The Best Maya Sites in Belize

The hand-cranked ferry used to get to Xunantunich
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Once the heartland of the ancient Maya, Belize is home to impressive archeological remains of an age-old civilization that ruled over Mesoamerica. Known for their advanced architecture, mathematics, astronomy, and writing, the ancient Maya built impressive cities in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

See also: Top-rated Caves in Belize & Best Jungle Resorts in Belize

Of all the countries, Belize has the highest concentration of Maya temples. And fortunately, its rainforests have preserved the sites remarkably well. Therefore, I recommend that you visit a Maya site when in Belize. I promise you’ll find learning about the architectural sophistication, religious practices, and social organization of the ancient Maya, fascinating.

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1. Xunantunich – Located near San Ignacio, after crossing a river via a hand-cranked ferry, lush jungle surrounds this site.
2. Caracol – Located in Cayo, within the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, it is Belize’s largest Maya site.
3. Lamanai – Located in Orange Walk, to get there visitors take a scenic boat ride spotting exotic wildlife along the way.
4. Cahal Pech – Located in San Ignacio, thick jungle foliage surrounds this site, making it an urban jungle retreat.
5. Altun Ha – Located near Belize City, it is one of Belize’s most visited sites, often frequented by Cruise passengers.
6. Lubaantun – Located near San Pedro Columbia Village in Toledo, the famous Crystal Skull was “found” here.
7. Cerros – Located on a small peninsula across the Corozal Bay, it’s the only Belizean Maya site on the coast.
8. Nim Li Punit – Located near Indian Creek Village in Toledo, one of the tallest Maya Stela (30 ft) is found here.
9. Tikal – Just a short distance from western Belize, it is one of the largest and most visited sites in Guatemala.
10. Chichen Itza – Just a short distance from northern Belize, it is one of the largest and most visited sites in Mexico.

Top Maya Sites in Belize

El Catillo, Xunantunich

Below are the top Maya ruins in Belize, plus two bonus famous Mayan sites that are near Belize’s borders with Guatemala and Mexico. My favourite sites are Xunantunich and Caracol, but Altun Ha and Lamanai are probably the most visited in Belize since they are near the cruise port of Belize City.

1. Xunantunich

El Castillo is the tallest temple at Xunantunich

Xunantunich is a cool site because getting there involves crossing the beautiful Mopan River on an old-fashioned hand-cranked ferry. The site grounds are handsomely maintained and the main temple, El Castillo rises over 40 meters above ground, offering spectacular views of nearby villages and also giving the explorer a glimpse of Guatemala. I love that this site is often unoccupied and perfect for meditating or spending time alone. However, I must warn you that over the past few years it’s become a favourite for cruise ship expeditions so it may be busy a couple of times a week…but certainly not on Sundays! P.s. Xunanantunich means stone woman in Maya.

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2. Caracol

2012 Winter Solstice in Belize

I love Caracol because of its location. It is found in the Mountain Pine Ridge Nature Reserve that is home to many other natural attractions. A heavy-duty truck takes you to this granite and karst region which is the birthplace of many rushing rivers, most of them which are underground. When you get to Caracol, you will marvel at how big the city was and your jaw might just drop as you first glance on Ca’ana, it’s main temple. As of this date, it is the largest structure in Belize. P.s. Caracol means “Snail, Shell” in Maya.

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3. Lamanai

Lamanai's mask temple
Lamanai’s Mask Temple – Photo by @kirstenalana

Lamanai is a personal favourite because getting there involves one of the best experiences you can have – a boat ride that takes you along Orange Walk’s meandering New River, where you spot many exotic animals. Although most of this site remains unexcavated; visitors can explore the High Temple, which offers a stunning panoramic view from its summit, the Jaguar Temple, which features a Maya stucco frieze of a jaguar, and the Mask Temple, which fashions a giant stone mask of a Maya king. P.s. Lamanai means “Submerged Crocodile” in Maya.

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4. Cahal Pech

Cahal Pech in Cayo Belize
Cahal Pech is perfect for anyone seeking peace and quiet

Located in Cayo, overlooking the small town of San Ignacio and the Macal River, the site was first settled around 1200-1000 BC. Cahal Pech sits in a lush jungle setting only a short 10-minute walk from the town’s center, giving urban visitors easy access to an archaeological site where the remnants of a royal palace are particularly interesting to explore.

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5. Altun Ha

Altun Ha is a Maya Temple near Belize City
Retro photo of Altun Ha’s main temple

Despite its small size, Altun Ha — known as “Water of the Rock” in Maya — was a major ceremonial center during the Classic Period. Located just 31 miles from Belize City on the old Northern Highway. The largest Maya-carved jade object was discovered here, the famous Jade Head, in 1968.

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6. Lubaantun

Lubaantun Mayan Ruins
Photo by @GloboTreks

Lubaantun aka the “Place of Fallen Stones” in Maya is located a mile from the little Mayan village of San Pedro Columbia Village in Toledo. This unique site is constructed of cut stones laid and fitted without mortar. Lubaantun was a major center of religious, ceremonial, political and commercial activities during the eight and ninth centuries (730 A.D. – 860 A.D.). The famous Crystal Skull, carved from a single crystal of quartz, was found here in 1926.

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7. Cerros

Cerros Mayan temple in Corozal, Belize

Cerros is one of the least visited Maya sites in Belize. It’s perfect for travelers that love to go off the beaten path. This site is located on a small peninsula in Corozal Bay, making it the only Maya temple in Belize on the coastline. Back in the day, Cerros was established as an important link for coastal trade along the Caribbean Sea. The site witnessed the early “rise of Maya Kinship” and rose to prominence during the late Pre-Classic period 300 B.C. It was the longest-occupied Mayan Site in Belize.

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8. Nim Li Punit

Nim Li Punit, Toledo Belize

Nim Li Punit is a small Mayan ruin located near the village of Indian Creek in the Toledo District. The site is most known for its stelae, where more than 25 have been found. Nim Li Punit, which translates to ‘Big Hat’ in Maya, got its name from the longest stela in Belize (30 feet) and one of the tallest in the Maya world. The large stela carving depicts a figure wearing a large headdress.

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Bonus: Tikal & Chichen Itza

If you’re staying in Western Belize (Cayo District) or Northern Belize (Corozal District), a quick jaunt across the land borders gives you access to two incredible world-class archaeological sites. Guatemala’s Tikal is my favourite, however, Chichen Itza in Mexico is similarly amazing.

9. Tikal

Jungle view from the top of Tikal's main temple

Tikal is one of the largest Mayan sites in Guatemala and also Central America. Its majestic ruins stand tall touching the sky and stretch for miles inside a national park teeming with protected wildlife. I always recommend a visit here for anyone who visits Western Belize, it’s only a short two-hour ride away and also allows travellers to experience how different Guatemala is to Belize, particularly the culture and way of life. I don’t mean to scare anyone but these temples are very steep, caution is advised when descending from your climb – a few people have missed their step and plunged to their death. P.s. Tikal means “at the Waterhole” in Maya.

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10. Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza Mayan temple
Teenage photo of me at Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza is located in Yucatan Mexico and is one of the most visited attractions in the world with an estimated 1.2 million people passing through every year (wow, that’s ridiculously more than the number of people who visit Belize). There you can find various magnificent temples, most notably The Pyramid of Kukulkan, where every Spring thousands of people gather to see the Maya snake deity: Kukulkan, “crawl” down the side of the pyramid. I personally love the Temple of Warriors since I find the over 200 square columns fascinating. The site is near Cancun, which is perfect for backpackers since they usually fly into CUN and travel down to Belize. P.s. Chichen Itza means “at the mouth of the well of the Itza” in Yucatec Maya.

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Best places to go in Belize to see Maya sites

Over 600 Maya sites are located across Belize, with most of them buried and unexplored. The most popular sites, which are excavated and well-preserved can be found on Belize’s mainland. The Cayo District is home to most of the popular sites: Xunantunich, Cahal Pech, and Caracol. Other popular sites include Lamanai in Orange Walk, Altun Ha in Belize City, and Nim Li Punit in Toledo.

Contact me if you want to know more information on the sites…



Reader Interactions


  1. Delvin Mitchell says

    Very, very, very nice post, Lorenzo. Mayan ruins are truly amazing! Every year I go Belize for Scuba diving and I always visit Mayan sites.

  2. pgbk87 says

    – Out ot all the Mayan Ruins in Belize, Lamanai is the BEST. Caracol and Xunantunich are great, but you can’t beat Lamanai… I have been to all three.

    – Uxmal, Calakmul and Palenque are FAR better ruins than tiny Chichen Itza. Never understood why this ruin get’s so much publicity.

    – Tikal IS the BIGGEST Mayan Ruins, not one of the biggest.

    • Lorenzo Gonzalez says

      Thanks for your input, it is always appreciated. You are right, Palenque is incredible.. but since Chichen Itza is “a bit close” to Belize, I mentioned it instead.