Maya Ruins in Belize
Cahal Pech is located 5 minutes away from San Ignacio Town. The site rests high on a hill overlooking the town. It contains 34 structures and is surrounded by a few courtyards. Cahal Pech was the home of an elite Mayan Family dating as far back as 1200BCE making it one of the oldest sites in western Belize. The name Cahal Pech “place of the ticks” was given when the area was used as a pasture during the first archaeological studies back in the 1950’s.
Caracol meaning “snail, shell” is the largest known Maya site in Belize, and one of the biggest in the Mayan World. Located in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve three hours away from San Ignacio, Caracol’s enormous central core area coveres 15 square miles and is linked together by more than 20 miles of causeways. Over 70 tombs have been excavated and many hieroglyphics texts have been found on stelea, altars, and ball court markers, capstones and wall facades. Caracol also has the tallest structure in modern day Belize known as “Caana” or sky palace. This pyramid houses 4 palaces, 3 temples and is approximately 141 feet high.
Xunantunich is an ancient Maya site located about 15 minutes away from San Ignacio, across a river in San Jose Succotz Village. The name Xunantunich means” stone woman” referring to the ghost of a woman claimed by several people to inhabit the site. This Mayan site was used as a civic ceremonial site in the late and terminal classic periods to the Belize valley region. Xunantunich has one of the largest Mayan structure in Western Belize rising 40 meters above plaza level, and containing two temples. The site core occupies about 300 square meters overlooking an impressive view of the entire river valley. This major Archaeological site can be reached by a daily hand-cranked river ferry across the Mopan River with a one mile drive up to the visitor center.
Lamanai meaning “submerged crocodile” was once a major city of the Mayan civilization located on the New River in Orange Walk, Belize. Many of Lamanai’s main structures and excavated artifacts represents the famed reptile. Lamanai is renowned for its exceptionally long occupation spanning three millennia, beginning in the early Pre-classic Maya period and continuing into the 20th century. A few of Lamanai’s ruins are some of the oldest in Belize. Archaeologists believe the Mayan Site was established as early as 1500BC. However, some of its latest structures were occupied as recently as the 18th century AD, signifying over 3200 years of occupation. Unlike other Mayan sites in Belize, Lamanai is the only ruin built in layers. Successive population built upon the temples of their ancestors instead of destroying them. In addition to the temples and artifacts, Lamanai boasts in the remains of an ancient sugar mill, a brick-lined reservoir, and two Catholic churches. Access to Lamanai Ruins is by boat up the New River in Orange Walk.
Tikal is the ruin of an ancient city which was known as Yax Mutal found in the rainforest in Guatemala. Tikal was the capital of a conquest state that became one of the most powerful kingdoms of the Ancient Maya dating all the way back to 400 BC. The entire National Park is over 575 square kilometers containing thousands of ruined structures. The central part of city has over 3000 ruins and covers about 16 square kilometers. At 70 meters high, temple IV is the tallest pre-Columbian structures in the Americas and offers amazing views. Today Tikal is valued to Guatemala as a national symbol and a source of pride in the past.
Altun Ha is one of the most easily accessible Mayan ruins from Belize City. It is a small yet well-preserved site featuring two large central plazas surrounded by midsized pyramids and mounds. Only a few of the most imposing temples, tombs, and pyramids have been uncovered and rebuilt; hundreds more lie under the jungle foliage. Many jade, pearl, and obsidian artifacts have been discovered here, including the unique jade-head sculpture of Kinich Ahau (the Mayan sun god), the largest carved jade piece from the Mayan era.