It was Day 12 of our Belize trip by the time we arrived in the area where Xunantunich is located. We had finished up with our very enjoyable two days of bird-watching in the watery world of the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary and were fortunate to link up with a couple of American tourists who were also enjoying the sights there.
Hubie and Marie are from Springfield, Massachusetts and, in the course of a morning discussion with Hubie, I found out that they were leaving for San Ignacio the next morning (as we were) in a rental vehicle. Since we had not yet finalized exactly how we were getting from Crooked Tree to San Ignacio ourselves, I asked him if they would mind taking us along for the ride, saving us the bother of either catching a couple of different local busses or using the expensive lodge shuttle service. It was no problem for them, so away we went the next morning with our backpacks and their suitcases thrown into the box of his rental Ford Ranger, while Sue and I crammed into the 'jump-seats' in the cab.
It was an interesting ride as we drove along the Western Highway laughing at various life stories and taking in the countryside. I paid for gasoline in Roaring Creek as we briefly stopped there and our new-found buddies actually drove us straight through San Ignacio to drop us off at our Trek Stop lodgings about 6 miles short of the Guatemala border. Meeting people like this is one of the great joys of travelling!
It is very important that you arrive to all sites in Belize before the bus loads of retirees on cruise ships get there. The cruise ship people, while all very nice, tend to move extremely slow. The also will ruin your pics. Normally the cruise ships off load at about 0900hrs in Belize City and the old folks are then corraled onto buses and driven to the various sites. It will take them a little over an hour to arrive at Xunantunich. I believe that the site opens at 0900. get there when it opens and you will have about an hour and a half to 2 hours to enjoy it for your self. I litterally mean yourself.
Even getting to Xunantunich is interesting - you have to take this hand-cranked ferry across the Mopan River. That ferryman must have strong arms! After that it's only about a mile to the site. The ferry is free, and the Mopan River looked just like what I had envisioned in the way of a remote river through a Central or South American jungle.
I recommend the ferry highly... mainly because it is the ONLY way to get over to Xunantunich! This hand-cranked ferry will hold one or two vehicles and will take you the short distance from the village of San Jose Succotz over the Mopan River to the road that is about a mile up to Xunantunich.
The ferry service is free of charge, and it operates daily from 7:30 am to 4 pm, with a break for lunch.
It was a nice little ride. Be sure to get out and take a picture or two as you cross. You will have time cause it does take a little time to hand crank it across... (but no more than 10 minutes).
In order to get to Xunantunich you must take a bus or colectivo from San Ignacio 12 kms north to a small village. There is a cable ferry that will take you across the 40 meters or so of the Belize River. This is a neat little cable ferry that is hand cranked. It's a site to see just in itself, especially with the huge green iguanas that hang out near by. The ferry operator will be glad to let you crank yourself over. From the other side of the bridge you must hike the remaining 2 kms or if your lucky hitch. The ferry can carry one or two vehicles.
To get to Xunantunich you have to turn off the Western Highway and cross the Mopan River. The hand-winched ferry can hold one vehicle. The ferry has a full time operator but you are welcome to help work the pulley.
Just a quick tip for those heading to Xunantunich - you must take a hand-cranked ferry across a very narrow river to access the ruins.
This is kind of amusing. There is a pulley system that is cranked manually by a Belizean on the Ferry. I never got the cost, because we hired a car...but it can't be more than $5.00