Xunantunich Mayan Ruins of Cayo, Belize

 In Belize, Cayo

Xunantunich is about 2 hours from Belize City. While we were on the road, our tour guide gave us some important facts. Xunantunich is a famous Mayan archaeological site in western Belize, in the Cayo District. It is located atop a ridge above the Mopan River, within sight of the Guatemala border which is less than a mile to the west.

photo credit: Google Maps

The journey began with a relaxing scenic trip to the Mopan River, passing several villages and towns along the way. We passed Hattieville and our tour guide, Maude, got our attention to look on the mountains that looks like a sleeping giant. The locals called it, the Virgin of the Sleeping Giant.

Virgin of the Sleeping Giant

We passed the intersection that will lead to Belmopan. Belmopan is the capital city of the country. It is located also in Cayo District at an altitude of 249 feet above sea level. Belmopan was constructed just to the east of Belize River, 50 miles inland from the former capital, Belize City. The government was moved to Belmopan and made it the capital due to the former city’s near destruction by Hurricane Hattie.

Crossing to the Belmopan Sign

I took a quick shuteye for about 30 mins and then, we got to Santa Elena. Santa Elena was used to be a separate village and was absorbed by the town of San Ignacio, making the latter the largest settlement in Cayo District and the second largest in the country after Belize City.

Santa Elena roundabout

About 20 minutes from Santa Elena, we arrived in San Jose Succotz. San Jose Succotz is a Maya village consisting mainly of people of Yucatec Maya descent. It is also the location of the famous ruins. After we got off the bus, we, then, took a 5-minute ferry ride crossing the river to access the remote ruins. Next was a van ride approximately 5-10 minutes to get to the site. We have to walk uphill and after few minutes, we finally saw the ruins. It was truly a sight to behold.

Xunantunich Sign

River crossing

Van ride to the ruins

My first sight of El Castillo of the Xunantunich

Xunantunich which means stone lady; xunan for stone and tunich for lady. This site was a major ceremonial center during the Classical Period composed of six major plazas and surrounded by more than 25 temples and palaces.

El Castillo

The largest temple, El Castillo, has been excavated and partially restored; it is famous for its frieze, a banded stucco decoration that at one time extended around the entire pyramid. It is the second tallest structure in Belize. El Castillo is the ‘axis mundi’ of the site, or the intersection of the two cardinal lines.

Front view of El Castillo

Top of El Castillo and its intricate carvings, meanings and stories

Visitors can climb the ruins, sitting atop a natural limestone ridge, the site provided panoramic views of the hilly Cayo District and even a town in Guatemala. I got tons of photos and it sure was mesmerizing. It wasn’t as hot as Chichén Itzá since there are a lot of trees where you can rest under the shade.

View on top of El Castillo

View of Guatemala from El Castillo

The Introductory Site History and Display Centers is found at the entrance to the center and is also one of the major attractions in the ruins site. Guests can see more of the artifacts. They can get more and detailed information of the discovery and history of the Mayan culture.

Xunantunich Visitor Center


After exploring the ancient Mayan site, we returned to San Ignacio area for a local lunch before heading back to Belize City. We went to Hode’s Place Restaurant and Bar.

Hode’s Place Restaurant & Bar

Coconut chicken with rice and beans, fried plantain and coleslaw

We got the coconut chicken with rice and beans, a fried plantain, and a coleslaw. It was one of the best meal I had during this trip. It was delicious that I want to have more but we were on a tight schedule.

The whole Xunantunich Mayan Ruins trip was wonderful. Belize brought me great memories! I have learned few facts about the country and its rich ancient Mayan history. It was an amazing experience with whole bamboo chickens group of Maude, our tour guide.

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