Mayan Sites of Belize

Deep in the jungles and lowlands of Central America the ancient Mayan civilization thrived from 2000 BC to its final collapse in 1500 AD when the first Europeans arrived. The ancient Maya built massive stone pyramids and cities, developed an intricate writing system comprising hieroglyphics, created beautiful works of art and excelled in mathematics and astronomy. The civilization stretched from the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico west to Guatemala and south to Honduras and El Salvador. At the center was what is now Belize.

Mayan Historical Sites of Belize

Today, evidence of this great ancient civilization is found throughout Belize in the form of ancient archeological sites to modern day Mayas practicing many aspects of their impressive heritage. Below is a list of many historical Mayan sites in Belize, from hidden caves to soaring pyramids. They vary in the degree to which they have been excavated and their ease of accessibility. If you are interested in exploring some of these sites for yourself, you’ll find Hamanasi a convenient central location. We offer several tours that take you to Mayan sites on this list, such as Mayflower, Xunantunich and Actun Tunich Muknal, and our Adventure Center can arrange tours to many others upon request.

Actun Tunichil Muknal
Actun Tunichil Muknal (the Cave of the Crystal Sepulchre) or ATM is located in the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve in the Cayo District. Access to the site involves swimming through a river at the mouth of the cave and hiking deep into the cave. Inside there are many signs of that the cave was used for ceremonial purposes. Ceramic pots and pottery shards, skeletons, and skeletal remains litter the cave. The site is noted for the calcified skeleton of an adolescent, possibly a sacrifice victim. Many beautiful formations are throughout the cave, some of which the Maya modified to create alters or the shadowy appearance of animals and faces.
Altun Ha
Thirty miles north of Belize City and 6 miles inland from the Caribbean shore is Altun Ha. Standing at 54 feet (16m) high is The Temple of the Masonry Altars, the largest pyramid at the site. Look for its image on the logo of the local Belizean Belikin beer. There are several tombs at the site. One contained an adult male who was buried with jade, shells, pearls, animal teeth, tools and other items. It is believed that the ruler or the peoples were somehow associated with the Mexican site Teotihuacan, evidenced by green obsidian objects and ceramic bowls, jars and dishes. Another notable tomb is the Sun God’s Tomb, containing an adult male skeleton. The tomb was painted red and contained many items, the most noteworthy is a carved jade head of the Sun God, Kinich Ahau placed at the pelvis of the body. Stucco faces can be found on the sides of pyramids.
Baking Pot
Baking Pot archaeological site is located in the Belize River Valley northeast of modern day town of San Ignacio in the Cayo District. After extensive research, archeologists believe that the site had a large population into the Post Classic period, long after other settlements were declining. The site has a complex water management system and several uncarved stelae and uncarved altars. Baking Pot name was given after archaeologists found large pots used to boil chicle.
Barton Ramie
This site just downriver from Baking Pot is interesting as it has many small earthen mounds indicating it was a housing settlement located on the floodplain of the Belize River. Harvard Archaeologist, Gordon Willey, first started academic work at this site over fifty years ago. Unlike other sites, Barton Ramie is not characterized by large temple-pyramids, carved stone monuments or standing stone architecture. The raised earthen mounds have some stone facings. This rural settlement was abandoned sometime around the time of the Mayan collapse.
Barton Creek Cave
Located in the Cayo District, Barton Creek Cave is a large river cave consisting of large speleothems hovering over the navigable river, which is over 4 miles long. The cave was used for a variety of purposes by the ancient Maya, including ritual bloodletting, human sacrifice, agricultural rituals and possible fertility rites. Remains of at least 28 humans are found in the cave. Pottery shards indicate use between the Early Classic (200 to 600 AD) to the Late Classic (600 to 900 AD) periods. Tourists may canoe into the cave to view the cave formations and Mayan artifacts.
Cahal Pech
Cahal Pech, or Place of the Ticks is located on the outskirts of San Ignacio town. At 900 feet above sea level and overlooking the confluence of the Macal and Mopan Rivers, the central acropolis provides a commanding view of the Mayan Mountains to the south and the fertile valleys of the Belize River to the northeast. From the top of the main pyramid one can see the El Castillo pyramid at Xunantunich.

Continuous habitation of this site has been dated to as far back as 1200 BCE, making Cahal Pech one of the oldest recognizably Maya sites in Western Belize. The ceremonial center has 34 structures and includes temple pyramids, palaces, a ball court and five stelae. Between 1000 to 600 BC the peoples of Cahal Pech acquired many exotics like jade and obsidian from Guatemala, marine shell from the Caribbean Sea and incorporated many symbols of the Olmec Culture in the Mexican Gulf Coast. Many figurines and some of the earliest found pottery were discovered at the site. Sometime in the 9th century AD the site was abandoned for unknown reasons.

Cara Blanca

In northwestern Belize lies the Cara Blanca region with over 23 cenotes. One of these pools is particularly notable as it offers proof that the ancient Mayas sacrificed offerings to Chaak, the rain god, in them.  Scientists and archeologists believe that the Mayan region experienced high rainfall until roughly 660 A.D., resulting in stable crops and population growth.  After this, however, the rains began to slow. Repeated droughts caused civil unrest, unseating of kings and abandonment of sites.

After 800 A.D. “drought cults” were sparked as cities collapsed. Near Cara Blanca, or “White Cliffs”, lies a pool nestled in a forest beside which is a water temple complex. At this ceremonial site, ancient Mayan pilgrims offered sacrifices to Chaak and prayed for rain. Archeologists have found pots, jars, bowls and bones from across the region in the pool.

Caracol
At the Western foothills of the Maya Mountains deep within the Chiquibul Forest Reserve, Caracol (snail or shell in Spanish) was one of the largest and most powerful political centers of the ancient Maya Lowlands. Caracol covered approximately 124+ square miles (200+ kilometers), an area much larger than present-day Belize City, with an estimated population peaking at 120,000+. Caracol boasts 53 carved stone monuments (25 stelae and 28 altars), and more than 250 burials and 200 caches. Caracol’s central core consists of three plaza groups surrounding a central acropolis and two ball courts, along with a number of smaller structures. The main pyramid at Caracol is called Caana or “Sky Palace.” At 136 feet high it is the tallest Mayan building in Belize and the tallest manmade structure in the country.

Ancient Caracol was occupied as early as 1200 BC. For many years, Caracol was a client state of the more powerful city of Tikal, 29 mils (76 km) to the northwest in modern day Guatemala. After a series of wars beginning in 531 AD, Tikal’s influence and population waned. Simultaneously, Caracol’s population and monumental construction increased, and the site became more prosperous and cohesive, with it greatest period of construction from 600-900 AD. Evidence suggests that Caracol withstood the initial part of the Maya collapse, but by 1050 AD there was final abandonment of the site.

Cerros
Cerros, or “hills” in Spanish, is a mostly unexcavated Maya site located at the mouth of the New River where it empties into Chetumal Bay. It grew from a small farming community to a major trade link between the coastal and inland Maya. Cerros peaked during the Late Preclassic period and had a population of nearly 2000 people.

The core of the site immediately abuts the Chetumal Bay and consists of several relatively large structures and stepped pyramids, an acropolis complex, and two ballcourts. Adjacent to the waterside is a modest temple with four stucco mask reliefs representing the rising and setting sun and the morning and evening star. The inhabitants of Cerros constructed an extensive canal system and utilized raised-field agriculture. The site was abandoned by 400 AD.

Chaa Creek
A satellite site of Xunantunich, Chaa Creek remains largely unexcavated in the Chaa Creek catchment basin near the Macal River. Significant pottery finds and other artifacts have been recovered at the site.
Colha
The Colha Maya archaeological site near the city of Orange Walk in northern Belize is one of the earliest in the Maya region and remains important to the archaeological record of the Maya culture well into the Postclassic Period. Colha’s proximity to an important source of high quality chert that is found in the Cenozoic limestone of the region helped it to develop a niche in the Maya trade market. During the Late Preclassic and Late Classic periods, Colha served as a primary supplier of worked stone tools for the region. It has been estimated that the 36 workshops at Colha produced nearly 4 million chert and obsidian tools and eccentrics that were dispersed throughout Mesoamerica during the Maya era. This made it an important player in the trade of essential good throughout the area. The community developed raised planting beds on the nearby Cobweb Swamp.

The Late Preclassic period (400 BC to 100 AD) saw the construction of the first monumental architecture, in the form of formal plazas, temples, and a ball court. Cohla grew to a population of nearly 4,000 during the Late Classic (600-700 AD) until it was abandoned 875 AD. After a hiatus, agrarian farmers reoccupied Cohla in 950 AD. This re-occupation has been suggested to be by a group with strong ties to the Yucatan and significantly different material culture than those who occupied Colha before the hiatus and no monumental architecture.

Cuello
Located in the Orange Walk District, Cuello was farming village with occupation beginning around 1200 BC. It also participated in regional trade networks. Cuello’s inhabitants lived in pole-and-thatch houses that were built on top of low plaster-coated platforms. The site contains residential groups clustered around central patios and the remains of a steam bath dating to approximately 900 BC, making it the oldest steam bath found to date in the Maya lowlands. Human burials have been associated with the residential structures accompanied by offerings of ceramic vessels. The site sits on privately held land.
El Pilar
Located on the Belize-Guatemala border, El Pilar, is an ancient Maya city center located 12 miles (19 km) north-west of the town of San Ignacio. The El Pilar Archeological Reserve for Maya Flora and Fauna, was declared a cultural monument both in Guatemala and Belize, and covers 5,000 acres (2,000 ha), half of which lies in each country. This impressive site is the largest in the Belize River area with over 25 plazas and hundreds of other buildings, covering about 50 hectares (120 acres).

Construction at El Pilar began in the Middle Preclassic around 800 BC and by 250 BC there were major public works and dense a population. At its apogee, El Pilar housed more than 20,000 people. Monumental construction continued until the Terminal Classic (1000 AD), after which the monuments were neglected.

This site is relatively unexcavated in order to preserve structures. This style of presentation is called “Archeology under the Canopy”. The only fully exposed monument at the reserve is a house site called Tzunu’un, bringing attention to El Pilar’s unique focus on Maya houses and daily living. El Pilar also features a Maya forest garden to show traditional agricultural practices, as well as a network of trails. The rare abundance of natural water sources in this vicinity is possibly the origin of the name El Pilar (“pila” being Spanish for watering basin).

Ka'Kabish
Located in the Orange Walk District about 6 miles (10 km) from the larger, more famous site Lamanai, Ka’Kabish was initially occupied during the Maya Late Pre-Classic Period (400 BC- 200 AD). It is believed that city was in use at least until end of the Classic Period (900 AD), while the residential zone surrounding the city was occupied as late as the end of the Early Post-Classic Period (1200 CE). The site is centered around two plazas with 55 structures including two major temples, a ball court with circular ball court marker, and several large platforms. Little is known about this site, although archeologists are studying it. The site sits on privately held land.
K'axob
In the wetlands of Pulltrouser Swamp near the Sibun River Valley in central Belize is K’axob. This village site centered on two pyramid plazas later grew in size during the Early Classic Period to the Late Classic Period. The lush wetlands of K’axob were a magnet to ancient Maya colonizers two thousand years ago. Through the course of time, these First Americans reclaimed the wetlands through the construction of canals and island fields. The site includes a number of household mounds and plazas. The tallest pyramid of K’axob reaches 43 feet (13 meters) toward the sky and is located at the north end of northern Plaza.

Most household complexes at K’axob were constructed on top of raised mounds or platforms; over 100 of these residential platforms exist at the site. There is evidence of social stratification based on burial vessels, shells and the size of housing complexes. Many serving bowls with tetrapodal supports were found at the site. A particular design that appears on K’axob potteries is the cross motif. This motif occurs only in the K’axob vessels and has not been seen in any other Late Formative period villages. This motif is important in pan-Mesoamerican symbols because it is associated with agricultural fields, the calendar, cardinal directions and seasonality. The inhabitants of K’axob employed a farming technique called milpa, which involved slashing and burning high vegetation creating clearings to plant staple crops, such as maize, beans, and squash.

La Milpa
The La Milpa archaeological site lies within the Rio Brava Conservation Management Area, a nature preserve owned by the Programme for Belize, a non-profit organization. This 250,000-acre tract of land in northwest Belize bordering Mexico and Guatemala is preserved for research and sustainable use. PfB acquired land for the preserve from the Coco-Cola Company, which originally planned to tear down the rainforest to create a citrus plantation. Instead, it donated the land to conservation and management project in 1990 and 1992.

Following Caracol and Lamanai, the largely unexplored La Milpa is the third largest Mayan site in Belize with 84 structures. Its main plaza alone covers 194,000 square feet (18,000 square meters), making it one of the largest in the entire Maya region. The main structure rises 600 feet above sea level atop a limestone ridge. Three other pyramids on the eastern side of the Great Plaza tower over seventy feet. On the southern side of the plaza, a collasped masonry building encasing at least thirteen rooms shows evidence of strong cosmic importance during La Milpa’s cultural height.

Archaeologists believe La Milpa peaked during the Classic Period (300-600 AD) only to collapse suddenly around the 9th century AD. La Milpa is situated on a ridge just under one mile across, running from North to South. There are no natural water sources within the site, however there are two large pools and two reservoirs that would have held water through the dry season. La Milpa had intensive agriculture evidenced by extensive terraces and a number of monumental constructions and other elite artworks, indicating centralized power. In 1996, a royal Maya tomb was found and a male skeleton adorned with a jeweled necklace was unearthed on its grounds.

The name of this site refers to the widespread practice of slash-and-burn farming-a method of agriculture still utilized by present-day Mayans.

Lamanai
Located 24 miles south of Orange Walk Town in Northern Belize, is Lamanai, the second largest and one of the best excavated archaeological site in Belize, The site’s name is pre-Columbian, recorded by early Spanish missionaries, and documented over a millennium earlier in Maya inscriptions as Lam’an’ain, or submerged crocodile. The ruins are known both for their impressive architecture and stunning setting in dense jungle along the New River Lagoon.

Lamanai was continuously occupied as early as the 16th century BC up to the 17th century AD. During the Spanish conquest Spanish friars established two Roman Catholic churches here, but were later driven out by a Mayan revolt. Over 700 structures are found at Lamanasi, the most notable of which are the Temple of the Jaguar, the Mask Temple and the High Temple. A significant portion of the Jaguar Temple remains covered in dense jungle growth near its base. Unexcavated, it would be significantly taller than the High Temple.

Lamanai’s strategic location on the New River Lagoon afforded its population access to many traded goods. One of the most high-valued goods during the Post Classic period was copper. Refined metal objects were included in the burials of the elite. Copper ornamentations, such as rings, reflected a higher social status. More copper artifacts have been recovered at Lamanai than at any other site in the ancient Maya world.

Louisville
Louisville is a village in the Corozal District in northern Belize. There are substantial artificial mounds of an ancient Mayan city. The site is presumed to have been occupied from 400 BC to about 950 AD. Unfortunately, many of the ancient remains were demolished to reuse stone and make fill for roads.
Lubaantun
Located in the southern Toledo District about 26 miles northwest of Punta Gorda and near the village of San Pedro Columbia is the unique Mayan archeological site, Lubaantun. This largest site in southern Belize dates from the Maya Classic era and flourished for about a 150 years until it was abandoned abruptly around 900 AD.

Eleven large structures rise above five main plazas, three ball courts and a few tombs. One of the most distinguishing features is the unusual style of construction. All structures are made of limestone blocks without the use of mortar to bind them together. Every hand-cut stone, was carefully measured and shaped to fit tightly next to each neighboring block securing the structures’ strength. Corners of the step-pyramids typically are curved without stone structures on top. None of the structures have doorways and all are solid. As the ground on which Lubaantun was built began to shift over the centuries, the morterless blocks began to fall. Thus the site was given the name “place of fallen rocks” – Lubaantun – in the modern Maya language. Many ceramic whistle figurines were found at this site, replicas of which are for sale by the present day local Mayas.

There is intrigue and mystery surrounding Lubaantun. In 1926, a famous, yet controversial crystal skull was supposedly discovered by Anna Mitchell-Hedges, daughter of archaeologist, F. Mitchell-Hedges. The 8-inch block of rock crystal perfectly shaped into a human skull is still possessed by Anna who lives in Canada. The origin of the skull has never been confirmed.

Marco Gonzalez
Five miles (8 km) south of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye is the extensively looted Marco Gonzalez. This site sits a mere 12 feet (3.6 m) above sea level and is surrounded by swamp, mangrove and other moisture loving vegetation. Since the late Preclassic period Marco Gonzalez had been continuously occupied, with its peak in the Post Classic period from roughly 1200 to 1400 AD until it was abandoned abruptly in 1500 AD. It is believed that as sea levels rose, the coastline shifted allowing mangrove swamps to completely surround the site, making it inhospitable. The site has nearly 50 structures comprising of limestone platforms and no temples. Most likely there were pole and thatch roofs.

Inhabitants likely fished and later were involved in intensive salt production, a vitally needed mineral for inland Mayans. The site is strewn with pottery shards, chert tools, human bones, jade and obsidian. Many of these items have no natural source on Ambergris Caye and indicate that the inhabitants took advantage of their strategic position along maritime trade routes.

Currently, the site is nearly inaccessible due to the overgrowth of vegetation.

Mayflower Complex
Not far from Hopkins and near the village of Silk Grass in the Stann Creek District of Belize is the Mayflower complex. The three sites of the Mayflower group are mostly hidden by the jungle and comprise Maintzunun, Mayflower and T’au Witz, all of which were part of Terminal Classic to Early Post Classic occupation.

Maintzunun, which means “small hummingbird”, is on the north side of Silk Grass Creek and comprises a massive series of platforms made of sand and boulders, which had been topped by pole and thatch buildings. A fallen stela was found on the terrace top, as well as obsidian blades, chert, stone tools, bead and vessels.

Mayflower lies on the south side of Silk Grass Creek and has a more typical arrangement of a plaza surrounded by various structures. There is evidence of fallen stelae and chert blades.

T’au Witz, which means “dwelling of a local god of the hill”, is also on the south side of the creek just under a mile from Mayflower. This site comprises a manmade platform propped against the eastern slope of the Maya Mountains. Many small pieces of pottery, a small granite stela and other objects of worship and everyday life were found here.

Nim Li Punit
A short drive off the Southern Highway near the villages of Indian Creek and Golden Stream, 25 miles (40 km) north of Punta Gorda in the Toledo District is Nim Li Punit. This medium sized Maya site from the Classic Period earned its name from a carving on the site’s longest stela depicting an ancient king wearing a large headdress. In the Maya Kekchi language, Nim Li Punit means “the big hat”.

Nim Li Punit is set at the foothills to the Maya Mountains to the west with the coastal plains of the Caribbean to the east. On a clear day, the Caribbean Sea is visible. This ancient city flourished from the 5th century AD through the 8th century AD and comprised three plazas with several step-pyramids. Of particular interest are the 26 carved stelae illustrating the ancient city’s rulers, important political events and alliances, wars, battles and royal lineage. Several stelae are in an unfinished state, suggesting a sudden halt to work.

Estimates put the peak population of Nim Li Punit in the range of 5000 to 7000 people during the Late Classic period. Similar to nearby sites, early inhabitants probably migrated from Guatemala and likely spoke a dialect of the Cholan language prevalent in the Mayan heartland. Occupation of Nim Li Punit ceased rather suddenly in the 9th century AD.

Nohmul
Sitting on a limestone ridge above the Hondo River forming the Belize border with Mexico is Nohmul Maya archaeological site. Nohmul — translated as “great mound” in Yucatec Maya — is the most important Maya site in northern Belize with a 56-foot (17 m) pyramid built around 250 BC. Unfortunately, in May 2013, the pyramid was almost completely destroyed by contractors who used its rubble to fill roads.

Just 7 miles (11 km) north of Orange Walk Town Nohmul occupies about 12 square miles (31 km2) of land. Its strategic location allowed its inhabitants to trade with cities in modern day Mexico, and there is architectural evidence of the influence of Yucatan peoples. The site has over 80 separate structures located in two main East and West groupings with a total of 10 plazas. A raised causeway links the groupings. Most of the structures were constructed either in the Preclassic and Classic period.

Nohoch Che'en
Nohoch Che’en Archaeological Reserve is a unique river-cave system also called Caves Branch. The reserve is managed by the Institute of Archeology, which is a part of the National Institute of Culture & History. The Caves Branch River winds through a porous limestone landscape flowing in and out of caves amidst dense jungle. Cave tubing is popular in the cave system where headlamps illuminate stalactites, stalagmites, intricate cave formations and massive underground chambers.

The Maya held cave systems with reverence, as they believed they were the entrance to the underworld, or Xibalba – the portal between the human world and that of the gods. The Maya used these caves for ceremonial purposes. Pottery chards, skeletal remains and stone formations provide evidence of the use during ancient times.

Pacbitun
Near the town of San Ignacio in western Belize is Pacbitun, or “Stones Set in the Earth”, is one of the oldest known Preclassic sites in Western Belize and occupied for nearly 2000 years. The site was first occupied around 1000 B.C. and flourished in the Late Classic and Terminal periods. This major ceremonial center covers about 75 acres (30 ha) and boasts over 40 masonry structures, of which at least 24 are major temples. Over 300 house mounds surround the site in the periphery zone. Interestingly, also in the periphery zone there are a number of subterranean limestone caves showing use by the ancient Maya.

Excavations at Pacbitun have unearthed a wealth of artifacts including musical instruments made of carved and molded pottery such as whistles, rattles, flutes and a drum. Also found were mortuary offerings, jade jewelry, shell ornaments, flints, painted, polychrome pottery and slate items. Archeologists have revealed evidence that the Maya hunted deer, agoutis, turkeys, peccaries, tapirs, jaguars, howler monkeys and even domesticated dogs. Large quantities of shells from freshwater snails, turtle shells and catfish bones were consumed, along with corn, ramon seeds and cayol.

Pusilha
Pusilha is the largest and most important Classic Maya city in the southern Toledo District of Belize in the town of San Benito Poité. The location of Pusilha at the confluence of the Poité and Pusilha rivers afforded it a strategic position controlling trade across important east-west trade routes between the Caribbean to the east and to the southern and central Maya lowlands. It is centrally located between the major Mayan cities of Caracol, Tikal in present day Guatemala and Copan in Honduras, allowing it to be a major transfer site for economic activity.

Pusilha was founded by immigrants from the southwestern Peten, Guatemala, who came to the southern Belize in search of available land in the late Classic Period. Initial surveys suggested that the site was a second tier polity. Current archaeological evidence indicates that Pusilha was a non-aligned city that maintained its independence.
Hieroglyphic inscriptions indicate that the site was ruled by divine kings. Individuals of the Maya elite resided at the center of the site with inhabitants of lesser status living further from the center. The site contains many structures, most of which are not excavated, ball courts, as well as many stelae.

San Estevan
The San Estevan archaeological site is located in northern Belize just outside of the modern community of San Estevan, Belize. Located on the New River between the sites of Cerros and Lamanai, it was a regional political center during the Formative (800 BC – AD 300) and Classic (AD 300 – 900) periods.

During the late 1990s, much of the monumental architecture in San Estevan’s core was bulldozed in order to construct modern roads. The highest structure remaining at the site is Mound XV, at 49 feet (15 m) and dates to the Late Formative period. It was saved from the bulldozers only due to the intervention of the Belize Department of Archaeology.

Santa Rita Corozal
Santa Rita Corozal is a Maya ruin and an archaeological reserve on the outskirts of Corozal, Belize on a high bluff overlooking Corozal Bay. Unfortunately, many structures were destroyed and used for road fill, and thus the full extent of the ancient city may never be known.

The earliest known inhabitants at Santa Rita Corozal date to the Preclassic Period (1200-900 BC). In Pre-Columbian times, a city called Chactemal (sometimes rendered as “Chetumal” in early European sources) is probably today’s Santa Rita Corozal. It was the capital of a Maya state of the same name that roughly controlled the southern quarter of modern Quintana Roo and the northeast portion of Belize. Mayans inhabited Santa Rita until approximately the 16th century A.D, when residents forced conquistador Alfonso Davila to leave. The city’s population slowly dwindled thereafter and finally abandoned the area late in the century.

Because of its location, Santa Rita once controlled nearby trade routes between the coast and the mouths of two major rivers, the Río Hondo and Río Nuevo, arteries to inland settlements. The sprawling city had an extensive social hierarchy as evidenced by extravagant items found in certain burials.

St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park
Just off the Hummingbird Highway 12 miles (19 km) east of Belmopan is St. Herman Blue Hole National Park. Within this park are three caves: Mountain Cow Cave (or Crystal Cave), Petroglyph Cave and the largest, St. Herman’s cave, one of only a few caves in Belize that one can visit independently. (However, to explore the cave’s deep interiors requires a guide.)

Upon arrival to the entrance of St. Herman’s cave there are concrete steps constructed over the original Mayan steps that lead down into the cave. During the Classic period Mayan shamans and priests journeyed into this underworld known as Xibalba, to perform sacred rituals. The Maya used pottery vessels to collect Zuh uy Ha (virgin water) from dripping stalactites. When the cave was rediscovered in modern times there were many vessels, along with spears and torches, which were removed by the Department of Archeology for study and preservation.

Nearby is the inland Blue Hole, a sinkhole created by a collapsed river cave fed by the Sibun River, the same river that flows through St. Herman’s Cave. The exposed cave walls are surrounded by jungle and are about 300 feet (100 m) in diameter and 100 feet (30 m) deep. At the bottom lies a beautiful azure cenote that is about 25 feet (8 m) deep. Cenotes were the only source of water in the jungle for the Mayan civilization and are considered sacred by the Mayan people.

Tipu
Tipu is a Mayan archaeological site in the Maya Mountains near the Belize–Guatemala border on the Macal River upstream from the site Cahal Pech. The town served as a Maya political center – consider the Mayan capital of Belize — and later was an important mission town on the Spanish frontier. The inhabitants were expected to pay tribute to the Spanish in the form of goods and services. This subjugation and harsh treatment lead to frequent Maya uprisings, often centered at Tipu. The 1638 rebellion concentrated at Tipu marked the beginning of the end of Spanish influence in Belize.
Uxbenka
Located on the outskirts of Santa Cruz Village in the Toledo District is one of the earliest known Maya sites in the southern Belize lowlands (250 AD). Uxbenka, or “ancient place”, is smaller and less excavated compared to nearby Nim Li Punit and Lubaantun and likely originally settled by Peten peoples. It is perched on a high ridge overlooking the foothills of the Maya Mountains and the Caribbean Sea.

The ancient Maya practice of transforming hills by facing and terracing is particularly notable here and is almost exclusively seen in southern Belize. The site comprises a large plaza with some royal tombs and stelae on a natural hill with smaller plazas below.

Xnaheb
Xnaheb is a pre-Columbian Maya site built on a ridge of the foothills of the Maya Mountains in Southern Belize. It is thought that Xnaheb was originally founded as an offshoot of Nim Li Punit as it is only a few miles away and the two sites have architectural similarities. Some theorize that it was built to buffer Nim Li Punit from Lubaantun further south. While Xnaheb is relatively unexcavated, many beautifully carved stelae were found here.
Xunantunich
Perched on top of ridge above the Mopan River in Western Belize 8 miles (13 km) from San Ignacio in San Jose Succutz is the Maya site of Xunantunich. Settled in the Preclassic period Xunantunich served as a major ceremonial center in the Late Classic period. The center of the site is relatively small (about one square mile), but comprises six plazas and more than 26 temples. At the south end of the site is the most prominent structure, the pyramid “El Castillo”, the second tallest structure in Belize after the main pyramid at Caracol. It has notable stucco friezes on its upper walls. A plaster mold covers the Eastern wall frieze depicting, among other things, royal families, gods of creation and the Cieba tree of life.

Archeologists believe that many farming communities with access to fertile soil and pine in the Mountain Pine Ridge surrounded Xunantunich. This afforded the general community a certain amount of autonomy and prosperity that helping the city to survive about a hundred years longer than neighboring sites.

Xunantunich’s name means “Stone Maiden” in Maya and is a modern name. The original name is currently unknown. Legend has that a beautiful young woman appeared to several people near the base of El Castillo before she disappeared into the stone wall.

Information above was obtained from various online sources. Additions and corrections are welcomed via our contact us page!

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