Xunantunich Travel Guide

  • Xunantunich
    by euzkadi
  • Things to Do
    by euzkadi
  • Things to Do
    by euzkadi

Xunantunich Things to Do

  • Ball Court.

    There are two ball courts in the site, the main one is located between the A-1 and A-2 plazas and had a ritualistic function for the Mayas. Two teams played with a hard rubber ball using only the elbows, hips and knees, triying to introduce the ball through stone hoops attached to the sides of the ball court. It was a matter of life or death, the...

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  • Structure A-1

    Located between Plazas A-II and A-III, this pyramid consisting of four levels were use for administrative purpouses.

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  • Royal Palace.

    The Royal Palace is located on the A III compound, with four structures surrounding the plaza; the main building is the restored Royal Palace the place where the ruler lived. The building can be climbed and offers a magnificent views of the main pyramid of El Castillo and the jungle around.

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  • Entrance to the ruins.

    The entrance to the ruins is a long road passing through the jungle, a nice walk where you can see birds, monkeys and even tucans. There´s a small information center with maps, pictures, information boards and a small reproduction of the city.

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  • El Castillo (West side freezes).

    The west side of the structure has a 10-ft stucco made replica covering the original freezes. These freezes once decorated the entire construction and depict representations of the God Sun, the Moon, Venus and some of the Mayan days. There are also some headless men who were deliberately beheaded by the Maya for some reason.

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  • El Castillo. East side freezes.

    After visiting the top of the pyramid the stairs lead you to the west of the pyramid, again some stucco replicas covering the original freezes can be seen.

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  • El Castillo Pyramid.

    The main feature of the site is the huge and partially excavated pyramid of El Castillo (the Castle) wich rises 130 feet from the main plaza. A steep but short climb takes you to the top. The west and east parts of the pyramid has some interesting stucco replicas of the original covered freezes. The pyramid consists (as in other Mayan...

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  • El Castillo (view from the top)

    The top of the pyramid offers great 360 degrees panoramic views of the complex, the jungle, the mountains and the Guatemalan border.

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  • Ferry to the ruins.

    If you want to visit the ruins you must take a hand-cranked cable ferry from the small village of San José Succotz accross the Mopan River. After that there´s a mile to the main entrance of the site. The ferry is free of charge (but tips are always welcome).

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  • Very Accessible

    From where we were staying in the San Ignacio area, the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich (shoo-NAHN-too-nich) were very close at hand. A 15-minute walk brought us to the hand-cranked ferry across the Mopan River (see my 'Local Customs' tip), after which, we made about a 1 mile uphill jungle walk away from the river on a good paved road. We were out and...

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  • Climb El Castillo

    If you visit Xunantunich, you must climb to the top of the tallest pyramid, called "El Castillo." The views from the top were the highlight of the tour. We were able to see the smaller pyramids, the Cayo District, and part of Guatemala.

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  • Cool Off with Jungle River Tubing!

    After our morning walk to Xunantunich, we chilled out on the internet for a while and then had lunch. However, by 1 PM the heat had built up quite nicely to the 30 C (86 F) range, so we decided to take advantage of the Trek Stop's river tubing adventure package. For US$10 each, we hopped in the rear of one of their pick-up trucks and they drove us...

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  • Where the Big Guys Lived?

    Located at the opposite end of Xunantunich from El Castillo, is a smaller structure with several levels and stairways. The information we read on site indicated that this was where the ruling class and/or high priests ended up living. There is evidence of earthquake damage to the structures in Xunantunich and it is believed that, toward the end of...

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  • Cool Breezes & a Great View

    With a pyramid as tall as El Castillo and being located on top of a limestone ridge, the views from the top are spectacular (hey, these Mayans knew what they were doing)! We were really impressed with the panoramic sights laid out before us as we looked across the border into Guatemala and also over the surroundng Belizian jungles! It was also...

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  • Restored East Frieze

    Xunantunich holds a special place amongst the many Mayan ruins in Belize because it was the first of their sites to be to be opened to the public when the ferry and road were installed in 1954. Although the site is presently known by the name given to it by early explorers, and translates as 'stone lady', recent work has turned up the actual Mayan...

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Xunantunich Restaurants

  • Marimba!

    Driving from Xunantunich to Belize City, you will pass the Windy Hills resort. There is a wonderful restaurant located inside this resort that serves traditional Belizean food. They also have a Marimba band that will play while you eat. The surrounding gardens are also beautiful and worth a quick walking tour.

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  • Friendly and Inexpensive

    The photo shows your first view of the Trek Stop as you ascend the stairs from the parking lot area. Behind the outdoor seating area of the restaurant (right side) is a small kitchen where the meals are prepared for guests. This area is part of the larger Educational building to the left, which houses a number of interesting exhibits, displays and...

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  • Xunantunich Hotels

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Xunantunich Transportation

  • Hand Cranked Ferry

    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.

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  • Hitching a Ride

    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...

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  • The Ferry

    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

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Xunantunich Local Customs

  • Bwana_Brown's Profile Photo

    by Bwana_Brown Updated Dec 7, 2007

    4.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Our Trek Stop accommodations just outside the hamlet of San Jose de Succotz was very conveniently located for visiting Xunantunich - a short 15 minute walk along the main highway toward Guatemala brought us to this scenic ferry crossing. This hand-cranked affair crosses back and forth over the Mopan River, providing the only access to the Mayan ruins at Xunantunich. The single operator winches the the ferry back and forth for both cars and pedestrians as they turn up on one side of the river or the other.

    I had a good talk with him as we crossed on our 8:30 AM walk to the ruins, and he pointed out a very large Green Iguana (they can reach 7-feet in length) to me, as it lay out over the river on a tree branch, warming up in the morning sunshine. Tourists taking kayak tours on the Mopan (and ourselves as well on our tubing ride) have to keep an eye out here as they pass the ferry but it is not difficult since the aerial cable used to winch the ferry is plenty high above the water level. I gave the guy $BZ2 (US$1) for his efforts on our short crossings here.

    A Kayak tour passes the Mopan River Ferry Ferry driven by a 1-Peoplepower Engine
    Related to:
    • Archeology
    • Backpacking
    • Adventure Travel

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Xunantunich Warnings and Dangers

  • Bring Water

    All of us are aware of the importance of staying hydrated. It is unavoidable that the aforementioned retirees will arrive. They will likely leave their water in the bus. By the time they reach the top of the pyramid the resultant difficulty breathing due to CHF will ensue. Make sure you have water to give to them. It would not hurt to brush up on...

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  • Be Careful if You're Afraid of Heights!

    Xunantunich was occupied from about 300-900 A.D. El Castillo is 130 feet tall, the tallest structure at Xunantunich, and the 2nd tallest Mayan structure in existence. The climb to the top is not too bad, but be very careful if you are afraid of heights, because once you get close to the top, there are no handrails, just very steep drop offs! But it...

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  • Watch your step

    I slipped on the wet stone more than once, even with my good hiking boots. Be careful, it's a long way down!

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Xunantunich What to Pack

  • ymike2000's Profile Photo

    by ymike2000 Updated Aug 15, 2004

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Clothing/Shoes/Weather Gear: No matter what the temperature, I recommend wearing long pants to prevent scrapes and keep insect bites to a minimum. You'll need shoes with good traction because the rocks are slippery.

    Miscellaneous: Cover exposed areas with sunscreen and insect repellent. Don't forget your lips-they can burn too!

    standing on the edge
    Related to:
    • Jungle and Rain Forest
    • Historical Travel
    • Archeology

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Xunantunich Off The Beaten Path

  • Waxbag's Profile Photo

    by Waxbag Written Dec 15, 2003

    4.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Xunantunich is one of the larger Mayan sites in Belize. It was an important city during its height as it competed with Tikal in Guatemala and Caracol to the south in Belize. The main structure here is the El Castillo which rises nearly 130 feet above an already high hill top allowing great views of the Cayo. It has been restored to show what the reliefs may have looked like during its height in AD 900 before a massive earthquake badly damaged the city. There are other structure around the El Castillo with some trails leading to jungle covered ones nearby. There is a small but nice museum with a scale model of the site.

    The bridge to Xunantunich is actually a hand cranked ferry on a cable. It is located about 13 kms away west from San Ignacio. It takes cars as well as passengers for free. After getting over the Belize River you must walk the remaining 2km uphill to the site. If you come back as the park closes may be able to get a ride with the workers.

    Cost $2.50 US
    Guides Available
    Small shops with snacks, water, and other souvenirs

    Buses can drop you off here as they frequent this road from San Ignacio to boarder town of Benque Viejo.

    Xunantunich's El Castillo
    Related to:
    • Architecture
    • Backpacking
    • Archeology

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Xunantunich Favorites

  • Where is this place?

    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.

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  • Ongoing Excavation

    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...

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  • The Mayans

    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...

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