If you are an adrenaline junkie like us, you need to get yourself to the ATM cave in Belize and go on an adventure you will never forget.
After leaving Caye Caulker, we headed to San Ignacio. We knew it was an up and coming place in Belize for travellers and somewhere adventurous, but we never expected to see a 1,400 year old skeleton fully intact deep in an underwater cave: Actun Tunichil Muknal, otherwise known as the ATM cave Belize!
San Ignacio is definitely an adventure activity hot-spot, you could spend the day horse riding through the stunning hills, cave tubing the crystal clear rivers or swimming through caves on the ATM cave tour to find lost civilisations.
The town itself is relatively small and very colourful. Most hostels/hotels are in the same area, which is where you can also find restaurants, markets and places to book your trips.
Read on to find out how we got there and how we tackled the ATM cave Belize on our ATM cave tour.
What is the ATM Cave Belize?
We knew this would be good, but our ATM cave tour in Belize exceeded our expectations massively!
Over 1,400 years ago, the Mayans viewed caves as ‘portals to the underworld’ and treated them with great respect. Every 20 years they would enter the caves, using only a firelight to navigate, and perform rituals, some of which included human sacrifice!
The most popular cave in this area for tourists, is Actun Tunichil Muknal, or ATM for short.
The main ATM cave runs 4.8km deep. During the tour you will explore 500 metres of the cave taking up to 3 hours.
How to get to the ATM Cave Belize
The tour starts with a 40-minute drive from San Ignacio town to the site followed by a 30-minute walk including some river crossings where you will have to swim and hold a rope. When you arrive at the entrance to the cave, this is where the fun really starts.
What to expect on the ATM Cave Tour Belize
This is no simple walk! Expect to be swimming, crawling, climbing and sliding during the ATM cave tour. The entrance alone is magnificent and deep enough that you can’t touch the floor.
Your guide should provide you with some water shoes or you can just wear trainers. Going barefoot is not an option as the rocks can be quite sharp.
Our guide was excellent and painted a vivid picture of what would have happened in the caves 1,400 years ago. At one point he asked us to hold each other’s shoulders, turn off our lights and follow him in the pitch black! This was quite an experience! Imagine being a Mayan and your torch going out!
The most incredible thing about these caves is the fact that the remnants of these rituals, such as huge clay pots, still lay intact. You can see, and really envisage how these rituals would have been set up and exactly where the Mayans would have performed them.
What’s even more astounding is that human sacrificial remains, i.e skeletons, can still be found. Littered around the ritual sites are skulls and other bones. At the end of the tour you will see one skeleton that is fully intact from head to toe, the Crystal Maiden. This was a jaw dropping moment for us!
It’s a completely surreal experience and really feels like you are seeing a snapshot of the past. It’s one thing going into a cave and being told what happened, but being able to physically see the evidence of the past makes this truly special.
What to take and wear for the ATM Cave Belize Tour
During your ATM cave tour you are going to get soaked. There is absolutely no avoiding this. You will also have to climb, scramble and walk. Makes sure you have:
- Water shoes – you guide should provide these unless you have your own. You could also wear trainers that you don’t mind getting destroyed. Flips slops or bare foot is an strong no.
- Swim suits – swimming shorts, or suits and a t-shirt are fine for everyone.
- Change of clothes – make sure you leave a change of clothes in the van for later.
- Towel – there are showers to rinse off after the tour.
- Water bottle – for the half hour walk but you can not take this into the cave.
- Head torch – should be provided by the guide.
What not to take on the ATM Cave Tour – IMPORTANT
Some guides tell you to bring sun screen and bug spray, you can not wear these in the cave because you can damage the ecosystem. Do not bring them.
Equally you can not bring anything that you could drop – this means cameras and go-pros or anything else you can hold. Over the years so many irreplaceable artifacts have accidentally been destroyed.
Who to book your ATM Cave Tour with and how much does it cost?
There are many agencies operating the ATM cave tour and the tour should cost you no more that $90 for the full day including transport, lunch and equipment (helmets etc).
You can also book online with Get Your Guide which we recommend because all the activities are reviewed so you know that you are getting a good company.
Getting to San Ignacio from Belize City
If you want to go on the ATM cave tour you need to get to San Ignacio in the first place.
You will most likely fly into Belize City as a starting point.
You can get to San Ignacio from Belize City easily by a transfer bus which takes 2 hours. We booked through Mundo Maya travels (now Zippy Zappy Mayan Travels) for $20. The current schedule leaves at 13:30 and takes 2 hours to get to San Ignacio.
Alternatively, for those on a tighter budget, you could go to the local bus station (taxi drivers will know where this is) and look for a bus whose final destination is Benque. This would cost up to $4 instead but takes much longer, with more stops, no A/C, and you may have to keep a closer eye on your belongings!
Don’t forget, in Belize their first language is English which makes it much easier to communicate at the bus station and en-route. We also found that the people of Belize are some of the most friendly and helpful we have ever met.
Where did we stay in San Ignacio?
We stayed just outside of San Ignacio in Santa Elena. We found a farm with a beautiful cabin overlooking a lake nested in the hills on AirBnB. The owner provided us with bikes to access San Ignacio which took about 15 minutes. He even allowed Ben to ride the horse around the farm!
This worked for us really well because we wanted to relax and be somewhere quiet to enjoy the scenery in between our adventure days.
San Ignacio is becoming very popular and we can definitely see why. Don’t miss out on the ATM cave tour. If you have more time, there is plenty more to keep you busy!
Lets make your trip to Belize complete, do not miss out on:
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