BEST MAYAN HISTORY EXPERIENCE IS IN BELIZE, OUT OF THREE NEARBY COUNTRIES!
by Ray Auxillou
I've been knocking around the Mayan Empire for 50 years. In my opinion the best history archeological experience is in Belize. If a tourist coming for vacation to Belize doesn't have too much time available, but wants a quick introductory visit to the Mayan Empires of antiquity. They should probably budget TWO of their vacation days? There are myriad Mayan ceremonial sites throughout Guatemala, the Yucatan Peninsular and Belize. Most are roughly 26 miles apart and controlled by a radius of 13 miles, or a day's walk for communal political labor and defense. There are a couple of thousand Mayan sites in three countries around here.
For an introduction to those ancient days, my choice of the best places in three countries, would be the FIRST day spent at Xununtanich and Cahel Pech of Western Cayo District. These two hilltop pyramids span three thousand years of pre-classic and then the late classic feudal empires. If you arrive early in the morning out Western Belize, one can do Xununtanich pyramid ruins in the morning, Clarissa Falls, a Mayan trade route portage and have a lunch and swim, then Cahel Pech, the older set of pyramids which are pre-classic by nightfall. A midday arrival at our Falconview Hostel, can do the two ruins with dropping the Clarissa Falls lunch by sunset in the same afternoon. These two sites would be the background buildup experience. This should be followed, by an all day trip the next day ( day TWO ) to the ACTUN TUNICHIL MUCKNAL Mayan cave system with skeletons and hundreds of broken pottery in an underground ceremonial center. This adventure really brings home, with a big BANG to the gut, the world experience of the Maya. One tour builds on the one before. You will never forget this EVER!
More dedicated aficianados of Mayan History would spend an additional two days and visit each of; CARACOL and TIKAL on day three and four. These were the two major capitals of the Federation of Maya for 3000 years. Both complexes require a full day each. Making four days in all, for the more serious Mayan Empire history buff.
Cruise ship tourists with short visit time allotments are best served by a brief glimpse of Altun Ha, a typical city state ceremonial center down on the coastal plain and more easily done in a half day trip, getting you back to your cruise ship in time at the port of Belize City.
For costs in 2007; out of Santa Elena Town the low budget center and FALCONVIEW TOURIST BACKPACKERS ADVENTURE HOSTEL near the border of Belize, the two Maya pyramid hilltop ceremonial centers of Cahel Pech and Xununtanich will cost roughly $40 usa in total, counting archeological park entrance fees and incidentals. Prices depend on who is serving you. The trip to the underground cave system of ACTUN TUNICHIL MUCKNAL is an all day trip and currently costs $80 usa. Tour Operators to this underworld archeological site of XIBALBA are special trained and limited. This will really build on the second day of your adventurous experiences to the world of the Maya, as you assimilate the ceremonial hilltop pyramids knowledge,through your visual intellectual process of the brain and then get a really good gut feeling by this underground ceremonial sacrifice place, with real old skeletons and pottery in the undergrond darkness of the world of the Maya. Prices tend to change without notice!
Dormitory beds at Falconview Tourist Backpackers Aventure Hostel, cost $9 usa a night and this hostel is part of a small Spanish style Hacienda and very posh with tile floors, cement walls and Spanish curved arches over windows and interior halls. Mostly the College and University crowd favor this place in their 20's and 30's age group. With a hammock room, study room, television and a FREE communal kitchen, it is most convenient. The hostel has lots of musical instruments for those that can play. Various Tour Operators pickup guests here at the front desk each day. The next town over, across the Macal river, called San Ignacio Town has two reasonably upscale hotels and many smaller budget places. Prices here tend to run much higher, in the $25 usa to $100 usa range for a private small room, usually not up to USA standards. 75% of these budget hotels are not really as nice as low budget FALCONVIEW HOSTEL over in Green Parrot Valley in Santa Elena Town, which is your more typical Central American frontier dusty agriculture town. The more expensive two hotels across the river tend to be sold out in high season, by long term winter residents.
For those really into Mayan history, then another two days ( day 3 and 4 ) should be spent visiting CARACOL in Belize, over some low mountain ranges and another all day trip to TIKAL, across the border in Guatemala. Due to the heavier volume of tourism in the millions of visitors in Guatemala, the airlines usually advertise the TIKAL ruins big time to sell airplane seats, as that is were the money is. In my opinion though, for a short time introductory trip to the world of the Maya, the day trip in Western Belize to XUNUNTANICH and CAHEL PECH the first day and the second day tour to ACTUN TUNICHIL MUCKNAL will do far more to give you a real life grasp of those historical days of antiquity. The Maya of course are still with us, and down in the Toledo District jungle villages of Southern Belize, live much the same as they always have, for over 5000 years.