Actun Tunichil Muknal

Cave of the Crystal Maiden


Useful Information

Location: Near San Ignacio
Open: All year after appointment.
[2008]
Fee: Mayawalk Tours:
Day trips: per Person USD 80.
Overnight Camping Trips: per Person USD 185.
Pacz Tours:
[2008]
Classification:  Karst cave.
Light: bring torch
Dimension:  
Guided tours: D=4h.
Photography:  
Accessibility:  
Bibliography: Tom Miller (1989): Tunichil Muknal, The Canadian Caver vol 21 no 2, 1989.
Address: Mayawalk Tours, 19 Burns Avenue, San Ignacio, Cayo, Belize, Tel: +501-824-3070. E-mail: contact
PACZ tours, Emilio or Jamal Awe, 30 Burns Ave, San Ignacio, Cayo District, Tel: +501-824-0536, Cell: +501-604-6921. E-mail: contact
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.
Last update:$Date: 2015/08/30 21:52:19 $

History

 
1993first exploration of the cave system.

Description

Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) is an important archaeologic site, the cave was known to the ancient inhabitants of the area, the Mayans, and used for religious purposes. A small chamber called stone sepulchre contains a complete female human skeleton covered by calcite crystals, the Crystal Maiden which gave the cave its name. Of course, this is only the most spectacular Mayan remains among hundreds of ceramics, stoneware items, and bones which can be seen on the tour. The crystal maiden is a teenage girl which was probably a sacrifice victim. And there are several such calcified skeletons in the Main Chamber.

The cave is visited on a spelunking tour which takes four hours and includes wading through watercourses and climbing. Getting to the cave requires a 45 minute hike through the Tapir Mountain Reserve, through jungle and across three rivers.

The cave is under protection because of its archaeologic importance. After it was featured in National Geographic it became a popular destination for adventurous travelers. In order to find an compromise between protection and tourist revenue the Belize Tourism Board has granted licenses to only two tour operators. One of them is Mayawalk Tours in San Ignacio Cayo who offer guided tours to the cave. Beneath the so-called Day Trips they also offer Overnight Camping Trips which include visits to various Mayan sites and rappelling into a sinkhole leading to ATM. Professional cave helmets, lights and waterproof bags are provided. The other operator is Pacz Tours,

Dr Jaime Awe, from the University of New Hampshire, was the first archaeologist to explore Actun Tunichil Muknal (Cave of the Crystal Sepulchre). It was named after the sacrificial chamber within the cave where the remains of a young woman were found. Fourteen burials have been found in Actun Tunichil Muknal. The cave also contains two slate stelae in front of which Maya elites cut themselves with obsidian blades to collect their blood and offer it to the gods. A stream flows out of this cave, providing the main water supply for the camp. Actun Tunichil Muknal also contains large broken pottery. Calcite from dripwater has encased many of these finds over the centuries.

Numeous tourist outfits lead trips to the cave.


Text by Tony Oldham (2004). With kind permission.


See also


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