Which Mayan Ruins Are the Best to Visit in Belize (and Where Are All the Ruins Located)?

One of the centers of ancient Mayan civilization, Mayan ruins speckle the country from the north, west, and south. You can visit the most expansive ruin of Caracol, the mysterious El Pilar, delve into ancient politics in Lubaantun, and the very old Xunantich.
Which Mayan Ruins Are the Best to Visit in Belize
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One of the country’s biggest draws, Mayan ruins always have a mysterious, ancient charm to them that seems to tug people in. If you’re planning to explore them and live the famous hype, stay around the districts of Cayo, Orange Walk, Toledo, and Belize for quicker access.

Did the Maya Live in Belize?

The ancient Maya had a thriving civilization that reigned in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, including modern-day Guatemala and Belize. According to historical data, the Mayan civilization actually started in Guatemala and parts of Belize in 2500 BC, before exploring further north into the Yucatan.

Today, the Maya people still live in Belize, making up about 11% of the total population. Now, with modernized villages, some near ceremonial sites of the earliest settlements. Some of the sites are also maintained as tourist attractions, to promote the Maya culture.

When Did the Mayans Arrive in Belize?

The Maya people first settled in Belize between 2000 and 1200 BC. They likely came from Guatemala, or somewhere further west of Guatemala, in Mexico.

The first Mayans established their earliest communities along the major rivers of Belize. The evidence of their earliest presence was found throughout the districts of Cayo, Orange Walk, and Corozal.

How Many Groups of Maya Exist in Belize?

Three Maya groups currently live in Belize: the Yucatec, the Mopan, and the Q’eqchi Maya. They arrived in Belize from different regions, mostly from the south of Mexico, the Yucatan, and Guatemala.

The Yucatec Maya migrated from the Yucatan Peninsula, in Mexico. They arrived in Belize from the Caste War as refugees. They eventually settled in Corozal, Orange Walk, and Cayo Districts. The Yucatec’s of today also speak English and Spanish.

The Mopan Maya came from San Luis, in the Peten region of Guatemala. They left the region to escape taxation and forced labor. Currently, they settled in the districts of Toledo and Cayo.

The Q’eqchi Maya (sometimes spelled “Kekchi”) were also fleeing from Verapaz, Guatemala, escaping enslavement by German coffee growers. They settled along the rivers and streams, to which they have established small villages, most of which are in the Toledo District.

How Old Are Mayan Ruins in Belize?

The Mayan ruins in Belize are pre-Columbian, dating back around 1000 to 900 BC. Many of which are open to the public as tourist attractions, making the ruins one of Belize’s many draws. These ruins have been occupied by the ancient Maya people from 2000 BC to 200 BC until the Spanish came in the 16th century.

How Many Mayan Ruins Are There in Belize?

There are about 600 Mayan ruins in Belize. While Guatemala and Mexico also have a significant number of ruins, Belize definitely tops the list. There here are some of the major Mayan ruins that are famous among tourists:

  • Caracol: This Mayan ruin is found inside the Chiquibul Forest. This city was abandoned by the Mayans around the year 900 AD and has been covered by the thick vegetation that surrounds it. Now, its 25,000 acres give tourists countless things to discover.
  • Lamanai: This ancient ruin was inhabited for more than 3,000 years, found inside the Lamanai Archeological Reserve, it’s one of the largest Mayan sites in Belize. With many ceremonial buildings, Lamanai never ceases to amaze visitors.
  • Altun Ha: One hour from Belize City, this ruin consists of more than a dozen Mayan temples, pyramids, and residential structures. Several more are still awaiting excavation and exploration.
  • Xunantich: Many experts believe that these ruins date as far back as 3,000 years ago. Xunantich’s main draw is El Castillo (The Castle), dominating the site with a total length of 130 feet.
  • Cahal Pech: For tourists who like to get off the beaten path, Cahal Pech offers a more quiet, or peaceful archeological experience. There are no huge crowds with noisy tourists. With 36 structures and complex residential architecture, Cahal Pech is a true Mayan jewel.
  • Lubaantun: This ancient city served as an administrative center for more than 200 years, at the height of the Mayan civilization. Now, tourists can see what remains of this city, including 14 major structures, are built intricately.
  • El Pilar: These ruins in the Cayo District are still in the early stages of excavation but are believed to be three times the size of Xunantich. These ruins may not be as famous as the ones mentioned in the list, early visitors can have this place to themselves

Where Are the Mayans Located in Belize?

Most of the major Mayan ruins in Belize are concentrated in 3 of its 6 districts. The Cayo District is speckled with the most number of Mayan ruins as its sits near the border with Guatemala, west of Belize. Other districts are Toledo, south of Cayo, and Orange Walk to the north.

What Is the Largest Known Mayan Site in Belize?

Caracol is the crown jewel of all Mayan ruins in Belize, also one of the largest, Mayan sites in the world. It was discovered in 1937 and is still being restored to this day. Caracol is estimated to have an expanse of 75 square miles.

The Mayans originally called it the “Three Hill Water”, Caracol is only derived from the Spanish word for “snail”, because of the many snail shells found there. Caracol is thought to be inhabited by 150,000 people, between 600 BC to 900 AD.

Are There Pyramids in Belize?

Most of the ruins found in Belize have pyramid structures in them, once served as sacred and ceremonial temples. You can see plenty of pyramids in Lubaantun, Caracol, Cahal Pech, Altun-Ha, Cerros, and Lamanai.

What Is the Tallest Mayan Ruin in Belize?

The tallest Mayan ruin in Belize is Caracol’s Sky Place, which stands up to 137 feet, overshadowing the second tallest ruin of El Castillo in the ruins of Xunantich, which towers for 130 feet.