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 & Cahal Pech; drive through the Mountain Pine Ridge on the way to Caracol, the largest site in Belize. Tikal & 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: "shoo-nahn-too-nitch" or "shah-nahn-tuhn-itch", depending on your accent. Even if you can't pronounce it, the 'X-Ruin' is a great site to visit. There is a nice museum and temples to climb with panoramic views of the surrounding area. This beautiful 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.
Tikal is a really spectacular site and about the best Central American ruin there is. There are lots of temples to climb with inspiring views of the nature reserve around. You walk under canopied trails shaded from the sun most of the day. You almost always see coatimundi, spider monkeys, howler monkeys and ocellated turkeys in the park. Although the site lies across the border in Guatemala, Tikal is less than two hours by road from the lodge. If you're this close, why not take the opportunity to visit one of the wonders of the Maya world?
Cahal Pech is located atop the highest hill overlooking San Ignacio Town. The site sits within a serene jungle-type environment, which is home to many colorful birds and exotic plants which also makes it a good place for Birders to visit. As an introductory Maya ruin you can't go wrong. The on-site museum is informative and contains a display of artifacts recovered by archaeologists, as well as a model reconstruction of the site.
Caracol is the largest known Maya center in Belize. There are massive temples to climb from which to admire miles of protected Chiquibul forest. As a bonus you can often see archaeologists at work here. Much work has been done but the restoration will continue for many years to come. You can add a swim in the Rio On Pools, or Big Rock Falls, located in the Mountain Pine Ridge, to this trip. Since Caracol is located in the Chiquibul Rainforest, there is a plethora of flora and fauna to enhance the experience of this magnificent Maya center.
El Pilar is located outside of Bullet Tree Village, a few miles from San Ignacio. El Pilar is not a ruin for the typical visitor, it has not been extensively excavated. The Birding is superb though, and El Pilar is a must see attraction for birders visiting Cayo District. One of the more interesting features of the site is a 4 ft wall, which runs westward into Guatemala. It is not yet known what the wall was used for, nor has the end of it been found.
Yaxhá, which translates to "Blue Green Waters", sits between two beautiful lakes. The climb up many of it's 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.