Xunantunich is an Ancient Maya archaeological site in western Belize, about 70 miles (110 km) west of Belize City, in the Cayo District. Xunantunich is located atop a ridge above the Mopan River, well within sight of the Guatemala border – which is a mere 0.6 miles (1 km) to the west. It served as a Maya civic ceremonial center in the Late and Terminal Classic periods to the Belize Valley region. When the region was at its peak, nearly 200,000 people lived in Belize.

Xunantunich’s name means “Maiden of the Rock” in the Maya language, 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.

The first modern explorations of the site were conducted by Thomas Gann in the mid-1890s. Gann moved from Britain and served as the district surgeon and district commissioner of Cayo, British Honduras, starting in 1892. He chose this area to settle in because he had an interest in Mayan archaeology, and he wished to be able to explore the (at the time) unknown wonders of the indigenous people. Gann’s successor, Sir J. Eric S. Thompson, implemented a more methodical approach, and was able to establish the region’s first ceramic chronology. The main recent archaeological teams to work at Xunantunich and the surrounding region are the Xunantunich Archaeological Project (XAP) and the Xunantunich Settlement Survey (XSS).

In 1959–60, the Cambridge Expedition to British Honduras arrived in the colony and its archaeologist member, Euan MacKie, carried out several months of excavation at Xunantunich. He excavated the upper building on Structure A-11 in Group B and a newly discovered residential structure, A-15, just outside the main complex. Using the European method of detailed recording of the stratigraphy of the superficial deposits (the masonry structures themselves were not extensively cut into) he was able to infer that both buildings had been shattered by a sudden disaster which marked the end of the Classic period occupation. An earthquake was tentatively proposed as the cause; it is inferred purely on the basis of the excavated evidence, and also on the very damaged state of the top building of Structure A-6 (‘El Castillo’). He was also able to confirm the later part of the pottery sequence constructed by Thompson.

Farmers that fed the people living in Xunantunich typically lived in small villages, divided into kin-based residential groups. The farms were spread out widely over the landscape, though the center of Xunantunich itself is rather small in comparison. These villages were economically self-sufficient, which may be the reason why Xunantunich lasted as long as they did; they were not dependent on the city to provide for them. Settlement density was relative to soil quality, proximity to rivers, and localized political histories. Since the farmers were long established on their plots of land, they would not want to be involved with a polity that was under constant upheaval due to invading forces and more. Other nearby Maya archaeological sites include Cahal Pech, Buenavista del Cayo, and Naranjo.

Cahal Pech is located on an imposing hill that overlooks the twin towns of San Ignacio/Santa Elena. The name of the site means “Place of Ticks” in the Yucatecan Maya language. This name was coined in the 1950’s when the area around the site was used for pasture.

About Cahal Pech

Linton Satterthwaite from the University of Pennsylvania Museum visited the site in the 1950’s and conducted the first investigations. Other archaeologists to work at the site after included Gordon Willey, Peter Schmidt, Joseph Ball and Jennifer Taschek. It wasn’t until 1988 under the Belize Valley Archaeological Reconnaissance under Dr. Jaime Awe that the chronology of the site was more examined.

Archaeological investigations indicate that Cahal Pech was first settled sometime around  1200 B.C. and abandoned around 800 -900 A.D. The site is particularly important for the information it has provided on the earliest Maya settlers of western Belize. Early cultural remains, for example, suggest that the site’s first inhabitants were relatively sophisticated. They built large circular plat-forms that were used for ceremonial purposes, they carved many Mesoamerican or Olmec-like symbols on their pottery, imported jade and obsidian from Guatemala, modeled many figurines in the form of female individuals, and produced decorative beads that were made from Conch shells brought from the Caribbean coast.

Cahal Pech supported a substantial population from the Middle Preclassic to the Late Classic period. It is estimated that during the Late Clas-sic between 10,000 – 15,000 people lived in the city and its’ immediate periphery. The rest of the valley was also densely populated during this time, and residents of Cahal Pech undoubtedly traded and communicated with their neighbors at the nearby cities of Xunantunich, Baking Pot, El Pilar and Buena Vista.

 

Credit NICH – National Institute of Culture and History

Altun Ha is located 31 miles north of Belize City on the Old Northern Highway. A two-mile dirt road connects the main road to the site. The area around the Altun Ha is rich in wildlife including armadillos, bats, squirrels, agouti, paca, foxes, raccoons, coati, tapir and the white-tailed deer. Two hundred species of birds have been recorded and there are large crocodiles that inhabit the Maya-made water reservoir.

Altun Ha was a wealthy ceremonial center boasting two main plazas, thirteen structures (including the Temple of Sun God or the Temple of the Masonry Altars). Altun Ha is not very far from the Caribbean Sea and it formed part of a unique cultural zone along with other coastal sites. There are also no stelae at Altun Ha but the discovery of rich tombs indicates that the ruling elite enjoyed access to substantial amounts of exotic goods.

Another interesting part of this site is the presence of a large, water reservoir called “Rockstone Pond”. The bottom of this reservoir is lined with yellow clay giving the bottom firmness capable of retaining water.

About Altun Ha

Altun Ha, named after the modern day village that was developed there (Rockstone Pond), was first recognized in 1957 by A.H. Anderson, the Archaeological Commissioner of that time. In February of that year he had followed up on a report made by the Public Works Department of some questionable mounds in the area where they were planning to push some roads. He found them to be archaeological mounds.

In 1961 W.R. Bullard, Director of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) excavations at Baking Pot and San Estevan at the time, also visited the site and examined portions.  No further attention was given to Altun Ha until 1963 when quarrying activities of the local villagers resulted in the recovery of a large and elaborately carved jade pendant. Anderson then contacted David Pendergast who had been involved in archaeological cave research in Belize. The ROM was encouraged to focus their attention on that site and employ David Pendergast, a staff member of the University of Utah, as their field director. That started out as a 4-year research turned into the first long term and full-scale archaeological project in Belize, lasting seven years from 1964-1971. During this time, many rich archaeological finds were made, including the now internationally famed jade head.

The earliest evidence of settlement at Altun Ha dates to 200 B.C., although it is likely that nomadic hunting-and-gathering tribes lived in the area long before then. The first major construction took place around A.D. 100 in the form of a temple near the principal reservoir, but by the beginning of the Classic Period (A.D. 250) the focus had shifted to the area which the visitor sees today. This was to be the central core of the site for some six centuries. The northern plaza (Plaza A) was the primary ceremonial precinct until close to the end of the Early Classic (around A.D. 550) when construction was begun on the Plaza B.

Construction at Altun Ha continued until A.D. 900, though a decline in the quality of new buildings was evident 150 years earlier. As at other Classic Maya sites, the society appears to have been severely disrupted early in the tenth century A.D. Although no single factor explains the decline of Maya civilization, there is some evidence that regional conflicts may have contributed to the downfall of the Maya at Altun Ha. The center was not completely abandoned after the decline, but appears to have been occupied for about 100 years after construction activity had ceased. It was once again reoccupied 200 years later during the 13th and 14th centuries.

Credit: NICH National Institute for Culture and History.

The top 10 tours to do in Belize! If you’re wondering, the Fun Tours Team has done them all!

1) Actun Tunichil Muknal – Not Just a cave excursion but an archaeology and history tour into the lifestyle and rituals of the Ancient Maya in Mesoamerica. Available from Belize City, Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker and San Ignacio. (San Ignacio guest use this link)

2) Belize Cave Tubing, Zipline and Xunantunich Maya Ruins Tour – This tour made the list for being the most fun packed tour at the best cost ever. This tour is available for guests from Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker, Belize City and San Ignacio.

3) Lamanai ( Submerged Crocodile) – When the Spanish came to the area, they met people inhabiting the area at Lamanai. Most of Mesoamerica was already lying in ruins waiting to be rediscovered.

4) Caracol and Rio on pools – An awesome full day tour to the mountain pine ridge and one of the most significant civilizations to inhabit Mesoamerica. (Available from Belize City and San Ignacio Cayo price varies)

5) Belize Cave Tubing and Altun Ha Maya Ruins – Truly one of the best ways to enjoy some adventure as well as Maya history. Can also be combined with Zipline as a triple Tour (Cave Tubing, Zipline and Altun Ha)

6) Altun Ha and Community Baboon Sanctuary – Don’t be confused  by the name, the sanctuary is actually home to the Howler Monkeys. This is one of the best Family tours especially if you bring your kids along.

7) Belize Cave Tubing and Zipline tour – Tours to the Nohoch Che’en Archaeological Reserve started with this tour and after 20 years it is still the number one tour in Belize and the number one tour for cruise guests on a Western Caribbean cruise.

8) Tikal, Peten Guatemala – What many guests visiting Belize don’t realize is that its possible to visit the city of Tikal whilst on vacation in Belize. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage sit. This tour should be a must for any traveler coming to Belize especially if you will be in Belize longer than a week. 1 day tours as well as vacation package options available.

9) Horseback riding and the Belize Zoo. – Talk about an amazing nature tour, ride trails in amazing dense forests seeing the flora and fauna of Belize.

10) Chechem Ha Caves Exploration and Nohoch Che’En Cave Tubing River Float – The best of both worlds and Archaeology Maya History tour and a Relaxing river cave float to end the day! (email us @ belizefuntours@gmail.com for a quote)

Belize Departure Tax  – Updated – May, 31st 2019

When flying from Philip Goldson International Airport Belize departure tax may already be in the cost of your ticket, however this is not always the case and you should check on this before your departure flight, as this tax is only collected in CASH and no credit cards are accepted.

Admittedly much confusion arises from the breakdown of Belize departure tax fees as some are posted in Belize dollars and others in US dollars.

Every traveler leaving by air from Belize via the Philip Goldson International Airport, whether local (Belizean) or non local (US or any other country) are required to pay the Belize departure tax. The current rate breakdown is listed below.

Belize Drone Requirements & Authorization

International Travelers to Belize:

Kindly note that Belize is currently only accepting applications for authorization to operate drones in Belize from international drone operators/travelers to Belize who have been commissioned for works/services for an approved local business/organization in Belize.

Ambergris Caye
Ambergris Caye

Introduction to Ambergris Caye

Home to Belize’s premier vacation haven, the island of Ambergris Caye is situated 58km NE of Belize City and a mere ¼ mile from the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere.  The caye itself is 25 miles long and up to a mile wide in some areas.  San Pedro Town, the central populous and bustling resort metropolis is located on the southern portion of the island.  On first glance, San Pedro would appear to resemble a typical commercialized vacation hub; however, upon further inspection it is soon realized that the town is teeming with history and tradition which is clearly rooted in the cultural diversity of its people.  Although the modern day economy predominantly thrives on the prosperous tourism trade, this was not always the case.  In fact, tourism is still relatively new to the island and its growth is a key component of a rich heritage marked by continuous progress and the integration of many ideas and cultures.

Main Street San Ignacio Town, Cayo District, Burns AvenueCayo District is the largest and most populated district, inhabited by a variety of cultural groups, and situated amidst a backdrop of picturesque rolling hills, winding rivers and rich Mayan heritage.  The chief residential and commercial areas are located within the capital city of Belmopan and scenic twin towns of Santa Elena and San Ignacio while smaller communities can be found in a large number of rural villages as well as the sleepy border town of Benque Viejo.

Belize Flat FishingFrom shallow sea-grass beds and lush mangrove clusters to rolling sea outside the protective reef crest, the diverse habitats of offshore Belize provide an affluent breeding ground for a countless variety of tropical game fish.  It is thus understandable that both sport fishing and leisurely catch and release activities are fast competing with dive and snorkel operations as a popular aquatic recreational activity.  In fact, most dive and tour operators also provide a number of fishing charters to some of the country’s most popular venues including the northern mangrove flats and the open sea to the east of the majestic barrier reef while also providing expeditions to the renowned atolls of Turneffe, Lighthouse, and Glover’s Reef.