Mayan Ruins: Xunantunich, Belize
Although treking to see the Mayan ruins, it is worth the trip. Most of these structures are well preserved and gives you a sense of how people lived in the past. It was a bit scary scaling the sides of the temple, but the view was worth it.
Pronounced (shoo-NAHN-too-nich), this is one of the most important Mayan Sites in Belize. The structures here date to the Classic Period (200-900 AD) and are largely restored. Located in Cayo District, the site is visited by crossing an old hand cranked bridge over the Mopan River. Guides are available. There is an entrance fee.
Hitching a ride with another guest at Crooked Tree, our next stop was outside San Ignacio, on the Guatemala border. A major attraction that was within easy walking distance of our accommodations were the Mayan ruins at Xunantunich. We spent our first morning exploring what was left of this site - first settled between 200-500 AD with the peak years of this small settlement being between 700-900 AD. This is a relatively small site as Mayan ones go, so it makes for a good half-day trip! We were out and about early (8:30 AM), so it was quite a peaceful stroll up the 2-km entrance road to the Xunantunich Archaeological Reserve (US$5 pp entry).
After looking at several interesting relics of stone stella and a historical overview of Xunantunich located in buildings to protect them from the elements, we continued into the main part of the ruins where we first saw the main temple of El Castillo. Situated on a limestone ridge, it has a great view from the top as you can see here. The 2nd photo shows this 135-ft (40-m) high structure, with intricate 10-ft (3-m) high carvings on two of it's faces - with the larger (Eastern) of these friezes protected by a replica artifical covering, with me standing below the frieze for scale. Steps lead to the top of the pyramid from two sides and although steep, are not difficult to climb.
It was great being atop El Castillo in the almost total silence, except for the refreshing breeze that helped to cool us down after our climbing exertions, and to be able to look down on the Xunantunich site itself to get a different perspective of the other buildings. However, it was not long before we noticed the first tour crowd arriving. Although they busied themselves at the far end of the site for a while, some very small people could soon be seen drifting toward the main attraction of the Reserve (3rd photo). Although the side of the pyramid looks to angle down very sharply here, it was not actually too bad to navigate.
In order to reach Xunantunich, you must cross the Mopan River via a very short ferry ride (very short). All along the river banks there are TONS of iguanas everywhere, and they'll let you get quite close to them. I tried to take a picture with one, but backed out when it started making weird noises...so this is the best pic I got!
Our guide gave us a very helpful tip concerning the pronounciation of Xunantunich -- it sounds just like "tuna sandwich"! Xunantunich was located very close to our hotel and the drive in wasn't as bumpy and difficult as some of the other Mayan ruins. What was unique about Xunantunich is there were fiberglass replicas of original Mayan decorations around the actual ruins -- giving you a more complete glimpse of what the temple's used to look like when the Mayans still lived there. There were also authentic stone tablets with carvings on them set aside for a closer look.
One interesting thing we learned while visiting Xunantunich was an ancient Mayan game. Xunantunich had the remains of a Mayan ballpark, and our guide explained to us the basic rules of the game. This game was similar to soccer, hands weren't allowed, and the players wore wooden belts to protect their stomachs. However, some players would still die of internal bleeding after a match due to being hit too hard in the stomach with the 9 lb solid rubber ball that they used! The most interesting twist on this game was that the captain of the winning team would be decapitated and offered to the gods as a human sacrifice!
Petite ballade et traversée de la Mopan River sur un bac...Arrivée au site qui est tres beau, tres haut et assez grand.
It can be done with a "normal" car.
You go to Guatemalian frontier and 10km after San ignacio, there is a little town , then you cross the Mopan River -on a boat,cf picture-,and few kilometers later you can enjoy Xunantunich, the place and you can climb the "Castillo"...the sight qver the forest is incredible.
Xunantunich is easy to get to. Worth a half day. The temple there is awesome, it has glyphs on both sides. You can see
Belize and Guatemala from the top. I saw Howler monkees in the cohen palms there, after 2 trips to Costa Rica I finally got to see the howlers that i have heard everyday on those trips. This site survived the collapse of the Classic Mayan period by 200 years.
After an early start to Capel Pech you can walk back down the hill to the main road to Guatemala/Xunatech. Hop on a bus they will drop you of at the right plave. There is a hand winched ferry to take you across the river and then a 1 or 2 mile hike along a road to the temples. you will see toucans and other wildlife on the way and there are iguanas by the river.
These are great ruins, with literally no one in sight.
To get there from San Ignacio, take Benque Viejo Road to the Maya village of San Jose Succotz . A hand-cranked ferry will take you across the Mopan river. From there, it's a mile or two uphill to the ruins. 2.50 USD.
It is VERY hot so if you plan to hike up to the ruins from the river, take at least 2 liters of water (per person), lots of sunscreen and a hat!
this is said to be one of the most popular sites in belize. i have been to belize three times and the first two times we tried to go to xunantunich we could not go because the river was to high .this time evereything was fine. you have to cross on a hand cranked ferry so if its rained hard the night before or at the source of the river you may not be able to cross. we hired a guide while there he was very helpfull and i learned alot from him the view was incredible from the highest ruin you can see the border with guatamala and its very close .thats why there is only a ferry and no bridge because it makes it harder for guatamalan illigals to cross over. while we were there we saw the belizien army soldiers camping out near the ruins. the site is not that big and only takes a couple of hours to see it all but i'ts worth it .
Head west from San Ignacio -- about 12 km -- you will arrive at the village of San Jose Succotz. Take the cable ferry (takes vehicles and foot passengers) across the Mopan River. You will drive or walk up a steep hill (about 2 km) to the site. This site was spectacular! Stop in the Plaza Cafe just across from the ferry -- they serve great food and drinks!
At Xunantunich consists of a Classic period (300-900 AD) ceremonial center, with large plazas ringed with pyramids. The tallest is the 130 foot 'El Castillo,' which is large by Mayan standards. The site was occupied until around 900 and was likely abandoned after an earthquake, the evidence of which was discovered by archaeologists in the mid-1900's.
The ruins at Xuantenech are good...worth a visit. They are not kept up that well, however. Interesting note: on the day we visited, the guestbook was signed by Lori Petty and David Allen Grier (movie actors) who had visited just the day before.
Although settled much earlier it was about 600 AD that Xunantunich grew in size to rival near by Tikal. it was abandoned sometime after 820AD and was rediscovered in 1890