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The Ancient Maya World Awaits

January 28, 2009

Pull back the veil of centuries and step into the Maya world. These ancient sites in Belize and the Tikal National Park reveal some of their mysteries to visitors, while jealously guarding others. Discover the culture, architecture and treasures of this civilization whose calendar and language still lives today. Your expert guide unlocks the secrets of this regal yet violent people, who eventually deserted their enormous cities and melted back into the jungle.

Turtle Inn
The carved stelae of the Maya world tells the story of conquered and conquerer. One of the largest stelae is at Nim Li Punit or ‘Big Hat”. The name references a headdress found on a sculpture of one of the city’s kings. Other rulers are depicted on majestic carved stelae, several of which lie in an unfinished state, suggesting a curious and chilling halt to their progress. The Maya ballcourt is so well preserved that it appears to be anticipating its next high stakes game that often ended in ritual sacrifice. Other options include a visit to the Maya site of Lubaantun where the British adventurer Mitchell-Hedges claims to have found the mysterious crystal skull.

La Lancha
Tikal is so precious that it has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site and Francis Ford Coppola calls it one of the wonders of the world. It is the reason he has a resort here. Teeming with flora and fauna (including 2 species of monkey and over 300 species of birds), the temples of Tikal were once completely shrouded by jungle. During this memorable excursion, investigate six enormous pyramids—climbing to the top for a breathtaking view over the jungle-clad lowlands of Pétén. Explore royal palaces, residences, ballcourts and even a jail. A local specialist makes this overwhelming full day event a trip that will be remembered for life—but don’t be surprised if you crave Day Two to completely savor these riches. If you’re traveling overland between La Lancha and Blancaneaux Lodge call in at the spectacular lake-side site of Yaxhá.

Blancaneaux Lodge
The largest Maya city in Belize, the Caracol ruins were only recently fully excavated. This powerful Maya city conquered its fierce rival Tikal in AD 562. Explore ancient burial tombs and enjoy the abundant wildlife of the National Park. All 65 square miles of Caracol can be enjoyed from the spectacular view at the top of the 140 foot high Caana, the “Sky Palace” pyramid—the tallest building in Belize until just a few years ago. Immersed in this massive city, your urban reality seems little more than a memory. Caracol may only be accessed by one road, offering complete serenity and if nature smiles, you may see a tapir or if the gods are gleeful, perhaps even an elusive jaguar.

Want something slightly smaller? Unpack the small treasure of Xunantunich. Cross the river on a hand cranked ferry and walk up a gentle hill to this Maya site. Climb El Castillo, the second tallest structure in Belize, for a breathtaking 360 degree panoramic view of the plazas ringed with pyramids holding the verdant jungle in abeyance. Be aware that its name “Stone Woman” credits a ghost that legend claims haunts the site.