Explore the Mayan ruins:
San Ignacio is located near several ancient Mayan sites, including Xunantunich, Cahal Pech, and nearby Tikal in Guatemala. These ruins offer a glimpse into the history and culture of the Mayan people, who inhabited this region for over 1,500 years. Cahal Pech is easily accessible in the interior of San Ignacio and while beautifully maintained, is on the smaller side so an hour or so of exploring here is more than adequate.
Xunantunich we found particularly impressive and I would recommend hiring one of the English speaking guides waiting outside the site before the river ferry. The guides go through a college-style year long program in order to become specialized in their areas in Belize and we found the anecdotes and stories our guide shared with us to make the experience of visiting this very large ceremonial site helpful and interesting.
The name “Xunantunich” means “Stone Woman” in the Maya language, and it is derived from the legend of the “Lady in Stone,” a ghostly woman who is said to haunt the site. According to the legend, the woman was turned to stone after being accused of infidelity. The site consists of several plazas and pyramids (which you can climb!), as well as a number of stelae (vertical stone slabs) and altars that are decorated with intricate carvings and inscriptions. The main structure at Xunantunich is the El Castillo pyramid, which stands over 130 feet tall and is one of the tallest structures in Belize.
Xunantunich was first documented by outsiders in the late 19th century, and it was excavated and studied by archaeologists in the early 20th century. Today, the site is a popular tourist destination and is managed by the Belize Institute of Archaeology.