El Pilar, near the border of Belize and Guatemala, is still being excavated under the direction of Anabel Ford, a professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and the MesoAmerican Research Center. El Pilar is three times larger than Xunantunich, but because it's at the end of a 7-mile (12 km) rough dirt road, it gets only a few hundred visitors a year. Excavations of Mayan ruins have traditionally concentrated on public buildings, but at El Pilar the emphasis has been on reconstructing domestic architecture—everything from houses to gardens with crops used by the Maya. El Pilar, occupied from 800 BC to AD 1000, at its peak may have had a population of 20,000. Several well-marked trails take you around the site. Because the structures haven't been stripped of vegetation, you may feel like you're walking through a series of shady orchards. Don't forget binoculars: In the 5,000-acre nature reserve there's terrific bird-watching. Behind the main plaza, a lookout grants a
spectacular view across the jungle to El Pilar's sister city, Pilar Poniente, on the Guatemalan border. There is a visitor center, the Be Pukte Cultural Center of Amigos de El Pilar, in Bullet Tree Falls (usually open daily 9–5), where you can get information on the site and pay the admission fee. Note that several incidents of robbery have occurred at or near El Pilar. You may want to visit this site on a tour, available from several tour operators in San Ignacio including duPlooy's and Crystal Paradise/Birding in Paradise.