*Minimum 2 Adults required to book.
Mayan for “Maiden of the Rock”. Xunantunich flourished during the Classic Period which managed to survive the Maya “Collapse” and retained prominence until around 1000 A.D.
Xunantunich was the first excavated Mayan site in Belize that was opened for the public. Though it is smaller compared to the other Mayan sites, it consists of one of the tallest structures. The huge statue of the Sun God, El Castillo, and the 130-foot tall pyramid are a couple of structures that attract visitors. Xunantunich means “stone Woman” or “Maiden of the rock” in the Yucatec dialect. These names are derived from the image of a woman depicted in one of the paintings.
These ruins represent the period of AD 650- 1000 of Mayan civilization when the people had mastered the art of construction. Residential structures spread over 22 acres were found in this site. It seems Xunantunich was abandoned in AD 900 and was again occupied in post classic period. Castillo, a 40m tall building, is one of the tallest Mayan buildings in Belize. The causeways, ball courts and platform mounds excavated here prove that they were far ahead of their generation.
The three most remarkable segments of Xunantunich are the elite residential structures, the middle class residential structures and the ceremonial center. The six plazas of the city were surrounded by 25 palaces and several temples. Very brutal games were played in the ball court complex where the losers and winners were awarded in a most awkward manner.
Starts: 8:00AM Ends: 11:30AM
Getting There: The adventure begins at 8:00AM (unless done as a combo in the afternoon) on a mere 10 – 15 minutes’ drive onto the village of San Jose Succotz. Here we will cross the Mopan River via an old-fashioned hand-cranked ferry. All passengers must alight the vehicle while crossing. Having crossed the river, we have a 3 minutes’ drive up to the park’s parking lot where we unboard the vehicle, register at the park’s office, then begin our exploration. A short walk up to the site will cover your guide’s briefing on safety procedures and what to expect.
At Xunantunich: Upon arrival at the site, you’ll be amazed at how impressive the Temple of El Castillo (the main temple) actually is at a remarkable 120 feet in height. Pay close attention to the history of this once royal center of ancient civilization as your guide walks you through the site. Feel free to climb to the top of El Castillo if you’re not afraid of heights. There you’ll have a jaw-dropping panoramic view of the surroundings which encompasses part of Guatemala, Benque Viejo Town, and San Jose Succotz among other areas.
Be careful coming down from the pyramid as you make your way over to the ancient ball court. Imagine the excitement happening in real time as your guide paints a vivid picture of how the popular Mayan game of Pokatok was played. On site you may get to see spider monkeys and, depending on the time of the year, even howler monkeys. An on-site museum will give you an overall idea of this ancient city’s actual size.
Departing the site: After your tour at Xunantunch, we make back down to the river crossing, once again exiting the vehicle and boarding the hand cranked ferry. If you are doing this tour as a combo, we have lunch after this tour before heading into our next adventure.
Duration: Approx 3 hours
Difficulty level: Moderate
What to Bring: Sunscreen, bug repellent, sun glasses, hat, solid hiking shoes, camera, water an adventurous attitude.
Note: Light physical activity will be required for those who wish to explore the Mayan ruins on foot. Please wear appropriate walking & climbing shoes. This tour is suitable for all ages.
Chechem Ha (Poison Water Cave), is a Mayan Ceremonial Cave, known to be a major tourist destination. It is located 8 miles southeast of Benque at the start of the Maya Mountains of Belize. – Wikipedia
Chechem Ha Cave consists of a main chamber filled with rocks lined up which is believed to have been used for sacred Mayan rituals dating from the middle preclassic period (900-300BC) to the late classic period (700-850AD). Also, there are many chambers found high up within the cave which contain many large pottery vessels which may have been used to collect ‘pure water’ to be used for their rituals.
The Cave lies within a private farmland belonging to the Moralez family. One fateful day, Mr. Moralez was out on the field with his sons and dog when they stumbled upon the cave system which would change their lives forever. One story has it that they were out in search of cohune leaves (used for building thatched roofs) when they made the discovery. Another has it that their dog fell into a hole and upon jumping in to rescue him, they found it to be a sacrificial cave.
They found that the cave lead deeper inside with many broken potteries which the Ancient Maya used in their sacred ceremonies. The Maya believed that these caves were the entrance to Xibalba – the “Underworld” and that it (the underworld) encompassed 9 of the 22 layers of life which made up the world in which they lived. Here, they would leave offerings to their gods (presumably to their rain god Chaac during times of drought), sometimes even in the form of human sacrifices. One astonishing example of this can be seen at the ATM Cave where many human remains lay preserved by natural calcification, one in particular – the Crystal Maiden.
Today, the site is managed by the Archaeological department of Belize and since the site is within a private property, it can only be accessed through the Moralez Family, accompanied by their resident guide.
Starts: 1:00PM Ends: 5:00PM
Getting There: Since you’ll be doing this tour in combination with Xunantunich, your adventure begins at 1:00 PM with an approx. 35 minutes’ drive which leads you through the westernmost Town of Benque Viejo, along the Arenal Road (the road the the Vaca Falls Dam), then onto a cut-off road through farmlands and onto the Moralez’s farm within which the cave system lies.
At the cave entrance: Upon reaching the Moralez’s farm, you will un-board the vehicle to embark on a 45 minutes hike through the jungle trail that leads to the cave entrance. At the cave entrance, you’ll notice that the mouth of the cave has been decorated with a Maya motif and has been reinforced with metal bars to keep any looters away.
As you enter the cave you will start to see broken pieces of ancient clay pots and will also notice a change towards a fresher and more moist atmosphere. This cave is not as spectacular in terms of its formations (stalactites & stalagmites) as other caves in Belize, however; what makes this cave truly amazing is the size of the pots left behind by the Maya (some of which were used to collect water seeping through the limestone to use in their rituals), their intactness and their numbers in this cave.
As you progress deeper into the cave you will come upon ladders that lead to higher chambers within the main cave system. This is where the most impressive Maya relics can be appreciated. It’s amazing how upfront and close you will have these ancient relics, almost at the tip of your finger. However, you are cautioned not to touch any of these relics as they are understandably fragile and priceless.
Enjoy the enchantment of this Indiana-Jones-like adventure as you explore this wonderful Ancient Maya World, a most worthwhile experience.
Departure: Upon completion of your tour, you’ll head back through the trail and back onto the Moralez’s farm where you’ll board the vehicle back through Benque Viejo Town and onto San Ignacio for drop off at your hotel.
Duration: Approx. 4 hours
Difficulty level: Active
What to Bring: Sneakers with good traction or hiking boots, preferably long trouser pants, hat, camera, water.
Provided: Waters and snacks.
Note: This tour is not for persons with disabilities, heart conditions, back or leg problems, or claustrophobia. All guests must be in good physical conditions & able to walk in a jungle setting.