Destinations Belize


Maya Ruins of Belize

Cayo District

CaracolCaracol Mayan Ruins.  Caracol's ancient Mayan name was Uxwitza, or "Three Water Hill."  Its Early Classic name was Ux Witz Ajaw, or "Three Hills Lord."  A.H. Anderson, Archaeological Commissioner for Belize in 1938, named the ruins Caracol, meaning "snail" in Spanish, because of the the winding roads leading to the site.  (Anderson first visited the site in 1937 after it was discovered by logger Rosa Mai in 1937.)


xunantunichXunantunich Mayan Ruins. The Xunantunich core is about 1 square mile and includes 6 plazas and 26 temples and palaces. 

El Castillo, a 130 foot tall pyramid at the axis of the core of Xunantunich is the second tallest building in Belize after Caana at Caracol.


Cahal PechCahal Pech.  Cahal Pech is located just outside San Ignacio Town in Belize's Cayo District and is sited high on a hill overlooking the confluence of the Macal and Mopan Rivers. 

The Cahal Pech site was first occupied in 1200 BC (Early Middle Preclassic Period) and abandoned in 900 AD (Classic Period).


El PilarEl Pilar Mayan Ruins  The El Pilar Archeological Reserve for Maya Flora and Fauna is a legally declared cultural monument in both Belize and Guatemala.  The Reserve is emcompasses 5,000 acres, half in Guatemala in the Peten Department and half in Belize in the Cayo District.  The Belize portion of the Reserve is managed by the Belize Institute of Archaeology and the Guatemalan portion is managed by the Instituto de Antroplogia a Historia.


Orange Walk District

La MilpaLa Milpa Mayan Ruins.   La Milpa is the third largest Maya site in Belize (after Caracol and Lamanai) and includes more than 20 courtyards, 19 stelae, 2 ball courts, 4 temple pyramids (the largest almost 79 feet high)  and over 85 structures, with the Great Plaza being one of the largest public spaces constructed by the Maya.  Archaeologists estimate that over 46000 people lived in La Milpa in its heyday in the Early Classic Period.


LamanaiLamanai Mayan Ruins.  The Lamanai site is one of the oldest continuously occupied Maya sites in Belize, from about 1500 BC when maize was being grown at the site, to 1680 AD.  

The name "Lamanai" means submerged insect. 

However, archaeologists realized in 1978 that Franciscan monks had corrupted the name from "Lam'an/ayin" to "Lamanai," and that adding the correct suffix of "ayin" changed the meaning of the name to submerged crocodile, a conclusion supported by the large number of crocodile representations found at Lamanai, including figurines, pottery decorations and the headdress of a 13 foot limestone mask found on a 6th century temple platform.


ColhaColha Mayan Ruins.  Colha is located near Orange Walk Town in northern Belize, and was occupied from the Archaic Period (pre-3400 BC) to the Middle Postclassic Period (1150-1300 AD). 

Colha was most heavily populated from 400 BC - 100 AD (Late Preclassic) and from 600-850 AD (Late Classic).




San EstevanSan Estevan.  San Estevan was settled in the Preclassic Period and reached its greatest occupation levels in the Late Classic Period. 

Between the 1960s and the mid-1990s, much of San Estevan was mapped by archaeologists exploring the last incarnation of San Estevan as a Late Classic Period site.  

However, the focus of archaeological research on San Estavan abruptly changed in the late 1990s when bulldozers mining for limestone destroyed most of the Late Classic Period structures at San Estevan.


Corozal District

CerrosCerros Mayan Ruins.   Cerros is located at the mouth of the New River as it empties into Corozal Bay in the northern Corozal District of Belize.  Cerros was inhabited from about 400 BC (Preclassic Era) to 400 AD (Classic Era) when it was abandoned.  At the height of its importance, almost 2,000 people lived in and around Cerros, working as farmers and as merchants in the trade between the sea coast and inland communities.


Santa RitaSanta Rita Mayan Ruins.  Archaeologist believe that Santa Rita is almost certainly the ancient city of Chetumal and was occupied from 2000 BC to 1530 AD, with its primary importance in the Late Post Classic Period from 1350-1530 when it was an important center for the trade of honey, vanilla, cacao and anchiote to the northern Yucatan and other locations.  The breadth of the trade that flourished in Santa Rita is evidenced by findings at the site that include Andean pottery from the Late Classic Period and turquoise jewelry from the Aztecs.

Santa Rita was abandoned when Spanish forces cut off trade routes to the north.

The Belize town of Corozal was built on top of Santa Rita and only one building remains from the ancient Mayan City of Chetumal.  Santa Rita is located on the outskirts of Corozal just off the main road to Santa Elena and Mexico.  The Caribbean Sea forms the eastern boundary of Santa Rita.

Belize District

altun-haAltun Ha Mayan Ruins.  Altun Ha was occupied from about 900 BC to 1000 AD, with the highest level of population in the Classic Period, from about 400 to 900 AD. 

Altun Ha showed a sharp decline in population after 900 AD, unlike Lamanai, which continued to be occupied for almost 700 years.


Marco Gonzalez Archaeological Reserve.  Marco Gonzalez  is located at the southern tip of Ambergris Caye, about 5 miles south of San Pedro.  It was first recorded in 1984 and excavated between 1984 and 1994.  However, the site had already been extensively looted before its excavation.


Toledo District

lubaantun-whistle2Lubaanatun Mayan Ruins.   Lubaantun is located about 2 miles from San Pedro Columbia Village and about 26 miles northwest of Punta Gorda Town in the Toledo District of Belize.  Lubaantun, which means "place of the fallen stones" is a modern name for the site.  No one knows its ancient Mayan name.

Lubaantun was occupied in the mid to late Classic Period from about 730 to 890 AD when it was abandoned.  Not much is known about Lubaantun although speculation is that it had a military purpose because it is built about 200 feet above sea level, and the center of the site is on a large artificially raised platform between two small rivers.


Nim Li Punit2Nim Li Punit Mayan Ruins.  Nim Li Punit means "big hat" in the Kekchi Maya language and refers to the large headdress on a ruler depicted on one of the stela found at the site.  The Nim Li Punit ruins are located off the Southern Highway about 25 miles north of Punta Gorda Town.

Nim Li Punit was occupied by about 5000-7000 people at its peak in the Late Classic Period and was occupied from around 721 to 890 AD.  The people who lived in Nim Li Punit probably migrated to Nim Li Punit from the area that is now Guatemala and were probably aligned with Tikal in Guatemala and Copan in Honduras.  

The site is organized around three plazas and includes an incredibly well-preserved ball court.  Archaeologists also believe that Nim Li Punit includes a Mayan observatory in the Plaza of the Stelae because of the geometric positioning of the structures in this plaza.

Structures at Nim Li Punit were built of sandstone using mortar between stones unlike the mortarless slate construction at Lubaantun.

Nim Li Punit was first investigated by archaeologists in 1976.

Latitude:  16°14'43.19"N/Longitude:   88°46'10.31"W

UxbenkaUxbenka Mayan Ruins.  Uxbenka is a very small site compared to Nim Li Punit and Lubaantun and is located near the water tower for Santa Cruz Village overlooking the footfills of the Maya Mountains and the Blue Creek canyon of Belize. 

(If you would like to tour the site, ask around the Village - Uxbenka is not officially open to tourists, but mounds have been cleared with some exposed limestone walls and a small open tomb is in the main plaza.)


Maya Timeline References

Maya Timeline:

Maya Periods:

  • Early Pre-Classic:  2500 BC-1000 BC:  During this time period in other parts of the world, the mammoth became extinct, Stonehenge was completed, the Celts began to use iron, silk was discovered in China, wine was introduced and Egypt invaded Nubia.
  • Middle Pre-Classic: 1000 BC- 300 BC:  During this time period in other parts of the world, the Eygptians began natural mumification of bodies, the Iliad and the Odyssey was written, Rome was founded, Socrates, Aristotle and Confucious were born, the Olmecs developed a written alphabet and the Parthenon was built.
  • Late Pre-Classic:  300 BC-300 AD:  During this time period, Rome conquered Greece, Jesus was born, lived and was crucified, Jerusalem was destroyed by Titus and Pompeii is destroyed by Vesuvius.
  • Early Classic:  300 AD - 600 AD:  During this time period in other parts of the world, the Visigoths sacked Rome for the first time, the Edict of Milan declared that the Roman Empire would be neutral toward religious worship and Constantine organized the First Council of Nicaea.



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