Xunantunich is an ancient Maya archaeological site located 12 km west of San Ignacio. There’s no need to take a tour – we’ll tell you a bit about everything you need to know right here!
History of Xunantunich
Xunantunich means the “Stone Maiden” in the Maya language. Since 1892, numerous people have claimed to have seen a ghost here, dressed completely in white with red glowing eyes.
The first explorations of the site began at roughly the same time, by the British district commissioner of Cayo (San Ignacio), Thomas Gann.
Ongoing excavations have revealed that Xunantunich probably played an important role in the political power struggle of the Classical period. It seems likely that it joined in an alliance with Caracol & Calakmul in Mexico to bring down Tikal in Guatemala.
Xunantunich Visitor Center
Learn more about the history of Xunantunich at the visitor center on site – this should be the first stop on your visit.
At this small museum, there are first-rate archaeological finds, such as jewellery & pottery, and details of the El Castillo friezes.
All the signs & explanations are in English, which is a treat if you’re non-Spanish speakers coming from Mexico, like us.
Xunantunich stands on a flattened hilltop, overlooking the Mopan River.
There are 5 plazas on site, which were once part of this Maya civic ceremonial center. However they are completely overshadowed by the towering El Castillo, or The Castle.
Standing at 40 meters high, El Castillo is the 2nd tallest structure in Belize, after the main temple at Caracol.
You can climb to the top of El Castillo & taken in the breathtaking, 360 degree views of the Cayo countryside. You can also easily see the Guatemala border, just 1 km away.
The upper levels of El Castillo are covered in elaborate plaster friezes with depictions of various gods. Some of the friezes have eroded over time, others lie protected under replica friezes.
Xunantunich isn’t the only Mayan archaeological site in town – you can also visit Cahal Pech, which is a 20 minute walk from the centre of San Ignacio.
However, it’s apparently not as impressive & the entrance fee is also double (BZ$20) so we were happy just visiting the one ruin.
How to Get to & from Xunantunich
Take any local bus heading west to Benque Viejo del Carmen – these run approximately every hour, on the half hour.
The bus ride cost BZ$2.00 / US$100.
Stop at the village of San Jose Succotz, then take the hand-operated cable-winched river ferry across to the other side – it’s free. From here, the ruins are a 2k walk uphill.
The return bus back to San Ignacio leaves San Jose Succotz approximately every hour, on the hour.
For more information, see our post San Ignacio Budget Travel Guide & Tour Prices.
In a Nutshell
Entrance fee: BZ$10 / US$5
Opening hours: 8:00 am to 4:00 pm, daily
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*** The Final Word – Xunantunich is one of the most accessible & impressive Maya ruins in Belize. If you’re in San Ignacio, don’t miss it! ***
What’s your favourite Maya ruin in Belize?
Easy DIY travel outside city centres using public transport
Visited in July 2016