One of the most popular Belize tours in San Ignacio is to Xunantunich Mayan ruins. This archaeological site in the Cay o District of is one of the top attractions in our local towns of San Ignacio and Benque Viejo. The site attracts everyone from cruise ship tourists on shore excursions to those on their way to Tikal Mayan Ruins in Guatemala. For those unfamiliar with Xunantunich, this week’s blog will provide you with some background information on one of San Ignacio’s top attractions. Read more about the history and current state of the ruins below, and check out our photo gallery!
History of Xunantunich
Xunantunich means “Stone Woman” in the Maya language. This is believed to refer to the ghost of a woman who supposedly inhabited the site in 1892. She is rumored to dress completely in white with red glowing eyes. When spotted, she generally appears in front of “El Castillo” before ascending down the stone stairs and disappearing. In the mid-1890s, the first modern exploration of Xunantunich was led by Thomas Gann, a British man with an interest in Mayan archaeology.
The core of Xunantunich occupies one square mile and is made up of six large plazas and over 26 surrounding temples and palaces. The “axis mundi” of the site is known as El Castillo, not to be confused with the El Castillo of Chichen Itza. Standing 130 feet (40 meters) tall, El Castillo is the second tallest structure in Belize, second only to the temple at Caracol.
Located in the village of San Jose Succotz, Xunantunich is 8 miles west of downtown San Ignacio. It is easily accessible from Belize City, and visitors may arrive within 2 hours when taking a car. To reach the ruins, the Mopan river must be crossed by taking a hand-cranked ferry. Visitors can opt to drive, catch a cab, walk, or take a guided horseback ride. From the ferry, it is an additional 1-mile walk to the official entrance. Xunantunich includes a modern visitor’s center with a gift shop and light refreshments, as well as an educational overview of the site’s history.
Visitors are invited to walk around the site and even climb high atop El Castillo for a sweeping view of the Cayo District below, and (on a clear day) a fantastic view of Caracol and Guatemala in the distance. El Castillo also has very well preserved friezes that are photo-worthy.