What You Should And Shouldn’t Do When Visiting A Maya Site in Belize

by Gisselle Hernandez
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Belize remains one of the few places in the region where those visiting a Maya temple are allowed to climb the ancient monuments. You don’t realize what an incredible privilege it is to do so until you are faced with the green expanse rolling beneath you as you gaze from the summit of, say, El Castillo at Xunantunich. With this privilege comes the responsibility of knowing the proper etiquette when visiting a Maya ruin. These do’s and don’ts not only make climbing atop the ancient cities safer for everyone but cultivate a culture of respect for both locals and the Maya people. 

You SHOULD take photos at every Maya ruin in Belize

Xunantunich- Maya Site © Roeming Belize

As they say, were you really at an ancient Maya ruin if you didn’t post about it? In all seriousness, documenting such a memorable experience is a rite of passage when visiting such an amazing site. Whether you’re using the colossal Caana temple at Caracol as your background or trying to snap a selfie with the Temple of the Mask at Lamanai, each photo will radiate something special for years to reflect back on. 

You SHOULD NOT take a “souvenir”

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Atop Lamanai Maya Site. Photo courtesy BTB

Maya sites are sacred places, and as such you should respect the grounds and any of the ancient buildings erected there. Preserving history is of utmost importance, even if a piece of pottery you found while traipsing a temple might look great on your mantle. 

You SHOULD climb to the top, if able 

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Caracol – Maya Site © BTB

If you have traveled all the way to the base of the looming temple at Xunantunich, you might as well make it to the top! The journey is nothing short of exhilarating. If you are able, you should definitely try making it to the tallest point on the ruin. It undoubtedly has the most unrivaled views from the river, jungle, and nearby Guatemala on the horizon. Not to mention you might spot a family of howler monkeys swinging from tree to tree! 

You SHOULD NOT ignore the safety signs 

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Atop a ruin in Xunantunich Maya Site. Photo by Duarte Dellarole

However, to quote a favorite comic, with great power comes great responsibility. In this case, while it may seem to make the best photos, sitting dangerously close to the edge at the top of the ruin is strictly prohibited. This is for your own safety; listen to the caution signs posted throughout and don’t cross the safety ropes wrapped around the edge of the structure. 

You SHOULD listen to your tour guide

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Nim Li Punit Maya Site. © Roeming Belize

It goes without saying Belize’s tour guides are experts chock-full of information when it comes to Maya sites. Not only on history but on any recent developments involving the sites, since sometimes new discoveries are made! So when a guide tells you an area is unrestricted or not safe for climbing, be sure to heed his advice. Similarly, when a guide tells you he has something cool to show you, make sure to always take him up on the offer. It may be a neat “clapping trick” to demonstrate the genius of the Mayas and their take on acoustics, or a baby howler monkey sitting on a branch directly above your head. 

You SHOULD NOT leave anything behind at a Maya ruin in Belize

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Cerros – Maya Site © Duarte Dellarole

You arrive as a visitor to every Maya ruin in Belize and you leave as such. While you may be transported back in time with the vestige of another world in another time, you must eventually return to your own era, with your memories – and photos – as the only evidence of your adventure. That also means you’ll be leaving with any litter or trash you brought with you. This sacred place was pristine when you first laid eyes on it, be sure it stays that way on your way out. 

Header image courtesy Grand Caribe Belize/Duarte Dellarole.

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