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…
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 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 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.
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.
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!
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.
Staying in San Ignacio
Things to do
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.
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.
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 & transportRead more
Know Before You Go
Xunantunich Entrance Fee: BZ$10 / US$5
Xunantunich 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 Mayan ruins in Belize. If you’re in San Ignacio, don’t miss it! ***
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Easy DIY travel outside city centres using public transport
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Visited in July 2016
Updated in February 2019