How to Visit Xunantunich Ruins Without a Tour

Xunantunich Mayan Ruins: Is it Worth Visiting?

In Belize, Places of Worship & Ruins by Sheena2 Comments

The Xunantunich Mayan Ruins is the one of the most important sites in Belize but is it worth visiting? We’ll tell you its history & logistics so you can decide for yourself…

Find more inspiration in one of the Belize guide books below! 

Xunantunich Mayan Ruins friezes
I’m dwarfed by Xunantunich & its replica friezes in Belize!

History of Xunantunich

The Xunantunich ruins are one of the top things to do in San Ignacio but before we get into the visitor info, let us give you a brief history of this important archaeological site.

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, Belize 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, Belize
In the thick of it at the Xunantunich Mayan Ruins, Belize

Xunantunich Visitor Center

Learn more about the history of Xunantunich in Belize at the visitor center – 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 Belize Visitor Centre
The small museum at the Xunantunich Mayan Ruins Visitor Centre

Xunantunich Mayan Ruins

Xunantunich stands on a flattened hilltop, overlooking the Mopan River in Belize.

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 – it’s what makes the Xunantunich one of the top destinations in Belize.

El Castillo at Xunantunich Belize
Climb to the top of El Castillo for incredible views across to Guatemala

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 – where there are many awesome places to visit in Guatemala.

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.

El Castillo view of Xunantunich, Belize
The view from the top of El Castillo at Xunantunich Mayan Ruins

Xunantunich isn’t the only Mayan archaeological site in San Ignacio – 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 & someone wrong told us that the entrance fee was double the price.

The entrance fee to Cahal Pech is actually BZ$10 / $5 (so the same as Xunantunich) – thank you to the readers who let us know!

Forest at Xunantunich Mayan Ruins
Make time to explore some of the forest too at Xunantunich, Belize!

How to get to Xunantunich

Take any local bus in San Ignacio 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.

Xunantunich, Belize ferry
Take the hand-operated ferry across the river to the Xunantunich Mayan Ruins

Staying in San Ignacio

Things to do in San Ignacio

Base yourself in the town of San Ignacio to explore more of the region including the Cahal Pech ruins and the Iguana Conservation Project at the San Ignacio Resort Hotel.

Adventure seekers will also find many opportunities to go kayaking, swimming, hiking, caving & horseback riding but it’s hard to get around without your own car and tours are pretty expensive.

One excursion we did splash out on was the ATM (Actun Tunichil Muknal) cave tour. We read about it in our guidebook and National Geographic also voted it the #1 Sacred Cave in the World.

There are several travel agencies on the main street in San Ignacio. We booked it with Maya Walks for BZ$180 / US$90 and it was well-worth it because it was such a unique and adventurous experience.

We recommend having travel insurance if you’re planning to visit Belize. It’s a pretty safe country but there are many adventurous activities you can do and should be covered for.

We’ve been using World Nomads in our travels through 80+ countries over the past 12 years. It’s the best-value provider we’ve found in terms of price and coverage and we haven’t had any issues when we’ve had to make (fortunately) minor claims.

For more details check out our World Nomads review here.

Actun Tunichil Muknal
Don’t miss the ATM cave tour in San Ignacio

San Ignacio Accommodation

As one the main travel hubs in Belize there’s no shortage of accommodation in San Ignacio.

There are around 54 properties ranging from simple guest houses from $15 to high end resorts costing $400 a night.

The 4 hostels in San Ignacio are Bella’s Backpackers D’s Hostel The Old House Hostel and Chaltunha Hostel. Dorm beds go for around $12.

We stayed at Hi-Et Guest House which isn’t listed on any of the booking platforms. A room with shared bathroom is BZ$30 / US$15 – we negotiated for BZ$25 a night for 3 nights.

Check hostel prices in San Ignacio now

San Ignacio Budget Travel Guide

San Ignacio is the ultimate day trip mecca – find out what tours are available as well as information on attractions, food, accommodation & transport

Read more

Know Before You Go

Xunantunich Entrance Fee: BZ$10 / US$5

Xunantunich Opening Hours: 8:00 am to 4:00 pm, daily

Things to do in San Ignacio
How to Visit Xunantunich Ruins Without a Tour

*** The Final Word – Xunantunich is one of the most accessible & impressive Mayan ruins in Belize. If you’re in San Ignacio, don’t miss it! *** 

What’s your favourite place in Belize?

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means that we receive a small commission if you click on a link & purchase something that we have recommended – at no extra cost to you.

Visited in July 2016

Updated in February 2019


  1. Hi there
    Thanks for the useful info. 🙂
    So… i Went to the Cahal Pech Ruins today, and the admission is also only BZ 10$/ US 5$!

Leave a Comment

nine + 13 =

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.