Actun Tunichil Muknal

Actun Tunichil Muknal, The Cave of the Stone Sepulcher, is a three-mile long cave in Belize that the Ancient Maya used for sacrificial rites. Located in the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve, the cave was opened to limited tours starting in 1998. A few years ago, tour restrictions were relaxed slightly, and the site’s parking lot is now increasingly filled with buses and vans.

In addition to interesting geomorphology, the cave also contains a wealth of ancient pottery, sacrificial tools, and skeletons. Even though it’s a bit of a strenuous trip into the cave, requiring scrambles over rocks and some amount of swimming, many of these artifacts are in danger from wayward tourists. The only barrier in the cave system is in front of the famous Crystal Maiden skeleton; the other artifacts are completely unprotected except for a limited amount of calcification that holds some of them to the cave floor. One of the skeletons has a hole in his skull from a dropped camera. As I was leaving the cave, a lady in a different tour group almost sat on a pottery shard, then picked it up and showed it to her friend before being scolded by one of the guides. With such occurrences, I wouldn’t be surprised if restrictions are again heightened. I’m glad I got to see the cave before they are.

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