Mayan Temples and Mystic Caves of Belize
Thursday, October 31st, 2019
Belize measures time not in decades, not in centuries, but in millennia or even millions of years. There is no better place to immerse yourselves in the sands of time, layers upon layers of archeological and geological history.
The superstars of Belizean human history are the Maya. The relics left behind by this sophisticated civilization continue to astonish scientists, historians, and laymen alike with their architecture, astronomy, artistry, and mythology, preserved in soaring stone temples buried in deep jungles.
Even deeper histories are written in the stone, however, carved over millions of years not by human hands but by water, wind, and time. Belize is crisscrossed with complex cave networks, full of stunning rock formations, opportunities for spelunking adventure, and eldritch records of prehistoric habitation. Belize offers is unique history and natural wonder through the adventure of travel.
Consider adding these epic time capsules to your Belizean journey …
Perched 500 meters above sea level on the Vaca Plateau, the multi-level temples of Caracol lorded over a region in the Maya lowlands larger than present-day Belize City circa 1,200 B.C. Like many Mayan ruins, we don’t know what the inhabitants called it. The current name is local terminology for “snail shell,” denoting the mollusk species that now rules the ruined temple. Covering nearly 25,000 acres, this site is both massive and remarkable. The main temple is the highest point in the entire country and offers incredible views of the surrounding jungle.
The three coastal temples of Lamanai were occupied longer than virtually any Mayan temple—from the 16th Century B.C. all the way to the 10th Century A.D., over 2,600 years! The Mask Temple boasts a giant, arresting sculpture of a human face, smiling across the centuries for today’s Instagram snapshots. The Jaguar Temple is rumored to contain a sacred spear of immense power. Climb the steep, soaring High Temple for breathtaking views of the nearby coastal lagoon.
Access to the ruins starts with a journey over the Mopan river by a hand-cranked ferry. Less than a kilometer from the Guatemalan border, Xunantunich housed as many as 200,000 occupants at its height in the 7th Century A.D.—more populous than Salt Lake City or Grand Rapids today! Climb to the top of it’s massive pyramid for a remarkable mountain jungle vistas but watch out—the ruins are reputed to be haunted by a ghost called the “Stone Woman,” spotted on the stone stairs since the late 19th Century A.D.
Close to San Ignacio in the Cayo District, Cahal Pech was a Mayan Mar-A-Lago—the ritzy home of a rich, politically important Mayan family. Dating to the 13th Century B.C., it is the oldest Mayan temple in western Belize.
If you drink Belize-made Belikin Beer, you know what the Temple of Masonry Arts at Altun Ha looks like from its image on your beer’s label. Visit the real thing only 10km north of Belize City on the Caribbean coast. Once a major trade and ceremonial center, Altun Ha was estimated to have 10,000 people living in the area. The famous jade head of the sun god Kinich Ahau was found at this site. The jade artifact is kept at the Belize Central Bank and is showcased on display at different times of the year.
Yes, we know Tikal is in Guatemala, not Belize … but it’s soooo close, only two hours by car from San Ignacio. Don’t skip the most awe-inspiring Mayan archaeology site in all of Central America, a mega-complex that houses the tallest pre-Columbian temple (70m) in the Americas that towers above the jungle line.
Actun Tunichil Muknal
Shortened by locals to “ATM,” the name of this cave system translates to “The Cave of the Crystal Sepulcher.” The “Crystal Maiden,” the skeleton of a teenage girl who may have been a human sacrifice, has calcified to the point where her bones seems to have been carved from crystal. Snorkel and splash around in an underground river beneath soaring cathedrals of rock, discovering Mayan pottery and other artifacts. This is an experience unlike any other. Read more on what to expect and how to prepare in our detailed post on ATM.
No trip to the Cayo District is complete without a canoe trip down Barton Creek into subterranean caverns, where millions of years have formed stalactites to resemble massive pipe organs. Get a bit of relaxation and adventure in one go.
The spectacular Caves Branch caves are festooned with limestone, an artifact of a period millions of years ago when most of Belize was submerged under a shallow sea. This limestone is the legacy of coral, mollusks, and seawater that used to rule this landmass. Fabulous tours are offered where you will transport yourself by inner tube as the river dips in and out of different cave systems.
Rio Frio has many wonders in store for intrepid cavers. In addition to stalactite formations that resemble giant chandeliers, the caves are strewn with multi-colored boulders, scattered about like bean bag chairs in a massive playroom. The giant 65 foot arch entrance gives visitors beautiful views into the cave. Spectacular natural pools are created outside the caves to cool off in your own private swimming hole after your tour.
People and Culture
The local Maya love showcasing why Belize is the “Jewel of Central America”. The Maya are the first known inhabitants of Belize. They maintain traditional customs and practices throughout the country, and you can participate in a genuine homestay program to learn all their ancient secrets. English-speaking and culturally diverse, Belizeans take pride in sharing their culture and country with you.
Ready to Discover
Are you ready to discover the magical temples and majestic caves of Belize? Countless adventures are located throughout the “Jewel of Central America”. Let us help you craft an itinerary that encompasses your interests, passions, and quenches your wanderlust.
Tell us what most intrigues you or let us make a recommendation and design an unforgettable travel experience. We are here to take the stress out of travel planning and ensure that your time abroad is spent fully enjoying your vacation, worry-free.
If your wanderlust is calling, why not start by filling in our travel enquiry form or give us a call at (877) 509-6033. We take the stress out of planning and deliver highly personalized travel packages and concierge service for individuals, families, and groups.
With an adventurous spirit,
Your friends at Central America Journeys