Xunantunich Mayan Ruins

Xunantunich

It only took three or four days and I could finally pronounce Xunantunich. It means “Stone Woman” and refers to the ghost of a woman who people say haunts the site to this day. It is home to the second tallest structure in all of Belize and is only a short distance from the Guatemalan border. Conveniently enough, it is also only a short distance from Cahal Pech, so it is easy to see both sites in one day.

Arriving to Xunantunich, you turn right off the main road where you meet a ferry that takes cars and passengers to the other side of the river.

ferry to Xunantunich Belize
Xunantunich hand cranked ferry. Photo from Ambergris Today.

The passengers in the car must get out and only the driver can remain in the vehicle as it drives onto the ferry and makes the short trip across the river. The ferry driver (or a visitor volunteer) then hand cranks the ferry across the river to the landing on the other side. The passengers and cars then disembark and those waiting on the other side climb aboad to make their return journey.

The entrance to Xunantunich is a mile up hill from the ferry landing. After paying the admission fee, there are artifacts and other educational displays in a small museum. Then it’s another walk uphill to the ruins.

While Cahal Pech is filled with many different quaint buildings, walkways, sleeping quarters and ball courts, Xunantunich is massive in size. The ruins tower overhead and prove to be overwhelming and impressive. The main structure, El Castillo, is 127 feet and is the second tallest structure in Belize. It towers high above the other structures at the site, including those they are continuing to unearth at this time.

Unfortunately, we did arrive to the ruins shortly after a cruise ship bus had arrived, meaning there were swarms of people ascending El Castillo. Instead, we chose to explore the rest of the grounds at first. While the other structures seemed small in size compared to El Castillo, they were still grande in size and scale.

It was an incredible experience to be able to climb on the ruins and see where the Mayans had lived so many years before. If you’re in Belize you should definitely go to Xunantunich. It’s a great experience and is a lot more enjoyable than other ruins you would find in Mexico because you can do more exploring and climbing.

Tips:

  • Bring water. Both the trip up El Castillo and just walking around the ruins will make you thirsty.
  • If you experience vertigo or are afraid of heights, don’t try climbing El Castillo. The stairs are very steep.
  • Local guides wait at the entrance and will give you a complete tour and history for as little as $30 US.
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