Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM cave) is one of the best caves of Central America and has been feature by National Geographic, Discovery Channel and History Channel. To get there you need to take a 45 min drive from San Ignacio toward the east on the Western Highway to the village of teakettle then 30 min drive on a bumpy road south of the village to the Tapir Nature Reserve. The Tapir Nature Reserve is a subtropical rain forest that gets at least 100 inches of rain per year with the Roaring River flowing at the edge of the reserve. A 45 min hike leads us to the cave entrance. The hike is not challenging, most of it is along the river bank and we get to cross the river three times before getting to the entrance. At the entrance there is a nice refreshing pool, which is very compensating on a sunny day. Also at the entrance is where the guide will go over history and safety and divide into groups of eight if you are doing a shared tour. Also the entrance is a very pleasant place for lunch, but depending on the time of the day that you are doing you might have lunch before or after the caving adventure.
The guide prepares you with equipment and shares different techniques that are used to go into this cave. Once all the instruction has been given we swim into this Mysterious place which the ancient Mayas considered to be the portal to the underworld known as Xibalba. This was a place that only priest and shamans could venture into taking offerings to their gods. The biggest challenge in this cave is a breakdown after five minutes into the cave is going from one rock to the other and sliding in between a couple of them. The water passage fallows after the breakdown, the water passage consists of 3.3 miles but we don’t get to do all. The water passage is most fun, just playing in the water, as we go through the water it will sometime be to our ankles, knees, waste, neck and some time we have to swim. At one point of the water passage we claim up a rock to a ledge, so that we can enter what archeologist call the Mayan levels. This is one of the most attractive parts of the cave very rich with culture and formations and over a 1000 pieces of pottery and 14 human sacrifices have been recorded. To explore this chamber we have to remove our shoes, so it does not damage the formations that we get to walk on, socks or no socks is an option. At this chamber is where we get to see the most impressive formations like rock columns, stalactites, stalagmites, citrines and flowstones. This is also the place where the guides will go more in details talking about rituals and ceremonies; it is like a living museum. Exploring the chamber will allow us to witness and try to understand what took place over a thousand years ago, when our ancestors believed in three domain layers. Heaven which was believed to have thirteen layers, six ascending, seventh heaven and six descending, the underworld had nine levels four descending, fifth the underworld, and four ascending, with earth in the middle. The Ceiba also played a very important role. The Mayas believed it connected the three domain layers, branches to heaven, trunk to earth, and the roots to the underworld. Within those levels and layers existed their deity, and they believed that their gods had dual faces, the same god could be good or bad it all depended on the offering it was given. That is why the priests took offerings into caves in the form of food, blood, and human sacrifices to please them. Mayan priests used hallucinogens to help them get into trans to communicate with their deity or ancestors, and displayed pots in a very symbolic ways after the rituals and ceremonies.