We had an opportunity to see Chichen Itza before coming to Belize. On that trip, we learned about the Mayan calendar and their architectural prowess.
But doing this Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) tour through a cave with moving water led by an experienced guide and learning about the Mayan's view of the three worlds and how their spiritual leaders helped the Mayan people make sense of the world around them was absolutely amazing.
Francisco Reymundo of Ancient Cultural Tours managed our tour. They verified our dietary preferences and hotel location soon after we made the reservation. The team included a driver who had a sign with our names on it at the Belize City ferry terminal so we were able to jump right into his car. Once we got closer to ATM, we switched cars and picked up our guide (Bernard, a guide who has been doing cave tours across the country for 18 years) and headed out to the trailhead. We got our gear and started hiking. Bernard pointed out some flora and fauna along the way.
Bernard took the four of us and two others through the cave and explained the geological changes within the cave, the Mayans' relationship with the cave, the geopolitical implications of ATM in relation to the other population centers in the region, and the Mayan artifacts and human remains. He was savvy about timing (if your group is too slow, you can get backed up behind a bunch of other tour groups and spend a lot of time waiting to see some of the artifacts), conscious about the needs of the different members of our party and was able to make the experience meaningful for all of us.
After we returned to the trailhead, Francisco and his team fed us a home-cooked meal. They provided the kids with soft drinks and water and gave the adults a beer. Acknowledging the reality that cameras are no longer allowed at ATM, they provided us a few pictures of the experience that were taken before the camera ban was instituted. I've attached two of those pictures to this review.
I was concerned about mosquitos given the fact that you are deep in the jungle during this tour. Within the first 100 yards of the trail, you have to use a rope to pull yourself through a slow-moving river, so any mosquito repellent you might have applied would have washed away. Once the drivers described that to me, I decided against wearing insect repellant. I did receive a few mosquito bites on the tour, but much fewer than I had originally feared.
Disclaimer: We booked this trip from San Pedro. The journey included 90 minutes in a ferry to Belize City, two hours in a private car from the Belize City boat terminal that included a transfer to a different car once we were seven miles from ATM, and a 20-minute hike through three segments of a river before reaching the cave mouth with a flowing river. Then, it took us two hours to get to the end of the cave through moving water and some climbing. One you have seen the artifacts and human remains, you do the entire thing in reverse to get home. We needed a day of without any planned activities to recover.