Mayan Ruins in Belize
Belize isn’t just beaches! The Mayan ruins in Belize should definitely be on your itinerary, regardless of what part of the country you’re staying in. For such a small country Belize is rich with history and an abundance of sites, both large and small. Here’s a list of just a few:
Of all the Mayan ruins in Belize this one is my favorite! This is the largest and most impressive site in Belize and in my opinion this should be first on your list. Located in the Cayo District you might even pass through San Ignacio on the way to the site. Caracol made my list of top things to do in Belize and for good reason: you won’t find large crowds, gift shops or much else when you’re here. And that’s part of the appeal! You can spend hours here, wandering, climbing and imagining the glory of this massive city. Climb to the top of temple in Plaza B and check out the view from approximately 137 feet (the highest in Belize!). Want to stay close to Caracol so you can plan your visit? Check out Blancaneaux Lodge!
You’ll find Xunantunich in the Cayo District as well. A small site that requires a ride on a hand cranked ferry to cross the Mopan River, this site is gorgeous and provides views from the top that allow you to see to Guatemala (on a clear day). The climb is beautiful and I’d highly recommend it! Despite being smaller in size than Caracol you’ll find about two dozen temples, palaces and other structures to explore. The highlight is El Castillo, which at 130 feet gives you the views mentioned above.
A small site perched above San Ignacio, this one can be visited rather quickly (if you choose!) in order to spend time in the town. Don’t let the small size fool you, though! There’s still a ton of history here and the contrast of the ruins/elevation with the modern town really puts the site into perspective.
Nim Li Punit
Nim Li Punit is located in the Toledeo District of Belize. If the sky is clear you’ll be able to see the Caribbean Sea from here! The site is rather small with the crown jewel being the 30 foot stelae – the largest stelae in Belize!
Another site in the Toledo District Lubaantun is in close proximity to Blue Creek Cave (worth a visit!). Fairly small but distinguishable by the construction of structures on top of existing hills/raised grounds.
This site is the most popular with cruise ship passengers and larger tours as it’s easily accessible. Located just over 30 miles from Belize City (where the airport is located) Altun Ha has two plazas and around 13 structures. Make sure to take note of the Temple of the Masonry Altars while you’re there – you’ll see its likeness on the national beer of Belize, Belikin Beer.
The boat ride to Lamanai is part of the appeal as the bird/wildlife watching is incredible. Located on the banks of the New River Lagoon this site is best known for the Mask Temple. Two carved faces are carved into limestone and their headdresses resemble crocodiles.
While they’re technically not Mayan ruins in Belize there are some really interesting caves that are worth a visit! Caves played an important part in Mayan rituals and the symbolism of the underworld won’t be lost on you when you’re deep inside one! It’s like being on another planet. The two most popular are listed below, each having unique offerings from the Mayan people that can still be seen to this day. Pro tip: while cave spiders won’t bite you they are terrifying so keep your head on a swivel if arachnids aren’t your cup of tea.
This is not the tour for you if you’ve got mobility issues, are claustrophobic or want an easy activity level. In order to get inside the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave you’ll need to hike, swim and squeeze. Once inside the cave you’ll be able to spend several hours exploring. The Cathedral will impress with high ceilings but the most breathtaking sights will certainly be the actual pottery and skeletal remains that are still in the cave. The Crystal Maiden is the highlight of this tour.
Barton Creek Cave
Want the cave experience with less physical requirements? Barton Creek Cave is toured via canoe so it’s much less strenuous than ATM. You’ll be able to see the pottery fragments and hear the history of the cave while viewing stalagmites and stalactites.
Tips for Visiting Mayan ruins in Belize
Some of the sites above require a licensed guide to accompany all visitors, so make sure to plan in advance. Should you go on your own to any particular location I’d advise to rent a 4WD vehicle and be cautious – the roads in Belize can be challenging. You’ll also want to start exploring the sites early in the morning as the sun and heat can really be oppressive late morning into the afternoon. Finally, make sure to bring the following with you:
- plenty of water
- insect repellent
- hat and/or sunglasses if the weather calls for sun or if you’re planning on being out midday
- umbrella (if there’s even the potential for rain or if you’re visiting September-December)
- cash for guide tips
I’d also note that if you’re planning on staying in Belize you might want to consider hopping over to Guatemala for a night in order to visit Tikal. It can be done from Belize but dealing with the border crossing and the transport it’ll be a 9+ hour day for you. I’d recommend staying at La Lancha (one of the Family Coppola Hideaways) if Tikal is also on your list!
Have you been to any of the sites mentioned above? I’d love to hear about it!