Our Central American wanderlust was initially ignited thanks to a small country nestled in between Guatemala, Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea. Known for its scuba diving, relaxed island life on the cayes, and stunning ancient Mayan Ruins, Cody and I have been drawn to this exotic country from the moment we saw the wanderlust-inducing-photos.
So needless to say, Belize was a top contender for our annual Christmas trip this year; however, the more I researched, the more confused I became. Because, Belize it or not, Belize seems to have a very polarizing effect on those who explore its boundaries. Some travelers claim that Belize is an “unBELIZEable” destination, while others feel that it is only so-so. Now, of course we all bring our own preconceived notions and expectations to every scenario we encounter, however, the differing opinions were vast, and I was a little apprehensive about spending so much time and money on a single destination and then not loving it.
I discussed my apprehension with Cody and we both agreed that we would probably find ourselves in the first group of travelers. We completely enjoy diving into new cultures, new foods, and new destinations — even if those destinations are drastically different from home — and during our travels, we always make a point to live in the moment and appreciate the amazing opportunity to travel.
So anyways, after our discussion, we decided to book a cruise in order to explore Belize for ourselves. And it goes without saying, but the opportunity to explore four new countries in one overseas trip was an exciting proposition for us!
On the morning of our arrival to Belize City we woke up early and were ready to explore. A new day meant new adventures and we had plans to explore one of the most famous Mayan archaeological sites in all of Belize: Xunantunich. What we didn’t realize at the time was that this day would end up being one of our favorite days of the entire week.
It was a two-hour bus ride from Belize City to Xunantunich, located on the western border of Belize; and as we arrived, a group of wild monkeys greeted us from the palm trees high above. I was delighted to see monkeys in the wild, however my delight quickly turned to paranoia when I heard that they sometimes throw poop at visitors. Yikes! We left our furry friends and their interesting shenanigans and continued our journey through the jungle.
At Xunantunich’s center is a large courtyard surrounded by Mayan temples of all shapes and sizes– there are 25 temples in total — and visitors are allowed to wander the grounds and explore the temples at their own pace.
According to our guide, early Maya settlers lived in a village near the site sometime around 600-300B.C., and Xunantunich rose to its peak around 700-1000A.D. Interestingly enough, this Mayan site wasn’t uncovered until the late 1800s and excavation began in 1924.
While Xunantunich is a relatively small site, the most dominant temple within the courtyard is without question, El Castillo. At over 13-stories tall, El Castillo is the second largest structure in Belize. We climbed the steep, narrow staircase carved from stone and admired the intricate carvings on the temple along the way. After more stairs, we eventually made it to the summit, and as we looked out over Xunantunich and the surrounding jungle, we realized that the best views of this site are from El Castillo. Our tour guide Carla then pointed out into the dense jungle below and said, “There’s Guatemala!” — we were so close, yet so far!
Belize is a diverse country filled with a harmonious blend of cultures, cuisine, landscapes, and languages, and as the 20th country on my list, it holds a special place in my travel-loving-heart. To anyone considering a trip to Belize, I would absolutely recommend it. With beautiful beaches in the South, amazing dive sites along its coast, bird watching, hiking, and the elusive Jaguars prowling the jungles, there is something for everyone. One thing I do know for sure is that we still have a lot to uncover.
Until next time, Belize…
25 thoughts on “Celebrating 20! An UnBELIZEable Day at Xunantunich”
I just found your blog and it’s absolutely amazing!
Thank you. 🙂 I’m so happy to have you here.
I’d never heard of Xunantunich before, but it looks awesome. I really want to visit the pyramid.
I hope you can visit El Castillo sometime soon. 🙂 The ruins are so interesting.
Wow, I didn’t realise Belize has ruins too! (Although now that I think about it, duh!) I have a friend who wants to dive the marine park there, and I’ve been undecided on whether to join in or not. Maybe next year!
I hear Belize has amazing diving… that’s on my list for our next visit. 🙂 If you go, take some time to check out some of the ruins, they are awesome.
It is true! We all can have different opinions of a country. I enjoyed my time in Belize but it is not (by far) my favorite country in Central America. In all fairness, disaster striked when I was there. Anyway, we were able to go to the ATM Cave, Caracol and to Tikal in Guatemala. Sadly, I was not able to visit Xunantunich.
Sorry to hear that disaster struck when you were in Belize, I’m glad that you were still able to do some exploring. I’m curious, what is your favorite country in Central America? I’m always looking for travel suggestions!
Xunantunich looks really exciting! I’ve seen Mayan ruins in Mexico, but I’ve never been to Belize. I’d love to go and see the ruins for myself some day. And it’s cool that you were so close to Guatemala!
I wish we would have had time to go into Guatemala and do a little exploring. Next time… 😉
Wow, loved the detail in those ruins. What an amazing place to visit! And to be greeted by monkeys when you got here, had to be fun! But those ruins would be on the top of my list to go back and spend A LOT more time at in the future.
The details were incredible. I would love to take some more time and see more of the Mayan ruins in Belize and Guatemala. I guess that means we’ll have to go back. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by.
Oh spectacular! I really didn’t know this place existed! Lovely post 🙂
So neat, right?! Thanks for commenting.
I loved the ruins of Belize! I did it on a cruise too (multiple times actually!) but would love to go back and explore more, like you said 🙂 great photos!!
Happy to hear you enjoyed it as well. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by.
How cool that you can wander and explore the ruins like that! It always amazes me how well they have preserved some of the structures considering how old they are, like the carvings on El Castillo.
We said the same thing! 🙂
I know eaxctly what you mean about getting so confused after reading a few people’s experiences of a place. You kind of what someone to just say ‘yes definitely go’ or ‘no don’t bother’ but of course it doesn’t work like that! Sounds like it paid of that you went, and all the greenery looks so lush!
Thanks, the jungles were so lush and green. It was a joy to see the howler monkeys out in the wild! So glad we were able to see it for ourselves, and we’re looking forward to our return. Have a great day.
Lovely pictures. We visited Belize for a day on a Western Caribbean cruise and found it lovely as well. We were able to go ziplining through the canopy in the jungle outside of Belize City. It was an experience I would highly recommend for those not afraid of heights. We didn’t have a chance to see the ruins (although we did visit Mayan ruins in Mexico a couple of days later), but they look amazing.
Ziplining through the jungle sounds awesome! 🙂 I’ll have to add that to my list of things to do on our next visit.
WOW! It looks like you would have needed good walking shoes. How beautiful!
I definitely would not recommend hiking in flip-flops. 🙂 I wore my Nikes and they worked great.