will be wet all day long. At the end of your day at the parking lot you will change into dry clothes for the ride back home.
This is what magazines now call “Indiana Jonesing”