THE GREAT AMERICAN VACATION
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The area around Belmopan, with its karst limestone topography, is a paradise for cavers.
Actun Tunichil Muknal. The Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave system runs some 3 miles (5 km) through the limestone of Cayo, just a few miles from Belmopan. ATM is the resting place of the Crystal Maiden, a Maya girl who was sacrificed here, along with at least 13 others, including seven children, hundreds of years ago. If you visit Actun Tunichil Muknal ("Cave of the Stone Sepulcher" in the Mayan language), you will experience what many say are the most awesome sights in all of Central America. You'll see amazing limestone formations, thousand-year-old human calcified skulls and skeletons, and many Mayan artifacts including well-preserved pottery. As long as you are in adequate physical condition—you have to hike almost an hour, swim in neck-deep water, and clamber through dark, claustrophobic underground chambers—this is sure to be the most memorable tour you'll take in Belize. Cameras are banned from the cave, and the tour is not suitable for young children. Although you can drive on your own to the staging area for ATM, you must have a licensed guide to visit it, as you'll be up close and personal with priceless Maya artifacts. It's easiest to do an all-day tour from San Ignacio or Belmopan. These tours run around BZ$200–$240, including lunch and the government admission fee. Off Mile 52.5, George Price Hwy., road entrance at junction of Price Hwy. and Teakettle Village, Belmopan. 822/3302 National Institute of Culture & History (NICH). BZ$50, plus required guide fee. Daily 8–4:30.
St. Herman's Blue Hole National Park. At St. Herman's Blue Hole National Park, at Mile 42 of the Hummingbird Highway, there are two large caves, St. Herman's and the Crystal Cave. Both require a guide to explore (guides are available at the national park visitor center), though you can go without a guide into the first 300 yards of St. Herman's. Mile 42, Hummingbird Hwy., Belmopan. www.belizeaudubon.org. BZ$10.