Discover Ancient Mayan Cities
Belize offers many ancient Mayan archeological attractions for visitors to explore. More sites are constantly being discovered and excavated in Belize, contributing to an increasing understanding of the ancient Mayan world. We invite you to come discover the ancient Mayan cities of Belize with us. We offer tours to popular archaeological attractions in Belize and to Tikal in Peten, Guatemala.
Altun Ha is the name given to the most popular Mayan site located in the Belize district, about 30 miles north of Belize City. Altun Ha is a modern name in the Mayan language, coined by translating the name of the nearby village of Rockstone Pond. The ancient name is at present unknown. The largest of Altun Ha's temple-pyramids, the "Temple of the Masonry Altars", is 54 feet (16 m) high. A drawing of this structure is the logo of Belize's leading brand of beer, "Belikin".
The site covers an area of about 5 miles (8 km) square. The central square mile of the site has remains of some 500 structures.
Archeological investigations show that Altun Ha was occupied by 200 BC. The bulk of construction was from the Maya Classic era, c. 200 to 900 AD, when the site may have had a population of about 10,000 people. About 900 there was some looting of elite tombs of the site, which some think is suggestive of a revolt against the site's rulers. The site remained populated for about another century after that, but with no new major ceremonial or elite architecture built during that time. After this the population dwindled, with a moderate surge of reoccupation in the 12th century before declining again to a small agricultural village.
The ruins of the ancient structures had their stones reused for residential construction of the agricultural village of Rockstone Pond in modern times, but the ancient site did not come to the attention of archeologists until 1963, when the existence of a sizable ancient site was recognized from the air by pilot and amateur Mayanist Hal Ball.
Starting in 1965 an archeological team lead by Dr. David Pendergast of the Royal Ontario Museum began extensive excavations and restorations of the site, which continued through 1970. Among the discoveries is a large (almost 10 pounds, or 5 kilograms) piece of jade elaborately carved into an image of the head of the Maya sun god, Kinich Ahau. This jade head is considered one of the national treasures of Belize.
Atlun Ha Tours by Discovery Expeditions Belize
Xunantunich is a Maya archaeological site in the Cayo district of Belize, about 80 miles (130 km) west of Belize City. Xunantunich is located atop a ridge above the Mopan River, within sight of the Guatemala border. Its name means "Stone Woman" in the Maya language (Mopan and Yucatec combination name), and, like many names given to Maya archaeological sites, is a modern name; the ancient name is currently unknown. The "Stone Woman" refers to the ghost of a woman claimed by several people to inhabit the site, beginning in 1892. She is dressed completely in white, and has fire-red glowing eyes. She generally appears in front of El Castillo; ascends the stone stairs and disappears into a stone wall.
Most of the structures date from the Maya Classic Era, about 200 to 900 BC. There is evidence that some structures were damaged by an earthquake while they were occupied; this earthquake may have been a reason for the site's abandonment.
The core of Xunantunich occupies about one square mile (2.6 km²), consisting of a series of six plazas surrounded by more than 26 temples and palaces. One of its structures, the pyramid known as "El Castillo", the second tallest structure in Belize (after the temple at Caracol), at some 130 feet (40 m) tall. Archeological excavations have revealed a number of fine stucco facades on some of the ancient temples of this site. Evidence of construction suggests the temple was built in three stages in the 7th, 8th, and 9th centuries. The fine stucco or "frieze" are located on the final stage.
Xunantunich Tours by Discovery Expeditions Belize
Lamanai is the most popular Mayan archaeological site in the Orange Walk District of Northern Belize. It was once a considerably sized city of the Maya civilization.. 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.
Lamanai was occupied as early as the 16th century BC. The site became a prominent centre in the Pre-Classic Period, from the 4th century BC through the 1st century CE. In 625 CE, "Stele 9" was erected there in the Yucatec language of the Maya. Lamanai continued to be occupied up to the 17th century AD. During the Spanish conquest of Yucatán Spanish friars established two Roman Catholic churches here, but a Maya revolt drove the Spanish out. The site was subsequently incorporated by the British in British Honduras, passing with that colony's independence to Belize.
The vast majority of the site remained unexcavated until the mid-1970s. Archaeological work has concentrated on the investigation and restoration of the larger structures, most notably the Mask Temple, Structure N10-9 ("Temple of the Jaguar Masks") and High Temple. The summit of this latter structure affords a view across the surrounding jungle to a nearby lagoon, part of New River.
A significant portion of the Temple of the Jaguar Masks remains under grassy earth or is covered in dense jungle growth. Unexcavated, it would be significantly taller than the High Temple.