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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 archaeologists in the colonial period began conducting excavations in the mid-1890's. 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 archaeologists, 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.
This tour can be combined with Cahal Pech Maya Ruins and is inclusive of transportation, guide, entrance fees and lunch.
Xunantunich Maya Ruins Photos
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