Millions of visitors every year are attracted to the small central American country of Belize, by the beautiful beaches, the variety of outdoor pursuits and some of the best diving and snorkeling anywhere in the world. The country is also one of the best places to enjoy some of the most spectacular Belize Mayan ruins in the area.
The Mayan flourished in the Yucatan peninsula from around 1,800 BC until the 9th century, and it is still unclear what caused the civilization’s decline. During the height of the civilisation, around 2,000,000 Mayans lived in what is now Belize, and some of their descendants still live in the country today. The Mayan left behind a rich legacy, and they are well known for their inaccurate predictions about the end of the world, their knowledge of mathematics and astronomy, and of course, the ruins of their tombs, temples and cities. Today, several of these Belize Mayan ruins can be visited either on your own, or on one of the many guided tours or day trips that are available. At some of the sites, the excavations continue, allowing you to get a fascinating insight into the world of the Mayans.
One of the most visited of the Belize Mayan ruins is Xunantunich
located about eight miles from neighboring Guatemala; in fact from the top of the El Castillo pyramid, you can enjoy a view over Guatemala, as well as of the entire complex. There are 25 palaces and temples at Xunantunich, which flourished between the 6th and 9th centuries, as well as a museum, a court for ball games and several houses for the residents. Because of its accessible location, Xunantunich is one of the most visited Mayan ruins in the country and is often crowded with cruise ship passengers; visiting early in the morning or later in the day is recommended if possible.
One of the largest ruins in the Mayan world is Caracol, which dates from around 600 BC, although was only discovered in the 1930s, due to its location deep in the rain forest. An estimated 150,000 people called Caracol home at one time, and one of the man made reservoirs that supplied water to the area is still in use today. In addition, the complex also features over 100 tombs, some fascinating hieroglyphic carvings and ongoing archaeological work. The complex is also home to what is still the country’s tallest man made structure, the Sky Palace, at almost 140 feet.
Altun Ha is another of the most visited Belize Mayan ruins, and is located about 35 miles north of the country’s capital, Belize City. The complex was once an important trading center and has been extensively restored over the years. One of the biggest finds was a tomb dating from around 500 AD, containing many priceless and unique artifacts, including the largest jade object ever found in the area. Altun Ha is well worth a visit, especially as it is not so easy to get to as some of the other Belize Mayan ruins, meaning it is often not as crowded as some of the other places.
Other Belize Mayan ruins worth visiting include some of the less crowded sites, Cahal Pech, Lubaantun and Nim Li Punit. Cahal Pech is located just outside San Ignacio and consists of over 30 buildings on a relatively small two acre space, including apartments, temples, an altar and sweathouse. Lubaantun in the south of the country, was probably constructed to be an administrative center, and is worth visiting for its large stone blocks, which are fitted precisely together without the use of mortar. The site is also where a crystal skull was discovered in 1926; the skull is carved from a single quartz crystal and was the inspiration for the film ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’. Nim Li Punit was probably an astronomical site, and is famous for its 20 tall stones, or stelae, some of which show fascinating carvings.
The Belize Mayan ruins are just one of the reasons why this small, yet stable central American country has become so popular. Another reason is that the country is so easy to get to; Belize is just a two hour flight from Miami and there are nonstop flights from several other southern cities in the US.