Re-Opening of Archaeological Reserves after Hurricane Lisa

by Louise Roe
Cahal Pech Maya Site belize cayo

Institute of Archaeology (NICH) Belize has provided an update on the re-opening of a few Archaeological Reserves after Hurricane Lisa made landfall in Belize, closing down Archaeological Reserves temporarily. For tomorrow, Saturday, November 5th, 2022, these are the parks open for visitation. 

ATM Cave

National Geographic called the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave one of the most important sacred caves in the world. This impressive cave was an ancient Maya ceremonial site. A tour of it is a chance to learn about history. Experienced cavers and those in excellent physical condition will enjoy this challenging tour. The cave holds many important artifacts and skeletons. The most famous is the so-called Crystal Maiden. This is the skeleton of a young girl whose bones appear to be sparkling because of calcification.

Over the years, careless tourists have damaged or destroyed important relics in the cave. As a result, the Belize government forbids shoes or cameras in the ATM. You can only visit with a specially licensed guide. It’s worth the trouble. The ATM is an unforgettable experience.

Barton Creek Cave

Explored only by canoe, meander a mile into the past for geological marvels of Xibalba, the Maya underworld, inside Barton Creek Archeological Reserve.

Venturing off the highway onto the semi-paved road in Georgeville, to the Barton Creek Archeological Reserve is about 45 minutes outside of San Ignacio Town.  Barton Creek Cave is “wet” subterranean spelunking: outfitted with headlamps, life vests, and paddles in the 3-person canoe, head towards the main event: draped mounds of stalactites and stalagmites that have taken millennia to emerge from the limestone-rich Cayo District. Inside, this ceremonial cave is one of the last living witnesses to a rich Maya history.

Altun Ha

Belize was home to many important Maya cities and settlements. It’s hard to pick just a handful to visit, but sprawling, magnificent Altun Ha should top your list. Once home to more than 10,000 people, this city was a wealthy metropolis with homes, temples and recreation centers. With its tall stone structures and impressive towers, Altun Ha is one of the most photographed sites in Belize. The Maya built a huge water retention system here that’s now home to native crocodiles. You’ll spot wildlife and birds of all kinds in the jungle surrounding this ancient city. Altun Ha is about 30 miles north of Belize City.

Nim Li Punit

Nim Li Punit belize

Nim Li Punit, Toledo. Photo by ROEming Belize Travel Agency 

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. 


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. 

Santa Rita

santa rita - corozal

Santa Rita Photo by NICH

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. 

Cahal Pech

cahal pech

A 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. 

Other sites opening include

  • Cerro Maya
  • Caracol
  • Serpon Sugar Mill
  • Lamanai
  • Caracol
  • Nohoch Che’en

For the latest update on site openings visit HERE

Feature Image Courtesy Duarte Dellarole 

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