Maya Archaeological Sites
The Mayan Civilization
The Ancient Maya created one of the world’s great civilizations, constructing monumental astronomically-aligned ceremonial spaces within which rituals and political theater were performed. The knowledge and skills of the Maya were primarily to be found among the higher echelons of society, including the priests, nobles and the well-to-do. The peasantry lived simply on the land and did not share in the lifestyle of the city-centers.
Archaeologists have been able to discern a pattern from these sites, which helps them in reconstructing the history of the highly creative and war-like Maya civilization. For example, it is suggested Cahal Pech, located on a hill overlooking San Ignacio Town, rose to pre-eminence during the Pre-Classic period, before eventually surrendering its dominion to Xunantunich during the Classic period. Additionally, a recent discovery of glyphs at Caracol portrays a military victory by Caracol over Tikal, suggesting to archaeologists that for a time, Caracol was supreme in the region.
From Sweet Songs, you can visit nearby Xunantunich and Cahal Pech; drive through the Mountain Pine Ridge on the way to Caracol, the largest site in Belize. Tikal and Yaxhá are both located a short ways into Guatemala, less than 2 hours by road from Sweet Songs and El Pilar is definitely a must see destination for Birders.
Xunantunich is an ancient Maya site located atop a ridge above the Mopan River with beautiful panoramic views of the surrounding area. This incredible site is just 20 minutes away from Sweet Songs. To get there, you cross the Mopan River on a hand-cranked ferry, located about a mile from the site. Xunantunich consists of three ceremonial plazas enclosed by house mounds and pyramids. The largest pyramid, El Castillo, is decorated with friezes from the Classic period. There is a nice museum and temples to climb for the beautiful panoramic views of Belize and Guatemala.
Half Day • Ask about visiting Xunantunich on horseback
Cahal Pech is a partially excavated Maya archaeological site whose historical secrets are unearthed yearly by archeology students reversing the veil in which the jungle has encapsulated its plazas and arched corridors. It’s perched strategically on the highest hill in San Ignacio, between the Mopan and Macal Rivers which converge about a mile and a half below. These rivers were the highways of the ancients who traded fine fabrics, cocoa beans, animal skins and colorful feathers for salt, salted fish and sea shells with coastal colonies. Cahal Pech was a palace for Royals who enjoyed the breezes and vistas of their lofty abode. Now, you’ll find a visitors’ center showcasing various artifacts and a reconstructed model site. The site consists of 34 structures in a compound covering slightly more than 2 acres. Come see what the “high life” was like in Maya Suburbia.
Caracol is the largest known Maya center in Belize covering about 75 square miles. It’s a remarkable city complex deep in the rainforest of Belize. It is Central America’s own version of the Roman Empire. After an hour and a half driving along dirt roads though the vast nature reserve of the pine forest, you come upon a modern paved highway leading to Caracol. “Caana” meaning Sky Palace, the main pyramid of the side features 4 palaces and 3 temples. At 141 feet it is considered the tallest building of Belize to this day. Archaeologist deciphered that the ruling family of Caracol defeated Tikal and Narango Cities and there is evidence of the architectural mimicry this conquest left at Tikal. Choose to add on a swim and picnic at the Rio On Pools or Big Rock Waterfalls.
Cross the boarder to Guatemala to see the largest city of the ancient Maya world. With over 100 years of archaeological study, Tikal has become one of the most famous Maya sites. Visit various main attractions including Temple IV, the lost world, and the imposing ceremonial Center Plaza. You will be accompanied by a knowledgeable licensed guide, often of Maya ancestry himself, exploring the amazing architecture of tower-temples which rise above the jungle canopy. Additionally, the flora and fauna of Tikal is just as diverse with favorable sighting odds of spider and howler monkeys and colorful tropical birds and mammals which are abundant in the surrounding forest. Enjoy lunch at the park then meander through souvenir shops displaying artisan crafts resembling those the ancients might have bartered before heading back to Sweet Songs Lodge.
Yaxhá at Sunset
Yaxhá, which translates to “Blue Green Waters,” sits between two beautiful lakes in Guatemala and is best viewed during sunset. The climb up many of its temples yields breathtaking views of the area, including both the lakes and the Rio Azul which feeds them. The site offers a variety of construction styles. Yaxhá is famed for its organized street structure, unique to the Mayan world, and Stelae which are influenced by Mexico’s Teotihuacan. Both spider and howler monkeys inhabit the area and add to the experience.