It’s time for yet another post on Belize, a country which similarly to El Salvador threw more adventures at me than I had ever time to catch. I toured the capital city of Belmopan, went snorkelling at Caye Caulker, stayed in the Xanadu Resort and visited the caves at Actun Tunichil Muknal. The thought of seeing “yet another Mayan site” wasn’t so appealing at the start but as ever, I was pleasantly surprised, completely proved wrong and utterly inspired by our visit to the Xunantunich Mayan Ruins in Belize.
Getting to Xunantunich Mayan Ruins
Despite it being on top of a hill in remote countryside, the good news is there are lots of options for getting to Xunantunich! It sits in Belize but very very close to the Guatemalan border. This makes it an easy stop off point if you are arriving or leaving Belize through that border crossing. Xunantunich is also incredibly close to San Ignacio which tends to be a “tourist hub” in western Belize. However you might have read that we spent a couple of nights in Belmopan instead, as it’s the capital city of Belize and it was from here that we headed all the way to Xunantunich.
We’d recommend basing yourself in the El Rey Hotel in Belmopan and organising Xunantunich on a day trip. You can contact local travel experts Nick and Shannon at the El Rey Hotel, or via e-mail – [email protected] or through their Belizean travel site. If you want to be closer to Xunantunich you can stay in San Ignacio too.
The Ferry From San Jose Succotz to Xunantunich
The cool thing about heading to Xunantunich is that you need to get the shortest ferry ride ever over to the other side of the river. Basically the ferry you get is only about half the length of the stretch of water you will cross!!
To get the ferry, either get yourself to San Jose Succotz by bus, or as we did, part of the tour, they take you here.
How Much is the Entrance Fee for Xunantunich?
Entrance fee for foreigners is $10 Belize Dollars (so $5 US Dollars) and $5 Belize Dollars for locals. After crossing the ferry, there is a 1-2 kilometre drive to the entrance. After paying, you will be issued with a ticket and in you go.
Xunantunich translates as Stone Lady, in Mayan language. The rumour goes that this “Stone Lady” refers to the ghost of a woman claimed by several people to inhabit the site, beginning in 1892.
The “Stone Lady” is dressed in white, and has red glowing eyes. She generally appears in front of “El Castillo”, ascends the stone stairs, and disappears into a stone wall. Hmmm…instead of buying the whole myth, I loved three things about Xunantunich:
1. No other tourists. Bliss.
2. Well designed pyramids. I wasn’t as impressed with Tazumal or Copan to be honest. Xunan, wins…
3. Views from the top. You can see Guatemala.
The main pyramid is the one you should scale. It has impressive carvings on it and is known as “El Castillo”, this is where the phantom “lady” appears…here are the best photos from Xunantunich:
Also in the grounds of Xunantunich, there is a cool museum (basically one large room) and some souvenir shops. Bargain them down, but please note – they really are a rip off here!!
So it’s a totally recommended trip to Xunantunich and in the end, after touring about 8/9 Mayan sites in 5 countries, this was the last one I visited on this trip.
Here are my videos from visiting Xunantunich:
4 thoughts on “Backpacking in Belize: Visiting Xunantunich Mayan Ruins”
I totally by-passed Xunantunich in favour of a day trip to Tikal when I was in Belize a few years ago, but I did get a chance to visit Lamanai near Orange Walk Town. While Tikal was pretty cool in its own right, I totally agree with you that exploring Mayan ruins in Belize is a much better experience:
* Adventurous (you took a ferry to get to Xunantunich while I took a speed boat to get to Lamanai)
* Very few tourists about that gives you plenty of photo opportunities
* Generally well kept (some of the ruins in Tikal are falling apart due to overuse and general “wear and tear”)
* Ancient Mayan history is very interesting
* The ability to climb up and down the temples is a privilege and not a right.
I’ll definitely check this place out if I ever make it back to Belize again. There’s quite a few Mayan ruins similar to this, but this is the most popular one in Belize by far mainly due to its location near San Ignacio and the “Backpackers’ hub.”
Ray recently posted…São João Farm – Two Days in the Pantanal
Hi Ray – wow – that’s great you got to see northern Guatemala – I wasn’t actually aware you had been there, for some reason I picked up from a previous message that you spent the whole time in Belize on that trip. Xunantunich should be more touristy but it’s just not. It was only us. I think there is a busier Mayan site in Belize though. Safe travels. Jonny
If we manage to get ourselves to Xunantunich (by public bus) can we find a local guide to tell us the history once we are there? Seems more economical than booking a tour.
Hi Kim, Thanks for the comment. This was in 2014 so a long time ago – the guides are available at the entrance to Xunantunich. Unfortunately cameras are banned as a few years before us some idiot tourist dropped a camera into a skull and cracked it. Stay safe. Jonny