Archaeologists affirm that Belize was once the center of the Maya civilization because of the country’s varied flora and fauna and abundance of marine life which was favorable to the growth of the population.
Between 250 AD to 900 AD for example, over one million Maya people lived in present day Belize, and today a treasure trove of sacred caves, beautiful palaces and ball courts can be found throughout Belize.
Here are the top must-see Maya temple sites in Belize:
Xunantunich Maya Temples
In Maya dialect, Xunantunich means “Stone Woman” or “Maiden of the Rock” and this archeaological site is an impressive and magnificent Maya temple that is located outside San Ignacio in the Cayo District. During the Classic period (300-900 AD), Xunantunich was a major ceremonial center and home to 25 temples and palaces.
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The largest structure is El Castillo which rises 130 feet from the Plaza floor and provides a breathtaking panorama of the Macal, Mopan and Belize River Valley.
Note: Xunantunich is one of the most visited Maya temple sites in Belize and can be reached by ferry between 8am to 5pm.
Ancient Maya City of Caracol
Caracol is the largest Maya City in Belize and is located on the western edge of the Maya Mountains deep within the Chiquibul Forest Reserve.
The site was discovered in 1938 by loggers and holds the tallest man made structure “Canaa” or “Sky Place” at 140 feet.
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Archaeologists estimate that at its highest peak, Caracol was home to 150,000 people. Caracol is 2.5 hours drive from San Ignacio Town and is open from 8am to 5pm.
Cahal Pech Maya Ruins
Located outside of San Ignacio Town, Cahal Pech sits on the crest of a steep hill on the west bank of the Macal River and was first settled sometime around 1200 B.C. and abandoned around 800 -900 A.D.
Cahal Pech means “place of the ticks” and is made up of 34 structures with the tallest being about 25 meters in height and is one of the oldest sites in western Belize.
The site can be visited daily from 8am to 5pm.
Located 31 miles out of Belize City, Altun Ha meaning “rock stone water” was an ancient Maya city that dates back to 200 B.C. At its peak, over 10,000 people inhabited the area with around 3000 individuals living in the central core of the city.
Altun Ha is comprised of two main plazas and 13 structures including the Temple of Sun God.
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The area where the site is located is rich with a vast array of flora and fauna and is open from 8am to 5pm every day.
Lamanai meaning “submerged crocodile” in Yucatec Maya was occupied as early as the 16 century BC and is located in the Orange Walk District of Belize.
The archaeological site is surrounded by dense rainforest overlooking the new river lagoon and its temples are known for its elegant architecture.
The site opens from 8am to 5pm everyday and the best way to travel to the location is by means of water taxi up the river since an abundance of birds, iguanas and even crocodiles can be spotted on the river banks.
Another way to reach Lamanai is via the dirt road which is approximately 28 miles and runs from Orange Walk through several villages including San Felipe and Shipyard.
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