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Known as the epicenter of the ancient Maya world, Belize was once home to more than 2 million Mayas. Sacred temples, pyramids, palaces, and other structures still remain throughout the country to preserve their legacy. While these awe-inspiring ruins are a must-see when you visit Belize, it is believed that the majority of all Maya structures have yet to be excavated.
Although one of the most challenging Belize ruins to reach, the trip to Caracol leads you to the country’s grandest Maya sites. The area is home to “Canaa” (Sky Place), the largest pyramid or man made structure in Belize at 140 feet tall. A large part of Caracol is still being discovered, but visitors can enjoy simply walking among hundreds of carved monuments and structures.
One of the most interesting and picturesque Maya ruins in Belize, Lamanai features three large pyramids and more than 700 mapped structures, including two 16th century Christian churches and an intact 19th century sugar mill. Lamanai was occupied for hundreds of years, allowing people to observe several periods of Maya construction techniques, from the Classic Period to the Post Classic.
Located just 20 minutes outside of San Ignacio is one of Belize’s most impressive Maya sites. Visitors take a hand-cranked ferry across the Mopan River to reach the Xunantunich complex of temples and plazas that date back to the early Classical Maya period. The highest ruin in this area is 133 feet tall, the second tallest ruin in all of Belize. Six major plazas, more than 25 temples and palaces and a new museum make Xunantunich one of the most visited sites in Belize.
Thirty miles north of Belize City on the Old Northern Highway (with a two-mile dirt road connection to the site’s main road) lies Altun Ha. This major ceremonial and vital trade center during the Classic Period has two principal plazas for viewing. The most significant find of Altun Ha is the “Jade Head” (represents the Mayan Sun God), the largest object carved of jade in the Maya civilization.
Just over the Belizean border in neighboring Guatemala, Tikal is the grandest of the surviving Classic Mayan cities (Tikal Temple towers 154 feet high). The site is extensively excavated, with some of the pyramids exemplifying some of the best ceremonial architecture in the Mayan world. Tikal is the best understood of any of the large lowland Maya cities, with a long list of Maya rulers, the discovery of their tombs and the investigation of their temples and palaces.