Running from the Law: Honeymoon - Xunantunich Mayan Ruins

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Honeymoon - Xunantunich Mayan Ruins

Xunantunich (pronounced shoo-NAHN-too-nich) is a Mayan archaeological site in Western Belize, about 80 miles West of Belize City, in the Cayo District. Xunantunich is located atop a ridge above the Mopan River, within sight of the Guatemala border. Its name means "Stone Woman" in the Mayan language, and refers to the ghost of a woman claimed by several people to inhabit the site, who is dressed completely in white and has fire-red glowing eyes. Most of the structures date from the Maya Classic Era, about 200 to 900. The core of Xunantunich occupies about one square mile, consisting of a series of six plazas surrounded by more than 26 temples and palaces. One of its structures, the pyramid known as "El Castillo," is the second tallest structure in Belize at some 130 feet tall. Archeological evidence suggests the temple was built in three stages in the 600s AD, 700s AD, and 800s AD.

In order to get to Xunantunich from our island, we had to take a water taxi to town (about 10 minutes), a ferry to the mainland (about an hour ride), and then a van all the way to the Guatemalan border (about 2 hours).  Once you get there, you have to take a hand-cranked ferry across the Mopan river and then drive straight up for about a mile.  It was definitely a journey, but well worth seeing. 

Before leaving San Pedro, we had a quick breakfast at the famous Ruby's Cafe.

While driving cross-country (literally) our guide showed us the Sleeping Giant (in the picture above).  The mountains in the background look like the profile of a giant sleeping on his back.  Do you see it?  Doesn't it remind you of Sleeping Indian in Jackson Hole?

Above is the picture of the hand-cranked ferry.  One guys stands there cranking away all day long.  Back and forth. Back and forth.  Our guide told us that we had to get out of the van when we got on the ferry because last year the ferry tipped over and a van went into the water...with all the people in it.  When they got to shore, they realized that one lady wasn't there so the guides had to dive back down and get her out of the van.  She lived.  But lesson learned.  We didn't take any chances.

Above, there's an iguana way up in the tree.  Do you see him?  How the hell did he get there?

We "hiked" through the jungle to get up to the site.

We saw black howler monkeys swinging from the trees (above and below). 

Above, everything in the distance is Guatemala.

These were the ancient sleeping quarters, where the Mayans were able to observe the sky and stars.

Our guide told us that the walkways in the temple were really narrow because the Mayan royalty wore enormous headdresses and they had to walk sideways to keep from tipping over.  Like this...