Xunantunich in Maya means “Stone Woman” or “Maiden of the Rock” and is an impressive and magnificent archaeological site that is located outside San Ignacio in the Cayo District of Belize.
About Xunantunich Maya Ruins
The ruins of Xunantunich (the “Xu” is pronounced like “shoe”) is one of Belize’s most popular Maya sites. Located about 80 miles west of Belize City in Cayo District near the town of San Ignacio and the border with Guatemala, Xunantunich is most famously known for the large temple known today as El Castillo (Spanish for “The Castle”) which is more than 130 feet tall (30 meters) making it the second-tallest building in Belize.
Once a prosperous city state during the Classical Maya era, Xunantunich once was the home to 200,000 people, equivalent to two-thirds of Belize’s current population. The name Xunantunich, a Maya construct meaning “Stone Woman,” is a modern one as the original name for the city has been lost. Local Maya named the fading ruins “Stone Woman” because the site was regularly reported to be haunted by the ghost of a woman, usually depicted as being dressed entirely in white with glowing red eyes.
Abandoned by the Maya nearly 1,000 years ago for unknown reasons, Xunantunich was claimed by the jungle until archeologists in the colonial period began conducting excavations in the mid-1890s. Today, visitors approach the site by crossing over the Mopan River on a hand-operated ferry and then climbing up to the limestone ridge that serves as the foundation for the city.
While some areas of Xunantunich are still being excavated by archeologists, visitors can explore the on-site museum with interactive displays and exhibits before entering the city proper, home to six plazas and more than two dozen temples, palaces and other buildings. The original architects of Xunantunich designed the city around the “El Castillo” temple which lies in the exact center. Beyond its impressive size and panorama overlooking the surrounding area, El Castillo is remarkable for a series of stucco friezes on its exterior that depict stories and events from Maya mythology.
Visitors to the site can also take time to partake in bird watching or purchase handicrafts from stands operated by local descendants of the Maya.
Below are 5 incredible images that will compel you to visit this Maya Ruin in Belize.
Xunantunich is one of the many Belize Maya Ruin Tours offered at Cahal Pech Village Resort.
Xunantunich was a major ceremonial center and home to 25 temples and palaces.
The largest structure is El Castillo which rises 130 feet from the Plaza floor and provides a breathtaking panorama of the Macal, Mopan and Belize River Valley.
Xunantunich was the first Maya ruin to be opened for visitors in 1950, because of its proximity to San Ignacio.
Largest Maya Tomb Ever Found in Belize Discovered at Xunantunich
In the summer of 2016, archeologists working at the Maya ruin site of Xunantunich announced the discovery of a tomb, presumably that of a Maya ruler. Work is still ongoing at the site but archeologists have already determined that the tomb, located underneath one of the central buildings, is one of the biggest ever to be found in Belize. Alongside the remains of an adult man estimated to be in his late 20s or early 30s were found obsidian knives, pots, vases, jade beads, and the remains of what is thought to be a jaguar or deer.
Despite being excavated almost continuously since 1892, the tomb discovered this week is the first one ever found at Xunantunich. Located approximately 80 miles west of Belize City, the ruins of Xunantunich were first rediscovered in 1890 during the period of British colonial rule. Xunantunich is named for a Maya term meaning “Stone Woman” because the site is reportedly haunted by a ghostly apparition of a woman dressed in white with glowing red eyes.
Xunantunich is one of the top tourist attractions in Belize and is a short 30-minute drive from the Cahal Pech Village Resort.