Belize Travels: Actun Tunichil Muknal

Our first trip out of San Ignacio was to Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) – a cave system in the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve that contains Maya pottery and skeletal remains. I signed us up for the tour because it seemed like an interesting way to see some artefacts but what I really ended up enjoying was the cave geology. No cameras are allowed so you’ll have to trust me on how cool the inside of a cave can be!

We toured with Pacz Tours which I booked on-line but can also be booked once in town. Their office is located right by our guesthouse so they were easy to get to for our 8 am start.

The trip begins with about an hour long drive out to the reserve and then a 45 minute hike through the jungle to the caves. Our guide, Ian, was excellent and during our jungle hike taught us about Maya history and the significance of the caves. The hike isn’t strenuous and while you do have to cross three streams the water is fairly shallow.

Once at the caves we had a quick snack and dropped off our day packs (water and lunch) in the picnic area. We fastened on our helmets, got a safety talk and then entered into the caves. A lot of info that I read before said that there was a short swim to access the caves (which is true) but what they didn’t mention was that the water doesn’t stop there. If you head to ATM be prepared to spend all day in the water as you wade up the stream that carved out the caves. It’s a ton of fun but you do have to swim and squeeze your way through some narrow openings. The water ranged from ankle to chin deep and it can get chilly. I wore my swim suit, board shorts, short sleeved rash guard and Keens and it was a pretty decent outfit for what we ended up doing. You can’t bring anything into the caves and the only place to leave items is at the vans so you need to wear stuff that’s both comfortable to hike in and cave in.

While working our way from the cave mouth to the chamber where the artefacts are we were treated to some pretty cool stalactites, stalagmites and other mineral deposits. I’d never been that far into a cave before so it was a different experience. I thought I might be a little nervousness of some of the tight spots but it didn’t really bother me too much. The rock formations were really interesting and quite beautiful by the light of our head lamps. No bat sightings but we did see some fish and a cricket.

Once you reach the chamber with the artefacts you have to remove your shoes and just wear socks. Again, it was interesting to hear about the different items and see the skeletons but I was also starting to get a little hungry and cold by this point. Luckily the trip out takes much less time and 3.5 hours after we entered the caves we were back at the picnic area. I was freezing at this point but warmed up with a little lunch and by the time we’d hiked back out I was feeling much better. It still felt pretty good to change into my dry clothes back at the van!

We were back in town by 4:30 pm and were tired enough to need a little nap before dinner. Being Good Friday the town was mostly shut down (so it was a good day to be out on a tour) and we had been told that no restaurants would be open before 6 pm. By that point we were starving and stopped for dinner at one of the two open restaurants that we walked by. I could have just been the holiday but were disappointed in the food, the price and how long we had to wait. We’d opted to just split an entree so after we headed out again to a street vendor stall for some tacos ($0.50 each) – much more satisfying! We have been loving the street food (burritos for breakfast!) and it is much more reasonably priced.

Over all it was an excellent day. We had a good guide, a nice group (7 of us) and didn’t do any of those things I hate on tours like being forced to stop at over priced gift shops. Then I got to enjoy delicious street food with my favourite travelling companion!


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