A day trip to Xunantunich from Belize City

Take a guided tour of the archaeological site of Xunantunich, a Maya gem hidden in the rainforest. Learn about the history of the site and climb the famous El Castillo temple.

Some of the 80 miles (130 km) on the paved highway east of Belize City, among the northern foothills of the Maya mountain range, is one of the legendary kingdoms of ancient Maya, called Xunantunich ( Shoo-nan-too-niche), which means "maiden voyage of the Rock".

Leaving Belize City, you'll enjoy a scenic drive aboard your air-conditioned minivan. Take your ride along the Western Highway through Belize's coastal plain and through rolling countryside. Drive through the new capital of Belmopan, past Creole and Meztiso villages and past the Mennonite Spanish Watch community with their beautifully manicured farmlands. Next, pass through San Ignacio and Santa Elena and cross the Macal River to the southern banks of the Mopan River. Cross the Mopan River by ferry and head to Xunantunich, a Mayan gemstone hidden in Belize's rainforest.

Afterward, enjoy a guided tour of the site and stroll through the grassy plazas. Admire the flawless architecture of El Castillo, one of the three largest Mayan temples in Belize, and the largest structure at this site, standing 130 feet (40 meters) above plaza level. Its reconstructed friezes on the east and west represent the gods of the Mayas and have several interior chambers.

Travel to other temples and courts where kings, queens and their elites once performed special ceremonies honoring a pantheon of gods of a fantastical cosmological religion that ruled Mesoamerica for several thousand years. There's a great display in the center of the site, and you'll have a chance to climb the 'Stairway to Heaven' on El Castillo. From the top, you will enjoy a panoramic view as far as the eye can see. You will truly be on top of the Mayan world!

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