Notable Mayan Sites in Belize
The following are our picks for the most notable Mayan sites in Belize. See the destination chapters for detailed information on the sites, including hours and admission fees.
Altun Ha. The most visited Mayan site in Belize, though not the most impressive, is popular with cruise ship passengers and for those staying on Ambergris Caye or Caye Caulker. It's a little more than an hour's drive north of Belize City. One of the temples at Altun Ha is prominently pictured on Belikin beer bottles.
Cerros. Although the few remaining original structures here are weathered, and there's no museum or visitor center, Cerros—like Tulum in the Yucatán—enjoys a glorious location right beside the water.
Chan Chich. The lodge of the same name was built literally on top of this minor ceremonial site. It can be reached by car or charter flight and is best visited in connection with a stay at the lodge.
Cuello. It's one of the oldest Mayan sites in the region, settled more than 2,500 years ago. It's on the property of a rum distillery near Orange Walk Town, and you have to get permission in advance to visit it.
La Milpa. The third-largest Mayan site in Belize (only Caracol and Lamanai are larger), La Milpa is in the early stages of exploration and excavation. It can be visited through advance arrangement with Programme for Belize, on whose land it sits.
Lamanai. Boat your way up the New River to the shores of the New River Lagoon to see this ruin, which has the most beautiful setting of any Mayan site in Belize. You can also reach it by road from Orange Walk Town. Lamanai has a small museum and a resident troop of howler monkeys.
Noh Mul. This ruin, settled around 350 BC, is about 10 mi north of Orange Walk Town on private land.
Santa Rita. Corozal Town is built on what was the large Mayan trading center known as Chactemal (or Chetumal, as the capital of Quintana Roo, Mexico, is known today). A part of the ruins, now called Santa Rita, is on a hill on the outskirts of town. At this writing Santa Rita is not open to the public, although you can walk around the edges of the site, and see parts of it from nearby streets.
Actun Tunichil Muknal. "ATM," near Belmopan, provides the most rewarding Mayan cave experience in Belize, and indeed in the entire region. Many visitors say it is the highlight of all their travels in Central America. To see the cave, you have to take a 45-minute hike and a brief swim, and be a part of a guided tour. Only about 30 guides are certified to lead trips to ATM.
Barton Creek Cave. You can canoe through part of this 7-mi (11-km) wet-cave system once used by the Maya for human sacrifices. It's about a half hour off the Chiquilbul Road on the way to the Mountain Pine Ridge.
Cahal Pech. This small Late Classic site, with a lovely location on a hill overlooking San Ignacio, is easily accessible from town. It has a little museum.
Caracol. The largest and most significant site in Belize is a must if you're in Cayo. It's an all-day trip from San Ignacio through the Mountain Pine Ridge, but it's well worth the time. There's a museum and visitor center, and extensive excavations have been underway for more than 20 years.
Che Chem Ha. This cave on private land south of Benque Viejo has artifacts dating back 2,000 years.
El Pilar. Set on low hills above the Mopan River at the Guatemalan border is one of the largest sites in Belize, but little of it has been excavated.
Pacbitun. Near San Antonio village on the road to the Mountain Pine Ridge, Pacbitun dates back to at least 1000 BC. It's on private land.
Xunantunich. Though it's not one of the largest sites in Belize, Xunantunich is one of the easiest and most pleasant to visit. To reach it, you cross the Mopan River on a quaint, hand-pulled ferry. There's a well-done museum and visitor center. It's off the Western Highway, west of San Ignacio. In May 2009, parts of the tallest structure at Xunantunich, El Castillo, were damaged by an earthquake. As of this writing climbing to the top of this structure is no longer permitted, and so you can't enjoy the panoramic views of Cayo and Guatemala.
Lubaantun. Occupied for less than 200 years in the Late Classic period, Lubaantun is unusual in that no stelae were ever found here, and the precisely fitted building stones, laid without mortar, have rounded corners. The controversial "Crystal Skull" supposedly was found here. Lubaantun is near San Pedro Columbia village, about 20 mi (32 km) from Punta Gorda.
Mayflower. This Classic-period site, off the Southern Highway just south of Dangriga, is in the early stages of excavation. Waterfalls nearby make the setting appealing.
Nim Li Punit. Off the Southern Highway north of Punta Gorda is Nim Li Punit ("Big Hat" in Ketchi), a small but pretty site. There's a visitor center.
Pusilha. At a site near Aguacate Village on the Moho River is this collection of extensive but low-lying structures on a small hill. You can also see the remains of a stone bridge. Because of its remote location off the main highway, there aren't many tourists who make the trip out here.
Although there are no large Mayan sites on the cayes, Ambergris Caye has several small ruins. Chac Balam can be visited on a boat tour to Bacalar, at the far north end of the island. Marco Gonzalez, at the south end of the island, is difficult to find without a local guide.
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