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The ATM Cave is a must-do for anyone traveling to Belize. However, adventuring into a dark, mysterious cave where Mayan sacrifices used to take place deep in the Belizean jungle can be quite the undertaking for the average traveler. In order to calm your nerves about it, we are going to tell you 9 Things You Need to Know Before Doing the ATM Cave in Belize.
1. You don’t have to be super athletic.
First off, if you are on the fence about visiting the ATM Cave while in Belize, do it!
The ATM Cave is not as difficult as you would imagine. It does take some adventurous spirit, and there are some exhilarating, and scary, parts to the journey. However, children, older people, and not the most athletic people all went into the cave and made it out just fine.
Essentially, if you are thinking about not visiting the ATM Cave because you are not in shape enough, you most likely are fit enough to do it!
2. Prepare for a bumpy ride.
If you are traveling from San Igancio to the ATM Cave, the ride only takes a little over an hour. Most of the van ride there is relatively smooth and is on a major road. However, the last 30 minutes or so is BUMPY. It’s on a dirt road and you will feel the bumps. Please prepare yourself mentally for this, especially if you get carsick.
3. You get lunch!
All the tours that enter the ATM Cave need to be with a licensed guide. This cuts down on the number of people visiting and helps save this remarkable piece of history. With the guides, you get lunch provided to you!
The lunch will feel incredible after what will be a very long day. Enjoy it before your can ride back into San Ignacio.
Read our detailed One Week Itinerary for Belize.
4. No cameras!
There are absolutely no cameras allowed inside of the Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave. This is because a tourist once dropped their camera right into the skull of one of the skeletal remains breaking it into pieces. Instead of risking this happening again, the Belizean government decided to simply ban all cameras entering the ATM Cave.
While it would have been nice to get photographs inside the cave, it was also a relaxing feeling just being able to enjoy the moment surrounded by history and natural beauty without trying to get an amazing photo or being surrounded by others all trying to jockey for the best instagram pic.
5. You only swim a little bit.
At the beginning of the trek to the ATM Cave, there are 3 river crossings. All 3 have ropes which you can hang onto. The water is the deepest at the first crossing and you have to swim a little, or at least pull yourself across on the rope. Crossings 2 and 3 are much shallower and only had water up to our ankles and knees.
After the 30 minute walk through the jungle with the river crossings, you will set down your stuff at the mouth of the ATM Cave. To enter the cave, you have to jump into the river flowing out of it and swim for about 15 feet. The water is cold, but the current isn’t fast.
Once you are out of the water here, you shouldn’t have to swim at all inside the cave. You will be hiking in anywhere from ankle to waist deep water for most of the time, and there are a couple parts where it might get deeper for just a second or two. However, there isn’t any more actual swimming.
Check out 7 Things to Know Before You Travel to Belize.
6. It’s not overly crowded.
As mentioned before, there are only a certain number of licensed guides that are allowed to take people into the ATM Cave and each guide is only allowed to take a maximum of 8 people with them.
This limit on the number of people entering the ATM Cave makes it feel like it’s not overly crowded. That being said, there are other tour groups that will be going around the same time as you. However, while it might feel overwhelming before you start your trek through the jungle or just before entering the cave. The tour guides do a fantastic job of ensuring groups are not bunched up together.
When you are inside the ATM Cave, it generally feels as though your group is the only one in there, making it a more intimate experience between you, nature, and history.
7. Some parts are difficult, but most of the cave is easy.
Doing the ATM Cave adventure in Belize is generally easy, and you can do it even if you are not an athlete, as highlighted in number 1 of our things you need to know before doing the ATM Cave in Belize.
Now, there are a few parts that are a little more challenging during your expedition into the cave and up to the Mayan sacrifice areas. In some areas you will need to maneuver your body through smaller areas or push yourself up onto a ledge. At the very end, before reaching the final Mayan sacrifice area where you see the famous Crystal Maiden skeletal remains, you will climb up a ladder onto a higher ledge. All of this is done with the guide’s help.
Your guide will give instructions on what foot the step with, where to place it, what hand to brace or lift with, and how to turn your body in order to make to through the ATM Cave safely. To keep noise down, the guide will tell the instructions to the person behind them and that person will pass the instructions along. It’s truly a team effort.
With these instructions and the help of your guide and group, you will make it through the cave safe and sound. There are only a couple moments where it is a little more challenging and nerve-wracking, but you not only have the help and experience of your guide, but also the encouragement and help from your team there for you.
8. You get to see incredible Mayan history.
The Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave holds incredible historic value in terms of history. It is thousands of years old and was used by the Mayans for religious reasons. Mayan priests would disappear into the cave in efforts to communicate with the Gods. They might disappear for days, weeks, or even months. Sometimes this was to ask the Gods for more rain, crops, or something else.
The priests sometimes took sacrifices into the cave in hopes of a better return from the Gods. As you can imagine, the skeletal remains were from a period of time when the priests took in humans for sacrifices. There are 14 skeletal remains through the ATM Cave, and the skeletons are some of the best preserved in the world.
National Geographic named the ATM Cave one of the most sacred caves in the world.
It’s both incredible and spooky seeing the human skeletons on the ground and knowing why they are there and how they got there. Again, the ATM Cave is a remarkable part of history that is still available for visitors to see.
9. The ATM Cave is an absolute must-do when visiting Belize!
Continuing from the last one, the ATM Cave is an absolute must-do when visiting Belize! If we still haven’t convinced you, maybe our post on Why the ATM Cave in Belize is a Must-Do will.
The cave is a genuine mix of adventure and history that cannot be found in other places in the world. It’s also likely that the opportunity to visit this cave might not be around forever. Therefore, when you are visiting Belize, please do more than just head to the beaches and explore the interior of this beautiful country and the rich history it has.
Hopefully, this has inspired you to do the ATM Cave in Belize on your next trip!
If you are still looking for ideas for what to do in Belize, don’t worry. Belize has so much to offer as a country that you will never get bored!
Hi thanks for this info. We are planning to visit ATM caves in the spring. If you can’t swim will they provide a life jacket?
We believe they provide life jackets for those who need them. Enjoy the ATM caves!