Mayan Sites Blitz

If you want to see the top Mayan sites in one trip, base yourself in the Cayo. If after a few days in western Belize and Guatemala you still haven't had your fill, you can add extensions to northern Belize and to Punta Gorda in southern Belize.

Day 1: San Ignacio

San Ignacio is an easy jumping-off spot for seeing several small but fascinating nearby ruins. If you get an early start, you can take in Xunantunich, Cahal Pech, and El Pilar. Both Cahal Pech and Xunantunich can be reached by bus (albeit with a short hike after the bus ride in both cases), but a taxi or rental car is needed to get to El Pilar. Guided tours of all these sites can be arranged in San Ignacio or at lodges and hotels in the area.

Day 2: Caracol

Caracol, the most important Mayan site in Belize, deserves a full day. You can drive yourself—or go on a tour. There is no bus transportation in the Mountain Pine Ridge. Even if you arrive independently, you can hire a guide to show you around once you're at the site, or you can tour it on your own. There's an informative museum and visitor center. Due to a series of bandit incidents, trips to Caracol are being done in convoys, protected by Belize Defence Forces soldiers. Check locally for updates.

Days 3 and 4: Tikal

Tikal is by far the most impressive Mayan site in the region and shouldn't be missed (check in advance about travel warnings to the area). Many operators offer day tours of Tikal from the San Ignacio area.

Tips

Altun Ha, the ruin closest to Belize City, gets crowds of cruise-ship day-trippers; try to avoid days when there are several cruise ships in port.

Before heading anywhere remote by yourself, check with the locals to find out if there have been any recent safety issues.

On your visit to Tikal, stay at one of the three lodges at the park—you'll be able to visit the ruins early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when howler monkeys and other animals are active and most day visitors have left. If you can't overnight at Tikal, do a day tour from San Ignacio; there also are daily flights from Belize City to Flores near Tikal.

Bring bug repellent. Mosquitoes are especially bad around Cerro Maya in northern Belize, at Marco Gonzalez on Ambergris Caye, and at the ruins near Punta Gorda.

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