Xunantunich- A Glimpse into Belize's Past
Get a glimpse at Belize's incredible past with a visit to Xunantunich, some of the most incredible and well-preserved Mayan ruins in all of Central America!
Hey, y'all! As I'm gearing up for my fifth trip to Belize, I wanted to share with you my favorite ruins in Belize- Xunantunich. Say it with me shoe-nan-too-nich. Shoe-nan-too-nich. Or... just call it Tuna Sandwich and the locals will totally know what you're talking about...oddly enough.
I've been to many Mayan ruins in the past, including some throughout the country of Belize but Xunantunich is my ultimate favorite. This ancient Maya archaeological site is located in western Belize, about 70 miles from Belize City (where you would pull into if you arrive by cruise ship). The journey from Belize City to San Ignacio, where the ruins are located, will take you about two hours by motorcoach. The bus ride will give you a truly accurate picture of life in Belize. Some may not think it's the most scenic drive but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I think it's gorgeous!
Fun Fact: Belizeans don't have to pay taxes on their homes if they are not 100% complete. Therefore, many of the homes are left unfinished to avoid having to pay taxes.
Once you arrive in San Ignacio you'll come to the Mopan River where you'll see the cutest ferry. If you're picture cute as something pink and girly you're totally off here! It's a hand-cranked ferry! The ferry platform is on a cable and is moved back and forth by a hand-crank. So awesome! After crossing the river, you'll be in the gorgeous park area. It's just a short walk to the ancient ruins.
Xunantunich means "Sculpture of Lady" in the Maya language. The first modern explorations began in the mid-1890's. Since then, archaeologists have excavated the site and uncovered many structures including El Castillo, the second tallest structure in Belize. The site was built during the Classic Period and is made up of six major plazas and features more than 25 temples and palaces. and counting!
El Castillo, is the main focal point of the site and has been partially restored and is famous for the frieze carvings that cover it. Want to know something even cooler? You can walk in the steps of ancient Belizean's and climb to the top of this 130-foot tall structure.
Let me just tell you that this climb is not for the faint of heart! It will totally get your heart racing! There are zero safety features installed on the structure, to help preserve it in its original state, and there will be points where you literally have to press your back against the rock and shimmy your way across to make the climb to the top. It is freaky! In fact, many of the people who started the trek up had to turn around because they couldn't take it.
It is totally scary but totally worth it! Ashley and I somehow summoned up enough courage to climb to the very top and were rewarded with some of the most incredible views! From that vantage point, you could see Belize, Guatemala and even get a glimpse of Cahal Pech, another ancient ruin I have visited.
Belize-it-or-not this place is still under excavation! Archaeologists have discovered new chambers and structures as recently as 2016 when a burial chamber was discovered! This burial chamber is was attached to a large building and held the corpse of a young male (between 20-30 years old), and relics such as knives, jade pearls, ceramic vessels, and animal bones. Totally cool right?
If you ever get a chance to check out Xunantunich, I strongly suggest that you take advantage of the opportunity. This place is a definitely an incredible marvel and the perfect glimpse into the ancient past. It definitely requires a lot of courage and exercise to get to the top but it is absolutely incredible. It is one of the best experiences I've ever had and worth the anxiety and long bus ride!