The Cayo District is full of wonders. Only a five-minute walk up the hill from the principal town of San Ignacio, you can find the oldest known Maya Site in Belize, overlooking the Belize River Valley. This site was first settled by the ancient Maya between 1500 and 1000 BC. The name means Place of Ticks, derived from the fact that it was used as pasture for the rearing of cattle. At first, it may not seem as impressive as some other sites, but it is a fascinating example of Pre-Classic Maya architecture, and one of the oldest in western Belize.
Diverse Ancient City
Cahal Pech was the seat of a once Royal Acropolis Palace of an elite Maya family. It may seem small in area but is quite compact. It consists of 7 plazas, 30 structures that served as dwelling and workspaces, stelae, ball courts, altar and sweat house, all sitting on two acres. Worth visiting is the Royal Burial Chamber. Here a ruler was laid to rest much as the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt, equipped with all the amenities they would need in the next world. You can see accouterments such as pottery vessels, ornaments made of shell and bone, and the impressive shell and jade mosaic.
Secure Location in Ancient Times
For their protection, Mayans needed strategic observation points at a very high elevation. Cahal Pech stands 900 feet above the valley floor, a perfect vantage point to spot the approaching enemy before they could become a real threat. Today, one of the temples commands the best view of the surrounding Belize River Valley. The Visitors’ Center and Museum house a model of the site, paintings showing Cahal Pech in its heyday, and you can even watch an interpretive film. Photo opportunities abound.
Ancient and Modern
Cahal Pech is unique in that it offers the modern traveler a solution to seeing ancient history surrounded by modern civilization. Accommodations, both rustic and upscale, green and comfortable, are easily accessed. Some weddings have even been celebrated here.
Photo Courtesy: Leonardo Melendez Photography
Written by Nelita Castillo