Dotted around Guatemala, Northern Belize, Mexico and Honduras are remains of structures, buildings and monuments built by the Mayan people; an ancient civilization with a very rich history.
There are 8 main sites of the Mayan ruins that are still standing today, namely:
Tikal – a c.700 AD city in Guatemala
Caracol – another city except from c.500 AD and situated in Belize
Chichén Itzá – a monument and center for pilgrimage located in Mexico
Tulum – a coastal Mayan site present until c.1200 AD
Kabah – a ruin with elaborate and intricate carvings on the wall which was used from c.800 AD to c.900 AD
Palenque – another site located in Mexico thought to be magical, present from c.600 AD to c.700 AD
Coba – a partially excavated network of roads and pyramids in Yucatan, Mexico
Uxmal – the most extravagant and complex of all eight Mayan sites, built shortly before c.1000 AD.
All eight of these structures can be seen within what is known as the ‘Mayan area'; a stretch of over 625 miles in the Mesoamerica region that is separated loosely into three sections: the northern Maya lowlands, the central/southern Maya lowlands and the southern Maya highlands. Each area has a different climate, and of course a different elevation. Today it is possible to visit all eight of the Mayan ruins, and using their locations to draw up an itinerary can make for one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling two-week vacations in the Western hemisphere.
These eight entirely man made structures were built by the Mayan people between c.500 AD and c.1200 AD. However, after archaeologists found ancient remains in Cuello, Belize and carbon dated them, the culture itself is said to have been first founded as early as c. 2000BC or even c. 2600BC.
Mayan culture didn’t come to its peak until the classic period in c. 250AD and the civilization started to collapse in c. 800AD; a process that went right up until c. 1200AD. Despite this, and the fact that there may have been many attacks upon the Mayan structures, buildings and monuments they built, the eight that still remain are largely in very good condition. Kabah in Yucatan, Mexico, for example, showcases the ‘palace of masks'; a room filled floor to ceiling with masks of what could be monsters, or the Mayan rain god Chaac. They are in exceptionally good condition with every one still present.
Some of this preservation can be attributed to the fact that every one of the eight Mayan ruins is a UNESCO world heritage site (and therefore protected from damage), but we cannot deny that the Maya civilization was obviously exceptionally knowledgeable in building techniques, materials and the quality of their constructions.
How to Get There:
Belize lies on the eastern coast of the Maya area, but also mid way between most of the ruins. You can fly directly to Belize City Municipal Airport, which is not far at all from Belize city center; a busy area with lots to see and do, as well as lots of places to stay. This is a great place to use as your ‘base’ and then travel from there to see the ruins.
There are several educational tours you can take of the Mayan ruins, many of which are done by coach. You may wish to choose a tour that provides you with accommodation along the way.
Where to Stay:
The Radisson Fort George Hotel and Marina is a great choice of hotel for those on a mid range to luxury budget. At around $190 per night, you get access to the hotel’s swimming pool, business center, gym, restaurant and free parking.
If your budget is a little lower, then you could choose from either the Black Orchid Resort, which offers rooms at around $110 per night (plus swimming pool, free parking and restaurant), or the Glover’s Atoll Resort for the much lower price of approximately $70 per night. Of course, these are just three options of hundreds of hotels in Belize City and the surrounding area.