Belize was once the seat of power for the Maya Empire — and while roughly 2 million Mayas once bent knee to this imposing state, its incredible architecture is now in ruins. The fact that they stand at all is a sign to the sophistication of their engineering, and there are a surprising amount still intact. Savvy visitors know that the best place to visit all the best ruins is the Cayo District. This rich, verdant, and wild district is home to some of the most beautiful sites within the country — and those not directly in the Cayo District are still nearby.
Located right by the Guatemalan border, the imposing pyramid of Xunantunich was once a public temple in the times of the Maya Empire. Rumors persist that the ruins are haunted by the spirit of a Maya woman.
Caracol was once one of the wealthiest cities in the Maya Empire, and it's been a valuable resource for archaeologists looking to unravel the surprisingly complex civic structure of the Mayas. And while the ruins have long been absent, they're still surprisingly large.
The city of Altun Ha was once a major trading hub in the empire, but its most standout feature is the man-made lagoon that's still intact on the site. These sprawling ruins include many buildings worth seeing, but the fact that the land has been overtaken by nature also makes it a great choice for watching wildlife.
The fallen city of Lamanai is the longest-occupied city we know of in the Maya Empire, but today it's a nature reserve that offers a stunning view of the New River Lagoon. In addition to the Maya ruins, there are also remains of a Spanish outpost on the property — along with a variety of ancient artifacts on display at the Mask Temple.
The centralized and isolated temple of El Pilar is three times the size of the already enormous Xunantunich, and it's still in the process of being uncovered. The Garden Area is especially worth a visit. In addition to offering a window into the life of ancient Mayas, it's also a showcase for the wildlife that calls the area home.
You don't have to venture far from San Ignacio to see Cahal Pech, and you don't have to venture at all if you choose to stay at the self-named resort located right next door. The 34 structures that make up this former city district still give a good impression of what a city looked like a thousand years ago.
Cahal Pech Village Resort has become famous in its own right for its hospitality and comfortable accommodations, and it's the perfect base camp if you're looking to set out in search of Maya sites. Just be careful, because you might be too satisfied to want to leave the property.