Belize has some of the most impressive and well preserved Mayan ruins in the world.
Caracol, Xunantunich and Cahal Pech are three of the best known Mayan ruins in the Cayo District of Belize. But if you want to experience the mecca of Mayan culture, I would recommend making the trek into Guatemala to visit Tikal.
Tikal National Park – Guatemala
Tikal is the largest excavated Mayan ruins site in the world, dating back to about 1,000-400 BC. Archeologists believe more than 50,000 people lived in the ancient city during it’s peak. Other reports claim at least 90,000 people inhabited Tikal. It is truly breathtaking to walk among these large, ancient pyramids. Some of the structures are equipped with staircases which allow you to climb to the top. The experience is a must for the physically capable. The views of the park, the other temples, and the surrounding jungle are stunning.
Tikal is roughly a two hour drive from San Ignacio and can be booked using a tour company, or if you choose to do so, you can somewhat easily drive yourself across the Guatemalan border yourself, and visit the park on your own. The advantage of doing it this way is obviously the cost savings. It’s about $200 cheaper for two people if you opt out of the tour and drive yourself.
The disadvantage to a self-guided visit is that you will miss out on a lot of fascinating facts and information about the park and the Mayan civilization that you otherwise will never know.If you choose to forego the guide, do some research first so you know what you’re looking at. This website has some great information about Tikal, including facts about the burials of various rulers and Mayan kings, sacrifices, and the significance of the different structures in the park.
It is definitely worth the drive to experience this amazing UNESCO World Heritage Site. In fact, you would be remiss if you did not visit.
Other Mayan sites
Caracol is probably the most impressive Mayan ruins site in the country of Belize. However, it is not the easiest to get to. It requires a long drive through the Mountain Pine Reserve down a very bumpy dirt road. However, if you make the journey to Caracol there are a couple of other free, tourist attractions like caves and waterfalls along the way.
Within the town of San Ignacio you will find the ruins of Cahal Pech, a much smaller Mayan site, but worth a visit.
Finally, Xunantunich is located just one mile from the Guatemalan border, about a 10 minute drive from San Ignacio. This is the tallest Mayan pyramid in Belize. From the site you can see across the border, deep into Guatemala.
For more information on visiting Belize with kids and a look at our complete kid-friendly itinerary, click here.