Belize Maya Culture & History


Belize Maya Culture

Archeological records have dated the arrival of the Maya to what is now Belize to 2500 B.C. when they arrived in the Cuello area in the northern part of the country. Today, the descendants of that ancient people make up one of the distinct populations in Belize.

Scholars divide the period of the Ancient Maya into three categories. The Classic Period is when the Maya culture reach its zenith in the years between A.D. 250 and A.D. 1000. For unknown reasons, Maya city states began to disintegrate after that point. Archeologists have speculated that it as due to environmental causes, plagues, or widespread civil unrest but no exact cause has ever been determined.

Today, there are three distinct groups of Maya living in Belize. In the northern districts of Corozal and Orange Walk lives a population known as the Yucatec Maya who originally migrated from neighboring Mexico. In the southern Toledo District of Belize live the Mopan Maya who originally migrated from the San Luis area of the Peten region in neighboring Guatemala. There is also a branch of the Mopan Maya clustered around the village of San Jose Succotz formed of a mixture of Maya from Mexican and Guatemalan immigrants. Also located in the southern Toledo District are the Kekchi Maya who migrated from San Pedro Corcha in Guatemala.

Mayan is not one language but the name given to an entire family of languages. Today, linguists have identified approximately 20 different mutually dialects of Mayan. In the northern, Maya speak a dialect known as Yucateco while the Maya in the south speak either Mopanero or Kekchi dialects. As citizens of Belize, most Maya speak English as well as their native language. Many Maya also speak Spanish as the result of long contact with the cultures in Mexico and Guatemala.

Today’s Maya are largely an agricultural people, growing and eating traditional foods like corn, beans, pork and fish. The Maya make up about 11% of Belize’s population. Most Maya live in traditional villages but some also live near the now-ruined cities of the Ancient Maya Empire. Maya Ruins like Altun Ha, Cuello, Lubaantun, Caracol, Lamanai and Xunantunich are popular tourist destinations today, serving as proud reminders of the long history of Maya civilization.

Located just minutes away by foot from the famous Mayan Royal Palace of Cahal Pech, the resort at Cahal Pech is the place to stay when exploring ancient Mayan ruins in Belize. Visitors will enjoy the panoramic view from atop an ancient Maya hill in San Ignacio, with easy access to other historic Mayan ruins like the famous Tikal site just across the border in Guatemala.

For more information about accomodations, or to schedule one of our guided tours of the area, please do not hesitate to contact us.

>> See also: The best Mayan Ruins to visit in Belize