Visiting Xunantunich Archaeological Reserve – San Ignacio, Belize 

Visiting Xunantunich Archaeological Reserve – San Ignacio, Belize 

March 2022

Visiting Xunantunich Archaeological Reserve – San Ignacio, Belize 

Belize is home to many Mayan ruins as one of the epicenters for this time in history. There are several ruins that can be visited in Belize that each offer something different.  

Due to our short stay in Belize, we had time to select one ruin to explore so we chose Xunantunich Archaeological Reserve. A guide is not required to visit this ruin which may seem like a big benefit to visiting Xunactunich Archaeological Reserve but there is no way you will be able to learn all the information there is regarding the ruins on your own. I definitely wanted to visit with a guide to get the most out of our visit. 

Our Airbnb host was able to arrange for a guide from Xplore Island Tours to start shortly after our arrival in San Ignacio. Rudy picked us up and began immediately spewing tons of information about the area and its dense history. 

When we arrived at Xunantunich Archaeological Reserve, there is a river crossing that is done via a hand crank ferry transporting vehicles and passengers. Why has a permanent bridge been built? It would give looters easier access to the Archaeological Reserve being protected. The ruins contain priceless artifacts and information that has yet to even be discovered and cannot be left vulnerable. So for now and perhaps forever, the hand crank ferry stays. 

We walked through the various structures learning about the Mayans in this area. There was so much information that it was difficult to keep track of it all. I will do my best to capture some of the highlights!

  • The area has several excavated buildings that have been discovered.
  • The largest is known as El Castillo (Spanish for “The Castle”) and stands over 130 feet tall which is more than 130 feet tall.
    • It is actually the second tallest building in Belize.
    • This building was not a temple but a multi-purpose building serving many functions for the elite Mayans in the community.
  • The word Xunantunich means “Stone Woman” or “Maiden of the Rock”.
  • The site is still being excavated by archaeologists and scientists.
  • In comparison to neighboring Mayan communities, the history of the Maya at Xunantunich is relatively short. While others began to fall, Xunantunich was on the rise.
  • Everything about the structures is intentional and meaningful. From the heavens to the underworld, to the movement of the stars and the sun, they are all represented at Xunantunich.

It was amazing to be among such giant structures and it was even more interesting to learn how much archaeologists and other scientists have pieced together so much detail of the Mayans. Even cooler was the ability to climb to the top of two of the structures and have an incredible view of the area. Some buildings are administrative while others are temples and then living quarters. There is even a ball court and at this site, a tomb was discovered with traditional garb (think sports uniform) and a rubber ball.

Enjoy this photo gallery of Xunantunich Archaeological Reserve!

We really enjoyed our visit to Xunantunich Archaeological Reserve and we were so happy to have visited with Rudy – what a wealth of information!

Continue reading about our trip to San Ignacio, Belize here!

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