Mayan Ruins Belize

by Guest

Mayan ruins Belize - introduction

Though Guatemala and Mexico is more known for their Mayan temples, modern day Belize was once home to millions of Mayan people. Away from the beaches, further inland there is a wealth of Mayan architecture including ancient temples and pyramids, some of which are far more advanced than any European structure of the same age.

The Mayans were an advanced and sprawling empire who controlled much of this area of Central America for over 2,000 years. The civilisation had skilled building, art and agricultural techniques as well as a military and trading routes. Like many of the cultures of Latin America, the Mayans declined after the arrival of the Spanish conquest in the 16th century who brought a strong army and western diseases of which the native people were not immune. Here are some of the top Mayan ruins to visit.


Xunantunich is one of the most impressive Mayan ruins in Belize and is located just next to the border of Guatemala to the west of the country. Sitting above the Mopan River, this ceremonial religious centre was built in the later years of the Mayan civilisation and at its peak had over 200,000 people lived here. Xunantunich means ‘stone woman’, a reference to the ghost of a person that many people are claimed to have seen at the site over the last century. The highest temple is over 130 feet, making it the second largest Mayan temple in Belize. The Belize Tourism department has pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into excavating the site which is made up of six plazas and dozens of structures.

Altun Ha

Altun Ha is one of the nearest ruins to the capital Belize City. It’s also one of the ruins closest to the Caribbean Sea which is just 10 kilometres away. It’s surprisingly that even with its close proximity to the capital, it still wasn’t discovered into archaeologists went the to the area in the early 60s. The largest temple in the complex is the Temple of the Masonry Altars that measures up at 52-feet high. It’s not just the ruins that are worth seeing. The surrounding area is a haven for wildlife including deer, raccoons, foxes, squirrels and armadillos, crocodiles, and plenty of birds. An interesting fact. Belikin, Belize’s national beer, uses the site for their logo. It’s easy enough to get to, either by car or daily bus tours and takes around half an hour to reach from the city.

Altun Ha is one of the nearest ruins to the capital Belize City

Altun Ha is one of the nearest ruins to the capital Belize City. Photo Credit


Perhaps the most famous Mayan ruins in Belize, Caracol draws travellers from far and wide who come to explore the plazas, temples, palaces and pyramids. It’s located in the Chuquibul Forest Reserve in the Maya Mountains, sitting on a hill. It was first stumbled upon by a logger in the late 30s. It has the largest Mayan structure in Belize that towers 140 feet high. The enormous site is still being excavated and it is thought there is much still to find. Though it is one of Belize’s most impressive ruins, it is a little tricky to reach and requires a long bumpy ride along rural roads to reach.

Cahal Pech

Cahal Pech is located in the Cayo District in San Ignacio, a couple of hours from the town of Santa Elena. There is evidence to suggest that the site has been inhabited since 1200 BC, making it one of the oldest Mayan sites in the country. Though no one quite knows, it is thought that the Mayan site was originally created as a summer home for a rich Mayan family. The name means ‘Place of Ticks’ in Mayan language. The complex is made up of pyramids, ball courts and agricultural farmland. It is one of the least visited Mayan sites in Belize, but those who do go are treated to a site with few other people to ruin the experience.

Santa Rita

Santa Rita is another coastal based Mayan site that dates back to around 2000 BC. The people who lived here was one of the first to have contact with the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. It was a rich site, the owners of which had much wealth from the gold, jade and jewellery found at the site. It is located near the northern town of Corozal Town.


Located in the north of the country in the district of Orange Walk, Lamanai is another popular site for tourists to visit. It was first recorded by Spanish conquistadors who visited the site in the 16th century and was inhabited for a staggering 2,000 years, starting in the pre-classic Mayan period. The site was an important trading outpost for the Mayan and the rich complex is made up of over 700 sturctures including temples, pyramids, residential housing and more. Interestingly, the Spanish built two churches on the site around 500 years ago. There are plenty of day trips to the site from Orange Walk lodges during which much wildlife from birds to crocodiles can be seen in the Lamanai Reserve.

Pyramid of the moon

Pyramid of the moon. Photo by Arian

Cerro Maya

While other sites have Mayan names, Cerro Maya (translates to Mayan Hill) is Spanish. The important coastal trading outpost, Cerro Mayan was at its peak between 400 BC and 100 AD. During that time it was a major salt production area which it sent across the Mayan Empire. Much of the site is now submerged underwater, but there are still several plazas and temples, one of which is 72 feet high. The reserve is over 50 acres large. To reach the site, take a tour from Corozal Town and combine it with a visit to see the local wildlife.

Barton Creek Cave

The last site is Barton Creek Cave located in the Cayo District. Though the site wasn’t built by the Mayans (it’s a natural cave), it was an important site for the civilization who left offerings to the gods here. Archaeologists have found pottery and at least 28 human remains on the ledges throughout the cave system. To reach the site, take a tour from San Ignacio Town which takes around an hour to reach.

Here are some more articles on Belize that will help you plan your vacation:

Cover photo by Javier de la Rosa .

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