Studied by countless archeologists over the last century and distinguished as the first Maya Site to be opened and proclaimed archeologically and historically significant in Belize, a tour of the ancient monuments of Xunantunich should not be missed.
The journey starts in the Cayo District at the Mopan riverbank in the small village of San Jose Succotz, where visitors step or drive onto a rickety hand-cranked ferry (open 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. everyday) that slowly but surely transports its passengers to the other side of the river. Stepping off the ferry transports visitors to the base of the site where they must walk or drive just less than one mile up a steep hill. The parking area and visitor center are encountered first, where visitors must pay an entrance fee of BZ$10.00. A couple steps from the center transfers excited visitors to the three extensive plazas of the Maiden of the Rock ~ Xunantunich.
Located atop a high limestone ridge and covering approximately 2,700 square feet, Xunantunich is believed to have been an important Ceremonial Center in the Classic Period. A tour of the visitor center and small museum can enlighten visitors on the history and importance of the site. There is a small scale-model of the entire city, a fiberglass replica of an archeological frieze on site and four restored stallae in the museum.
The tallest structure on site is the famous, ‘El Castillo’ towering 130 feet into the sky and ranking as one of the tallest buildings in the entire country. The two towers atop El Castillo, characteristic of the intriguing and well-restored designs of the archaeological frieze on the lower tower has become an identifying feature of Belize. The climb to the top of El Castillo, though disheartening to those with height phobias, is an unforgettable experience. Maneuvering your way up the small ‘Mayan’ steps through ancient corbelled vaults and stone passageways sparks excitement and great anticipation of what lies above.
Finally emerging at the top of El Castillo, a breathtaking panorama spreads before your eyes. Green forests of Belize and part of Guatemala stretching as far as the eyes can see, the entire Cayo District including the lazy currents of the Mopan River, and a clear map of the Ceremonial City of Xunantunich spread out below. With only the distant sound of birds singing in the forests below and the whispering wind gently blowing over El Castillo, one can easily experience a calm and peaceful state of mind sitting 130 feet above the ancient Mayan City.