Favorite thing: Xunantunich is in the jungle in the western part of Belize near the Guatemalan border. It's about 8 miles from the town of San Ignacio, which serves as an information hub for Belize's Cayo District. The little ferry you take across the Mopan River to get there is right next to the little town of San Jose Succotz.
Pyramids and temples are in various stages of excavation, and we saw several archaeologists working while we were there. Our guide explained that it's better to leave things buried until there's money to maintain and preserve them, or else they just end up getting damaged from erosion and visitors.
Also there have been problems with looting. In the past when ruins were excavated and then left unguarded, some valuable treasures were lost. In fact, sometimes it's been hard to draw the line between past excavators and looters. The first excavator in 1894 took some burial treasures with him and now no one knows where they are. So now the Belize government is more aware of the responsibilities involved with unearthing these mysterious sites.
Mayan civilization flourished in the first millenium A.D. They were very sophisticated astronomers and mathematicians, and had a written, hieroglyphic type language, although almost none of it survived the erosion of time and the Spanish conquerors. In other ways they were more like a Stone-Age people. Their religion centered around astronomy and fertility rites - they worshipped the sun god, and practiced human sacrifice.
The fall of their culture from prominence, centuries before the Spanish conquerors arrived, is still a mystery. Their descendants still live in Belize's interior, some in the area around Xunantunich. The Mayans have not played a major role in the development of the country in the last century, but I read that they've recently started to organize a little more, so their interests will be better represented.
Xunantunich is a great Mayan site to visit, as it is easily accessible from the main road just about 8 miles west of San Ignacio (where many of the sites are off the main road and require long trips on bumpy dirt roads).
Also, as you can see, the entrance fee in July 2003 was only $5 Belizean dollars (which is only $2.50 US.)
Fondest memory: The short ferry trip over to Xunantunich was free and a fun start to the visit!