Mayan Ruins, Belize
The majority of Mayan activity in Belize was between 2000 BC to 1000 AD. But Mayans still live in Belize, especially in the southern part. Belize has one of the oldest known Mayan sites at Cuello; one of the longest occupied Mayan sites at Lamanai; and one of the largest jade carvings ever found at Altun Ha.
Cahal Peche is a few minutes walk from San Ignacio and very accessible. It was a major ceremonial center. There are 34 structures on about 2 acres.
I went to Belize originally just to visit Mayan archeological sites- before I fell in love with the country that is. There are a number of important sites including Lamaniai, Altun Ha, Xunantunich,Cahal Pech, Caracol, Blue Creek- and many others.Mayanists take note::: you are invited to visit my page at
Off the road you will find jungle - and miles of it. Don't drive over the iguanas who try to scurry across (see the picture of George the Iguana ?), or any of the other tropical animals. Don't be surprised if a yellow billed toucan flies right by the windshield of your car.Be prepared to hear the strange, eerie sound of howler monkeys in the distance. Listen to them in the Caracol Travelogue...
As you rumble along the Old Northern Highway, which is more pothole than pavement, you'll see a few small hamlets with their inhabitants eager to smile and wave. Traffic is light, so you can easily take in the surrounding scenery, and stop to use your binoculars to focus in on that tiny feathered marvel perched on a barbed-wire fence. You may spot a deer springing into the bush or even a gibnut or other furry creature scavenging for food.
Flourishing during the Classic Period of Maya civilization, Altun Ha is located 30 miles north of Belize City and six miles from the Caribbean Sea.
The true ancient name is unknown and "Altun Ha" is a Mayan translation of the nearby village named "Rockstone Pond."
Even though Altun Ha is small as compared to other ruins in the region, the extent to which the site has been cleared and restored makes it easy to imagine its past glory and wealth as a major ceremonial center. Plaza A is a large grassy area, surrounded on all sides by pyramids and is adjoined by Plaza B which contains the largest structure on the site, the Temple of the Masonry Altars, which rises 54 ft. above the plaza.
A trek to the top of this pyramid is rewarded with a magnificent panorama of the site and over the treetops of the jungle. This temple went through eight phases of construction and the round altar at the top is unique to this site. It was the focus of an unusual sacrificial ceremony in which copal (incense) and beautiful jade carvings were offered into a blazing fire.
The archaeological site covers about one square mile of area, with at least 500 visible structures and likely had 3000 inhabitants, with a peak population of 8000-10,000 included in the surrounding areas. Evidence dates the earliest settlement here to 200 BC, with varied construction phases ending about 900 AD. Occupation continued after this for approximately 100 years with re-occupation occurring the 13th and 14th centuries.
The most spectacular find here was a six-inch high (15cm), ten pound, jadeite carving of the head of Kinich Ahau, the Sun God, which was found in the tomb of an elderly male priest. Because three of the seven priestly tombs in the Temple of the Masonry Altars were plundered, having their contents destroyed and the crypts filled with soil, researchers believe that the final demise of Altun Ha was perhaps brought about by violent peasant revolt.
There is a trail running due south from Plaza B which leads you to the main reservoir and onward through Zone E, a residential area, and several small mounds are visible along here. Many burials were recovered in this area, providing vast information about the inhabitants. At the edge of the reservoir is the site of the first temple built at Altun Ha, dating to the Pre-classic Period (100 AD).
Many tour operators in Belize City run daily trips to Altun Ha, and it is a standard 1/2 day outing for cruise ship visitors and other tourists departing on afternoon flights. It is easy to find on your own if you've rented a vehicle and there's news of a small restaurant having opened nearby called Maya Wells. The highlight of our early morning visit was the profusion of birds-namely, more than a dozen Montezuma Oropendolas flying back and forth over the plaza, and a huge flock of Blue Buntings hiding in a fruit tree.
Belize has many Mayan sites of significant importance that you can easily visit either on your own or with a guided tour.
The sites that I visited in Belize were only partially excavated so you could see the before and after progress.
When you see the "before" excavation state of some of the structures, you can appreciate how much work and dedication goes into the restoration of these historical landmarks. Most of the ancient Mayan temples and buildings look nothing more than a pile of dirt covered in jungle vines and trees. In some cases the roots of giant trees have completely enclosed themselves around the structure, like a giant hand holding the stones in place.
In the "after" state, the temples have been restored to how they would have looked to the Mayan people over 1100 years ago!
In the Cayo district you can visit Xunantunich, Cahel Pech and Caracol. In the Orange District you can see the ruins of Lamanai.
People are always saying they don't know what happened to the ancient Mayans. Well they still live in central america! They have a pretty interesting culture and if you are in the area you shouldn't miss out on it. Many of the small villages in Belize one of which is Blue Creek will allow village stays. The people live in thatched houses, and most sleep in hammocks.
The food in this part of belize for the most part is not anything special. It doesnt taste bad, but it may just be boiled chicken soup(the chicken may even be removed for another meal). But in the heat that is about all you want to eat anyway.
Go see the Myan ruins. The sight we went to had some amazing structures that you can climb! Although it feels some what disrespectful (like climbing on Stonehenge!) the views from the top of the 'pyramids' are breathtaking. Also, the trip to the ruins is magnificient in itself. We took a quick boat trip up a river then we trecked through a tropical forest to get there so there was the opportunity to see some of the local flora and fauna. Once there, it is a very easy hike, my grandfather was with us and he didn't have any trouble negotiating the path, but he was unable to climb to the tops of the ruins. The entire excursion was a wondeful experience.
When traveling to Belize, you must see at least one of the Mayan ruins and you must experience the barrier reef.
The ruins are an archealogical dig in progress. It was quite exciting.
The fish on the barrier reef are huge. We did some swimming with sharks and manta rays. the reef area has been protected and is not overun by tourists. The coral is quite unique-many different colors and types. We have not seen anything like it anywhere else in the world.
Xunantunich is a great, small, ruins site located in the Cayo District that offers amazing views of the river valley below. It is still being excavated, but the pyramids that are unearthed are a blast to climb. And that view I talked about...gorgeous. You can see the jungle canopy for miles.
When we went, it was EXTREMELY hot, so we brought backpacks with 2+ canteens inside. Our guides were Mayan, so they were very knowlegeable, and funny. They kept the trip from being dry and boring.
The Sun God Temple is the biggest structure in the Altun Ha Mayan Ruins. It is at the center of the Mayan ruins. You have to climb a steep stairway made of big slabs of stones to get to the top. This is where the Mayans made their sacrifices at the top of the ruin.
At the top of the Sun God Temple, there is a circular stone where the Mayans gave their offerings to their Gods.
Without a tour guide and much research, you will not able to tell that this circular stone was the place where the people before made offerings.
Visit the Altun Ha Mayan Ruins. It takes about 45 minutes from Belize District. There are many vans for rent down at the Belize District. Make sure to pack some snacks or lunch (especially drinks) because soda costs $8.00 there...Also, make sure to wear comfortable shoes. There are no paved ways going to the ruins. Also prepare yourselves for rocky, bumpy roads on the way to Altun Ha! The entrance fee to the Mayan Ruins is $10.00 per person.
definatly go take a look at some mayan ruins while in belize. there are many , although some are still buried. Its a nice taste of history and most of the people residing in the surrounding areas are of mayan heritage so they are quite knowledgable
well you drive through the city then along a river for a 20-30 minutes then you go deep into the jungle park and in a short walk you see these giant structures that we were actually able to climb which was really cool. its crazy being on the top of these surrounded by jungle and thinking about how these were made... we didnt go to the largest ones but we went to one of the closer sites with more of them but many were still very large. i dont remember the names of all of them but one has the largest one and anouther site has the most and ours were in between with a lot of them while being fairly large. one tip is to barter with the cab drivers (you can get it half price easily) and tell them you will pay half up front then the other half when you get back so they dont try anything on you.
I felt like Katherine Hepburn in The African Queen, floating down the tunnel of forest pulling over for our guide to show us bats and crocodiles, herons and iguanas. We passed old sugar mills, and piers appeared out of nowhere. It was an amazing entrance to the world of Lamanai as we pulled in to the New River lagoon and docked next to an old dugout canoe.
By the dock is a small museum with artifacts gathered from archeological digs at the site. They have a distinctive look and if I were a better archeologist maybe they would mean even more. Nevertheless one should visit the museum to increase the understanding of the ruins.