The day started well with waffles for breakfast at Bang Bang Kitchen before the shuttle picked us up around 8am. After an hour and a half we arrived at the parking lot, where de donned our safety helmets as the rain came down harder.
We trudged through the jungle and mud to the first of three river crossings, not going to lie, the water was freezing! There would be two more of these crossings before we reached the muster point, a little section of cleared land just metres from the cave entrance. Here we added head lamps to our helmets and received the final safety briefing before descending the steps to the cave mouth.
Following Abraham’s (tour guide) instructions, we climbed over moss strewn rocks before plunging ourselves into the icy water once more and swimming inside the cave. Stalactites hung precariously from the roof as we wedged ourselves through a particularly tight area between two boulders and continued to wade deeper along the subterranean river, past stalagmites, bats and stores of manganese ore.
Some parts of the river were deeper than others leaving me, the smallest of the group to swim when my feet could no longer find their footing. Roughly 900m in, we climbed out of the river into what is believed to be the Mayan underworld. A place of many unanswered questions and plenty of speculation.
Broken urns once used for offerings lay scattered throughout the area among the remains of what is thought to be human sacrifices to ancient Mayan gods. These skeletons have lain here so long they have calcified, cementing them to the cave floor.
One skeleton in particular in which the cave gains it’s nickname, the ‘Cave of the Crystal Maiden’ is so old, her bones glisten in the torchlight as if millions of tiny crystals encrust her skeleton. It should also be mentioned that recent studies have determined the remains to be male so our guide now refers to her as the Crystal Dude.
Being inside the cave and being surrounded by beautiful dripstone formations is a surreal experience, especially when the lights go out and all that surrounds you is darkness. It is quite easy to imagine how this place could have been perceived as other worldly.
To get to Actun Tunichil Muknal, we used Rudy’s Adventure Tours (visit Banlga Guest House for more details). Prices start from roughly USD $85 per person and include entrance, round trip transportation, guide, equipment & lunch. A reasonable level of physical fitness is also highly recommended.
**Cameras are prohibited inside the cave after a tourist dropped theirs and damaged a skeleton. For this reason I have borrowed photos from the listed sources;
Videos by Global Runaways