Actun Tunichil Muknal cave is an ancient Mayan ceremonial site in Belize. Mayans used the cave to help spirits reach other worlds and to worship the gods - using food, clay pots and human sacrifices among other offerings. Entering the cave, near San Ignacio, requires swimming and rock climbing. There are impressive rock formations throughout the cave which takes four hours to explore.
Actun Tunichil Muknal cave is an ancient Mayan ceremonial site in Belize. Mayans used the cave to help spirits reach other worlds and to worship the gods - using food, clay pots and human sacrifices among other offerings. Entering the cave, near San Ignacio, requires swimming and rock climbing. There are impressive rock formations throughout the cave which takes four hours to explore. Mayawalk Tours

Finding the skeletons deep within the Belize cave

HOW the Mayans got huge clay pots into the depths of a cave without damaging them is one of life's mysteries - not unlike the Nazca lines or Stonehenge.

I mean, it's not like they had bubble wrap to protect them.

Yet they managed to get these pots through seemingly impossible gaps to get to a ceremonial site where they would help their loved ones move from the underworld to the heavens.

A cracked pot was no good - the gods would not have been pleased.

Actun Tunichil Muknal is just outside San Ignacio in Belize.

When it's 38C and the humidity is through the roof, doesn't a cave sound like the perfect antidote?

But it's not for the faint-hearted.

You walk through a jungle and cross a river three times just to get to the site.

Once you reach the 5km-long cave in the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve, you have a frosty swim through the cave entrance where you will spend about four to six hours.

The only light is from the headlight on your helmet.

There's more rock climbing than the tour shops indicate - including squeezing through tight gaps as you weave your way to the upper part of the cave - but it's not too taxing if you follow the tour guide's instructions to a tee.

Given I did it with a week-old sprained ankle - and was told a 6-month pregnant woman and a 70-something-year-old man had recently done it - it's definitely do-able at most fitness levels and ages, though.

On the way to the Mayan site deep into the cave, there are more sections with water up to the waist or armpits and incredible formations.

But it's the pots and the skeletons calcified into the cave base that are most fascinating.

More than a dozen skeletons, believed to be sacrifices to the gods, have been discovered there, with at least six visible during the tour.

Both adults and children died in this cave with pots used to create smoke and steam to help provide safe passage for their spirits from the underworld to the heavens.

As well as Mayan pottery and other ceremonial objects, there are rock formations altered to resemble the gods of rain and fertility.

Two skeletons are only accessible up a ladder that's a little precarious if you're afraid of heights.

No photos are allowed in the cave, since some numpty dropped a camera on one of those skeletons and broke a hole in the skull in 2012.

That's why you'll see photos with the tour company's motto emblazoned on the corner of some photos in the gallery.

Once you reach the ceremonial site, only socks are allowed to preserve an archaeological only discovered in the 1990s.

Depending on the guide, you might get a little surprise on your way out.

It's a little daunting holding hands in a line while your leader guides you entirely in the dark through a water-filled cavern - especially when you hear the odd bat.

But it's fun once you reach the other side and can turn the headlamps back on.

With 45-minute hikes each way to and from the cave and four hours in the cave, it's a long day but an incredible, unforgettable experience.



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