If you ask someone who has been to Belize about the ATM caves, few will know what you are talking about, while almost everyone will have gone to Caye Caulker, snorkeled on the Hol Chan Reserve and perhaps even have dived the Great Blue Hole (a mere $250 US for a single day excursion).
That said, the ATM caves could be Belize’s most underrated attraction. So what are they? The Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) caves, located in the middle of the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve were discovered in 1989, a sacred network of limestone caves that were a burial and ceremonial ground for the Mayans.
You require a guided tour to enter and groups are kept small. The tour lasts the whole day, including some light hiking to the caves, and between 1.5 to 2 hours spent exploring inside the caves, with only headlamps for navigation. After a bit of climbing and scrambling through a series of smaller chambers and passageways in relative darkness, you climb up a rope ladder and into a large chamber. Along the way, you pass huge limestone stalactites measuring several metres high. They are extremely well-protected, in immaculate condition, and the most beautiful I have ever seen. You could probably stay and look at them for hours, but your guide ushers you along. Once you enter the largest chamber, you are required to remove your shoes, but keep on your now sopping wet socks, to protect the interior of the cave.
In the large cavern, you walk alongside original skeletal remains and pottery dating from between 700 to 900 A.D, and the area where you should not cross, is located just inches from your feet, marked off by a flimsy one-inch piece of masking tape. Its almost impossible to believe.
If you are interested in learning more, a quick search will provide much more info, and even some photos (cameras were banned in 2012).
All this to say, the ATM caves were absolutely stunning. If you are going to Belize and/or Guatemala, make an effort to visit these caves. You won’t regret it!
No cameras allowed
Because of recent incidents that have occurred, i.e. a tourist dropped their camera on a skeleton breaking it, the government has prohibited visitors from taking any photographs since 2012. The last time you can use your camera is at the parking lot outside of the park.
It was painful to not capture the cave, but on the other hand - liberating. My first and hopefully last post without photographs!
The tour costs was about $85 to $90 for the day including lunch, transportation and guide.