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In Papantla de Olarte, Mexico, reporter and archaeologist Robert Burton learns of a hidden tribe still living as they did in the Toltec era and asks his editor to send a photographer to help him document the people. Robert is dismayed when the editor sends a female photographer, Kathryn Williams, as he feels the assignment will be much too rough for a woman. He also has to persuade plantation owner Juan Cervantes to guide him through the jungle, but Juan is currently preoccupied at a fiesta, leading a group of traditional "voladores," performers who spin down from atop a very high pole. After Kathryn photographs and films the voladores, she meets Juan and tries to persuade him to take her and Robert to the tribe. Juan explains that he has only traded with the people at the borders of their jungle kingdom, but invites Kathryn and Robert to his plantation. After Kathryn lies to Robert that she has persuaded Juan to take them all the way to the people, Robert tries to apologize to her. To reach Juan's vanilla bean plantation they must cross a barren wasteland on horseback, accompanied by Miguel and Pedro, Juan's ranchhands. When Juan realizes that a sandstorm is approaching, he advises them to shelter in nearby rocks, but during the storm, while Robert tries to rescue their film, a burro runs off with the water supply. However, they eventually reach the plantation and water, and Juan explains to Robert that he had not promised to take them any farther. However, because Juan is falling in love with Kathryn, he agrees to lead them through the jungle much to the dismay of Lupita, Juan's girl friend, who fears that Kathryn will destroy him. Soon, the trio set off on foot accompanied by Miguel, Pedro and two burros and reach a place where Juan states they must seek permission to proceed. Juan then lights a fire as a signal, and the next day the sound of native drums advises him that they may continue on. Although Juan has explicitly forbidden guns from this point, Robert conceals a small revolver in his pocket. Miguel and Pedro remain at the base while Juan, Kathryn and Robert walk on, followed and observed by the natives. However, when Kathryn is frightened by a tapir, Robert shoots the animal and Juan instantly demands that he surrender his gun. Juan and Robert fight until Kathryn manages to separate them. Juan is concerned that the natives will no longer respect his word and he and Kathryn argue. Kathryn then admits to Robert that she had actively sought the assignment as she has long admired his work and Robert admits that he is jealous of her involvement with Juan and is falling in love with her. When Kathryn attempts to photograph a primitive trap Juan has prepared to catch a deer, three natives, including the chief's son, suddenly appear and accidentally trigger the trap, resulting in the death of the son. Other natives arrive and take the trio, at spear-point, to their village, which is dominated by a huge pyramid, at the top of which they intend to make a sacrifice of Kathryn. Robert and Juan manage to free themselves and start a large fire by burning their film, then mount the pyramid, rescue Kathryn and flee back into the jungle, pursued by natives. When they reach the base camp, Juan tells Robert to leave with Kathryn, Miguel and Pedro, as he must face the native friends he has betrayed. Juan fires a rifle into the air indicating his location and is killed, sacrificing himself, as the others leave the jungle.