Amber Sunset’s tour to see The Xunantunich Belize Mayan Ruins is one of the best ways to explore and appreciate the majesty of ancient Maya architecture.
Those unable to wrap their tongues around the name for this Maya Ruin refer to it as “X-Ruin.” The name is pronounced as shoo-nahn-too-nitch or shah-nahn-tune-itch. Xunantunich translates to “The Stone Woman” in modern English. The oldest continuously excavated Maya site in Belize is this Mayan Ruin. Many of the early explorers claimed to have seen a ghostly female figure dressed completely in white in front of the main temple, earning the site its name.
Xunantunich is located in western Belize near the border with Guatemala. It is approximately one mile (1.6 km) north of the town of Benque Viejo on the banks of the Mopan River. As a result of its unusual location, visitors must traverse the Mopan River using a hand-cranked mechanical ferry.
Built in the early Pre-Classic Period around 1000 BC the foundation of this great Mayan Ruins began. In addition, this Mayan Ruins grew substantially in the seventh century BC. Consequently, Xunantunich rose to become one of the dominant city-states in the region. Competing for influence with sites like Cahal Pech, Naranjo (Guatemala), Cerros (Corozal) and the long-lost city of El Mirador. Guatemala replaced the name El Mirador as it was once known. The Mayas abandoned Xunantunich for more than 100 years. It did not return to a position of influence until around 850 AD. It is still unknown as to why the city was abandoned.
The “downtown” area of Xunantunich measures approximately one square mile (2.6 square kilometers) in area. It is formed by a series of six plazas that are home to more than two dozen palaces, temples, and administration buildings. El Castillo (The Castle) is the most iconic structure in Xunantunich. An impressive pyramid perched 130 feet (40 meters) high on a natural limestone ridge with elaborate carvings. Even today, El Castillo remains the second tallest manmade structure in the country.
In 2016, a team of archeologists discovered the largest Maya royal tomb ever discovered underneath one of the chambers of El Castillo. After digging through several feet of rubble, the team discovered a burial chamber with a man 20-30 years old surrounded by valuable goods like ceramic vessels, jade pearls, obsidian knives, and the complete body of an animal tentatively identified as a deer. In conclusion, work remains ongoing at the site and a viewing platform is available to allow visitors to monitor the excavation.
What to bring to the Mayan Ruins Tour:
- Lightweight, comfortable clothing.
- Sturdy footwear suitable for clambering around the ruins.
- Long pants instead of shorts.
- Insect repellent.
- Sunscreen and/or a hat.
- Plenty of drinking water.