A Complete Guide to Belize’s Maya Sites From North To South

by Gisselle Hernandez
Cahal Pech Maya Site belize cayo

Belize was one of the countries which had a thriving Maya population – around 400,000 at its peak in the Classic Period – before they vanished as mysteriously as they did everywhere else. While the ancient Maya civilizations have been gone for centuries, they are survived by descendants that make up 11% of Belize’s population, art, pottery, and striking Maya ruins. Many come to Belize precisely to be swept up in the history of the Maya people and to walk in their steps amongst towering pyramids and temples. Today, there are 10 main Maya sites travelers can visit, spanning all the way from the north of Belize to the very south. 

Northern Belize

Santa Rita – Maya Site © Nich Belize

  • Santa Rita. Located in the Corozal District, Santa Rita is a low-trafficked Maya temple that mainly locals frequent. It sits on the outskirts of Corozal Town and is bordered on the east by the Caribbean Sea. It is said it was probably used as a coastal trading city known as Chetumal. The site contains several structures and murals and was the site of the Corozal’s first Coconut Festival back in 2019. 

Fees: $5 USD

Hours: 8 am – 5 pm 

How to get there: Two-drive from the international airport. 

Where to stay: Tony’s Inn & Beach Resort

  • Cerros. Also found in the Corozal District is Cerros, the only Maya Ruin that is directly in front of the Caribbean Sea. Initially, home to small hunting, fishing, and trading village, Cerros’ key feature was a boat dock. Its Spanish name translates to “Maya Hill” and its tallest temple reaches 21 meters above the plaza floor. 

How to get there: A short boat ride from Corozal town. Boats can be hired from your hotel’s concierge. You can also drive to the site. 

Where to stay: Orchid Bay Resort

Fees: $5 USD

Hours: 8 am – 5 pm 


Atop Lamanai Maya Site. Photo courtesy BTB

  • Lamanai. About an hour-long boat ride from Orange Walk Town, Lamanai’s main feature is its Temple of the Mask, a stone face carved into the side of one of their main temples. It is one of Belize’s largest ceremonial centers and retains its original name, which translates to Submerged Crocodile. You can see this being reflected in the many crocodile motifs at the site through figurines, decorations, and the large headdress on the limestone mask. 

How to get there: A water taxi from Orange Walk Town. Boats can be hired from your hotel’s concierge. Another way is driving to the site, where you will pass many small villages on the way. 

Where to stay: Lamanai Landings Hotel & Marina.

Fees: $5 USD

Hours: 8 am – 5 pm 

Central Belize

  • Altun Ha. The closest Maya Ruin to the international airport, Altun Ha (“Rockstone Pond”) is 31 miles north of Belize City. This site is known to be rich in wildlife such as bats, squirrels, foxes, tapir, and white-tailed deer. Avid bird watchers will also have a field day when visiting as 200 species of birds have been recorded here. What’s so special about Altun Ha is that it’s known for the Maya-made water reservoir. With two ceremonial centers and a whopping 13 structures, it is said the elites had access to many exotic goods. 

How to get there: From Belize City, take the Northern Highway for about a half-hour just after passing Sandhill Village. Take the Old Northern Highway on your left for 14 miles. On your left, take the Rockstone Pond Road towards the reserve for 2 miles.

Where to stay: Best Western Belize Biltmore Plaza.

Fees: $5 USD

Hours: 8 am – 5 pm 

Western Belize

Caracol Maya Site

  • Caracol. Located in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve, this Maya site has the tallest man-made structure in Belize. The temple, named Caana or “sky palace,” dominates the center of this once politically influential site. The site itself sits on a high plateau of 500 meters above sea level. Today, travelers visit the secluded site to take a breath in the surrounding nature of the ruins. Not many venture deep into the forest reserve to see Caracol, so there’s a good chance that when you visit, you’ll have the site entirely to yourself.

How to get there: Caracol is a 2.5-hour drive from San Ignacio Town. Take the Cristo Rey Road and drive towards Mountain Pine Ridge until you reach Douglas D’Silva Forest Station. Drive another 45 minutes until you reach the Caracol Archaeological Reserve.

Where to stay: Blancaneaux Lodge

Fees: $5 USD

Hours: 8 am – 5 pm 

cahal pech wedding

Photo Courtesy: Leonardo Melendez Photography

  • Cahal Pech. Another lesser-known site in San Ignacio is Cahal Pech (“place of ticks”) which sits on a hill overlooking the twin towns of San Ignacio and Santa Elena. Many travelers like to conduct self-guided tours at this quiet site, where it is said an elite Mayan family used to rule. The plazas and structures include temples, ball courts, an altar, and more. There was even a royal burial chamber discovered here. 

How to get there: From San Ignacio Town, take the road that leads to the San Ignacio Resort Hotel and keep going down that road until you come to a roundabout. Access the left intersection that leads you to a road going uphill. At the top of this, you will encounter the Cahal Pech Archaeological Reserve and its visitor center.

Where to stay: Ka’ana Resort. 

Fees: $5 USD

Hours: 8 am – 5 pm 


Ever been to Xunantunich? Photo by Duarte Dellarole

  • Xunantunich. A popular Instagram background, Xunantunich’s key feature is its El Castillo temple. A towering structure, the summit oversees the jungle surrounding it and the meandering Mopan river below. You can also often spot spider monkeys swinging from branch to branch, along with other interesting wildlife. Xunantunich actually derived its name in the 1800s after a hunter from the village of San Jose Succotz saw the apparition of a statuesque Maya maiden at the base of the Castillo. Now the site is named “Stone Maiden.” 

How to get there: About 15 minutes from San Ignacio town is San Jose Succotz. Once you arrive, follow the signs to Xunantunich and cross the hand-cranked ferry. Drive or walk the rest of the way up the hill until you’re at the base of the site. 

Where to stay: San Ignacio Resort Hotel.

Fees: $5 USD

Hours: 8 am – 5 pm 

el Pilar

  • El Pilar. North of Bullet Tree Falls in Cayo is El Pilar, a Maya site located on high terrain with stellar views of the Mopan River Valley. El Pilar is often overshadowed by its more popular neighbors like Xunantunich but is one of Belize’s largest Classic Maya sites with a well-defined ceremonial section. It consists of courtyards and plazas spanning 50 acres. Many water reservoirs are found throughout the site as well, which was much needed during the dry season. In order to preserve the site, much of the area has been left unexcavated. 

How to get there: An official sign in Bullet Tree marks the dirt road that leads north to the site. The car trip is about 30 minutes from Bullet Tree. 

Where to stay: Hidden Valley Inn.

Fees: $5 USD

Hours: 8 am – 5 pm 

Southern Belize

Nim Li Punit maya sitee

Nim Li Punit Maya Site. © Roeming Belize

  • Nim Li Punit. Translated as “The Big Hat,” Nim Li Punit is in the Toledo District, where its name is derived from a stone carving of a figure wearing a headdress. The site boasts 26 of these stelae and consists of two plazas. This ceremonial center was first discovered in 1976, along with fascinating royal tombs and other priceless jewels. The site sits 25 miles north of Punta Gorda Town, where many of the vibrant Garifuna culture resides. Nestled on the foothills of the Maya Mountains, Nim Li Punit makes for a great stop when venturing to the southern town. 

How to get there: From Belmopan, take the Hummingbird Highway for 45 miles until you reach the Southern Highway Exit.  Turn right onto the Southern Highway and travel an additional 1.5 hours until you reach Indian Creek Village.  Exit to the right on the gravel road and continue for about 0.5 miles until you reach the reserve.

Where to stay: Copal Tree Lodge

Fees: $5 USD

Hours: 8 am – 5 pm 


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Rachel (@rachelsarahtravels)

  • Lubaantun. Also located in the Toledo district, Lubaantun is unique for its unusual style of construction. Its temples were made of stone blocks with absolutely no mortar keeping them upright, with the buildings sitting on the pyramids made from perishable materials. This means they are no longer on the site, leading to the name “place of fallen stones.” In 1924, it is said a Crystal Skull of Doom was allegedly unearthed at the site, with many numerous artifacts now being kept at the British Museum. 

How to get there: From Belmopan, take the Hummingbird Highway for 45 miles to the junction of the Southern Highway Exit.  Turn right onto the Southern Highway and travel an additional  2 hours until you reach the Silver Creek cut-off. Travel through the villages of San Miguel and San Pedro Columbia. Exit right on the all-weather gravel road and continue for about 1.5 miles until you reach the reserve.

Where to stay: Beya Suites

Fees: $5 USD

Hours: 8 am – 5 pm 

* Official information derived from the National Institute of Culture & History website

Related Articles