Here you will find some of the best places to visit while staying in the disctrict of Cayo, the western part of Belize sharing borders with Guatemala. You will oversee some of the magnificent caves, temples and pyramids built by the Maya Civilization through their mesoamerican architecture traditions and used for their rituals and sacrifices. This is just scratching the surface of what can be explored in Belize, as there are many interesting sites to visit and over 80% of the remains are yet to be discovered. In this post, you will discover the outstanding sites of Xunantunich, Che Chem Ha, Caracol and Cahal Pech. Tikal was also included even if located in Guatemala as it is a very popular site and is a short ride from Belize.
Xunantunich is an Ancient Mayan archaeological site near Benque Viejo Del Carmen, across the Mopan river, in the Cayo District. The site has essentially started to grow around 600-670 AD and was consisting of a series of 6 plazas along with 26 palaces and temples around them. The main structure being the impressive “El Castillo”, Belize second tallest structure after Caracol main temple. Like most sites, the ancient name was unknown, Xunantunich is a modern name that actually mean “Stone Woman” which refers to a ghost of a woman that would inhabit the site and was supposedly witnessed by several people. Xunantunich is easily accessible and definitely worth a visit which allow you to dive in the majestic and intriguing world of the Maya Civilization. A picturesque landscape in perfect harmony with the surrounding rainforest makes it for an even better experience. Entrance is US$5.00/person and a guide is cheap as well and is totally worth it. The visit last about a half day.
Che Chem Ha
Che Chem Ha is a cave privately owned by the Morales family, located along the Macal River valley in the heart of the jungle on the Mollejon Road, 8 miles from Benque Viejo Del Carmen. From their farm, it is a nice 35 minutes uphill trek in the jungle to reach the gate of the underworld. Once you get in, you can witness a whole new world with a large collection of intact Mayan artifacts. This 800 feet long cave was used for grain storage as well as for rituals. Remote, still under the radar and not yet too crowed with tourists, this cave is definitely a must see. Entrance is US$35.00/person and comes with a guide from the family…and a lot of stories.
Caracol is located in the foothills of the Maya mountains at about 40 kilometers south of Xunantunich. This Maya archaeological site is, without a doubt, the most important site established in Belize with an area that covered approximately 200 square kilometers and an estimated population of over 100,000. Being involved in three wars against Tikal, Caracol succeeded to win two of them including the final battle. If you come in this little country, once called British Honduras, with the need of exploration and the curiosity of finding out more about the Mayan culture, you just can’t miss it. Even if quite close, you will need a full day to visit Caracol, the roads are often being damaged during the rainy season and maintained only once in a while. If you like the off the beaten path type of attraction, this one is definitely for you. Entrance costs are similar to Xunantunich.
Cahal Pech is located in the town of San Ignacio and can be accessed in no time. At first look, it might not seem as impressive as Xunantunich and Caracol but the history is still as rich and interesting. This site is known has being one of the oldest site in Belize with an evident recorded occupation dating as far as 1200 BC. Entrance is another well invested US$5.00/person and the visit can be done in a little less than a half day. As a quick itinerary tip for a nice day into Maya discoveries, I recommend visiting Cahal Pech in the morning, going at the San Ignacio market for fresh produces and local dishes at lunch time or go to a restaurant on Burns Avenue if you want to sit down, relax and have a belikin before heading towards Xunantunich for the afternoon. That makes a real nice day into the heart of the Maya Civilization without breaking the bank and within a short distance.
Tikal is a UNESCO Word Heritage Site, part of the Tikal National Park located in northern Guatemala, in the Peten region. Tikal was at its peak between 200 and 900 AD but some monuments date as far back as 400 BC. When Tikal was at it’s best, the population estimates was around 90,000. Entrance is US$20.00/person and another US$20.00/person for a guided tour, which can often be negotiated to US$15.00/person especially if you are in a small group of at least 3-4 people. I would definitely recommend having a guide as this site is incredibly big so you would get to see some areas of the site that you would not without one. The tour last a good 3 hours filled with a lot of valuable info. From Belize, this excursion takes a full day.