Belize, located between the Central American nations of Guatemala and Mexico, has a long coastline fronting the Caribbean Sea. More than half of Belize is composed of natural parks and nature preserves. Inside these beautifully pristine areas lie the ancient ruins of the once-mighty Mayan Empire, with cities, temples, and plazas dating back thousands of years. Visitors to Belize can explore these majestic sites, marveling at the ingenious architecture and mystique of huge pyramids once used for sacred religious ceremonies.
Today's Belize is located in what was once the heart of the Mayan Empire at the height of their power, now known as the Mayan Golden Age. In the period between 300 and 900 AD, the Maya built hundreds of enormous cities and sacred sites deep in the heart of the jungles and rainforests that cover Belize. No one quite knows what caused the Mayan Empire to collapse around the year 900 when the large monuments and temples were abandoned en masse, left to be swallowed up by the encroaching jungle until they became the lost cities of legend.
See also: The Best Mayan Ruins to Visit in Belize
Visitors to Belize today now have the opportunity of visiting the majestic ruins of many of the greatest cities from the Mayan Golden Age. It is now possible to explore these vast stone metropolises, built entirely without the use of either wheels or working animals. Thanks to the intrepid work of archeologists and linguists, we can now understand the carvings on the colossal stelae, temples, and monuments that the Maya left behind, replete with incredibly accurate astronomical observations, advanced mathematical formulas, and a rich cosmology.
Archaeologists are still uncovering Maya ruins but many have been excavated and can be visited by tourists today. Some of the most impressive Maya sites include:
Caracol - Translated as "The Snail", this huge Maya city was once an important ceremonial center for religious ceremonies. Visitors can explore the enormous Canaa or Sky Palace Temple, still the tallest building in the country.
Xunantunich - Translated as "Maiden of the Rock", Xunantunich is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Belize. Located on the banks of the Mopal River, Xunantunich features a rich collection of more than 25 palaces, buildings, and temples. In the heart of Xunantunich is the enormous El Castillo (The Castle), which rises 135 feet above the jungle floor.
Cahal Pech - Translated as "Place of the Ticks", Cahal Pech is built around seven enormous plazas. Visitors can explore more than 30 enormous structures, including one building where a royal burial chamber was discovered filled with an impressive amount of grave goods, including a beautiful jade and shell mask.
El Pilar - Stretching across more than 100 acres, excavation work is still ongoing at El Pilar but visitors can explore an intriguing causeway leading to more than 25 plazas replete with a dozen large pyramids.
The Complete Maya Vacation Package
Cahal Pech Vilage Resort, located near San Ignacio in the heart of Cayo District in western Belize, now offers a complete Maya Vacation Package which includes a trip to see Maya ruins and a special traditional dinner with a local Maya family.