Xunantunich, the Stone Maiden

Posted on Jan 7, 2013 in Blog, Mayan Ruins | No Comments
Xunantunich, the Stone Maiden

One of Hanna Stables’ most popular horseback ride tours is to the nearby Mayan ruins site of Xunantunich. This archaelogical site in Western Belize is one of the top attractions in our local towns of San Ignacio and Benque Viejo, attracting everyone from cruise ship tourists to those on their way to the neighbor site of Tikal 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 Xunantunich below, and check out our photo gallery!

History

Xunantunich means “Stone Woman” in the Maya language, and 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 and study of Xunantunich was conducted by Thomas Gann, a British man with an interest in Mayan archaeology.

Xunantunich Mayan Ruins in San Ignacio, Belize

Xunantunich Mayan Ruins in San Ignacio, Belize

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.

Other nearby Maya ruin sites include Cahal Pech, Actun Kan, Caracol, and El Pilar (all of which are easily accessible from Hanna Stables).

Xunantunich Today

Located within 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 Xunantunich, the Mopan river must be crossed by taking a hand-cranked ferry. Visitors can opt to drive, catch a cab, walk, or take a horse. 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.

Climbing El Castillo is not for the faint of heart!

Climbing El Castillo is not for the faint of heart!

Visitors to Xunantunich 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.

At the bottom of El Castillo.

At the bottom of El Castillo.

Many people experience Xunantunich is a whirlwind trip via car or tour bus, but the BEST way to tour Xunantunich is by horse. Hanna Stables offers private or group tours to the famous Mayan site on horseback. No previous riding experience is needed, and we guarantee it will make your next trip to Belize a trip to remember. After all, how many people do you know that have ridden on a hand-cranked ferry while also riding on a horse? Interested in a tour? Click here for more information on how to book a horseback riding tour at Hanna Stables!

Book A Tour

More Resources

Xunantunich on the Belize Tourism Board (BTB) website

Xunantunich review on Moon.com

Xunantunich review on Lonely Planet 

See what other travelers have said about Xunantunich on Trip Advisor!

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