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#427968 - 01/16/12 08:08 AM Xunantunich Maya Site
Marty Offline

View of the west side frieze at Xunantunich Maya Site in western Belize.

The name Xunantunich derives from the Yucatec Maya language and means “Stone Woman.” Local legend holds that around the end of the 1800s, a gentleman from the village of San Jose Succotz Belize went hunting near the site. Crossing the base of the Castillo, he was struck by the appearance of a beautiful statuesque Maya maiden, dressed in traditional “huipil” and “pik,”,and dazzling in the rays of the rising sun. The woman stood motionless by the mouth of a cave which extended beneath the large structure. Stricken by her appearance, the man threw his gun aside and ran downhill to the village. After recounting his tale several villagers led by their native priest returned to the site. Arriving at the large mound they found the mouth of the tunnel, but the stone maiden had disappeared. Thereafter locals claim that the woman has appeared to several others but none have been able to follow her into the cavern.

CLICK to Belize.com for the rest of this excellent article


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#429000 - 01/29/12 09:23 AM Re: Xunantunich Maya Site [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

VIDEO: Xunantunich, Mayan Ruins, Belize



The Magic of Xunantunich

What is it about Xunantunich?

Well, lots, actually, but we were still surprised to see our favourite ancient Maya site splashed across North American media from Canada down to sunny California this week in late May.

Yes, we stumbled across this wonderful ancient Maya site in the Hamilton Spectator (Ontario, Canada) online edition, and then two days later; there it was again in the Sioux City Journal (Iowa), and again in the Desert Sun (Palm Springs, California).

We shouldn’t be surprised, as Xunantunich is such an amazing find anywhere, and even stands out in the Maya heartland of Belize, but three times over the course of a few days?

Anyway, seeing it brought back so many memories of great times there that we felt the need to mention it again.

Mayan for “Stone maiden” Xunantunich is definitely one of Belize’s prettiest Maya archaeological sites, renowned for exquisite architecture, beautiful frescos and stelae, as well as its park-like atmosphere and stunning views from the top of El Castillo, the iconic pyramid temple.

Xunantunich was an important ceremonial centre built around AD 600 near the end of the Maya Late Classic Period, boasting a population of some 10,000 people at its peak, and apparently continued to thrive while other Maya centres such as Tikal and Caracol were in decline. However by around 1000 AD Xunantunich was abandoned.

Today Xunantunich quietly thrives again as, for our money, Belize’s most charming tourism destination. Across the Mopan river from the village of Succotz, you reach the site via a hand cranked ferry and either enjoy the walk uphill through a forest filled with monkeys and birds, or drive up to the informative visitors centre, which gives a good introduction to the local history and the importance of the site as a ceremonial centre.


Xunantunich’s centre contains two main plazas; plaza A and plaza B with groups C and D located around the periphery. The most impressive building is El Castillo, (or Structure A6 in archaeologist parlance). This beautiful pyramid with intricate stucco friezes sits some 183 meters above sea level and some 42 meters above plaza level. From its summit above the tree canopy you can enjoy spectacular vistas of jungle and farmland with the towns of San Jose Succotz and Benque Viejo Del Carmen on the Belize side and Melchor de Mencos across the Guatemalan border.

Of El Castillo’s two stucco friezes, the western side had most of the stucco destroyed, but the eastern frieze is more complete, clearly displaying various motifs and symbols of Maya astronomy and cosmology. The vaulted rooms at the top of the pyramid provide shade and are a welcome place to relax after the steep walk up and take in the views.

This is a great site for a day trip or picnic, and just walking around, checking out the ball courts and other structures fires the imagination, allowing you to picture how life would have been so many centuries ago when the entire Chaa Creek area was a thriving agricultural and trade hub, with the Macal and Mopan rivers important links carrying people and goods to various centres all the way down to the seacoast.

People come from far and wide to see this lovely remnant of the ancient Maya civilisation, but its close proximity to Chaa Creek makes it an easy and delightful excursion for their guests. It’s also features in Chaa Creek’s all-inclusive wedding and honeymoon vacation packages, affording an opportunity to actually get married with the grand pyramid as a backdrop, exchanging vows while standing on the same stones that so many centuries ago were used for Maya ceremonies. And the picturesque setting will be the highlight of any honeymoon album.

However, whatever your reasons are for visiting Xunantunich, you won’t go away disappointed. And by all means, don’t forget the camera.

Chaa Creek blog


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#431438 - 02/26/12 09:08 AM Re: Xunantunich Maya Site [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Xunantunich is a well excavated and easily accessible Mayan site, close to San Ignacio in Belize. The Mayan ruins of Xunantunich are located atop a limestone ridge above the Mopan River, within sight of the Guatemala border. The central area is laid around three plazas surrounded by more than 20 structures.

It name means “Stone Woman” in the Maya language and, like many names given to Maya archaeological sites, is a modern name. It refers to the ghost of a woman claimed by several people to inhabit the site. The ancient name is unknown.

Xunantunich Mayan Ruins
El Castillo, the second tallest structure in Belize. Photo credit: perisho

History of Xunantunich

Xunantunich was a thriving Mayan city from about 600 to 900 AD. Evidence indicates that during the 10th century AD there was a disruption at Xunantunich, possible an earthquake, and the city and much of its sustaining hinterland was soon abandoned. The site was reoccupied centuries later while the structures were already in ruins.

Xunantunich Mayan Ruins Highlights

At 127 feet (39 m) the pyramid known as El Castillo is the second tallest structure in Belize, after the temple at Caracol. It’s a steep climb but the view from the top is worth it. The structure was probably built in three stages between the 7th and 9th century. At one time its frieze, a banded stucco decoration, extended around the entire pyramid. Today only a small part of the frieze remains which displays masks of the sun god flanked by signs of the moon, Venus and different days.

Visit the Xunantunich Mayan ruins

Xunantunich is located only a few miles west of San Ignacio (Hotels in San Ignacio). The Mayan ruins can be reached by taking the free ferry across the Mopan River. The entrance to the river ferry is right on the side of the Western Highway. The hand cranked ferry, which comes and goes on demand, takes you across in minutes. Then it’s about 1 mile uphill on a paved road to the ticket office.

The entrance fee is BZ$10.

Map of Xunantunich Belize

The map below shows the location of Xunantunich Belize. The buttons on the left can be used to zoom in or out. Click and drag the map to move around.

Source


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#443851 - 08/03/12 09:32 AM Re: Xunantunich Maya Site [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Great Mayan Ruins by San Ignacio, Belize: Xunantunich

Colin and I were sun-stroked and drenched with sweat by the time we made it to San Ignacio, Belize’s famous Mayan ruins, Xunantunich… but man was it worth it. Come cyber-join us on our journey!


The “El Castillo” structure of the Xunantunich Mayan ruins in western Belize dates from around 800 C.E. and rises over 130 feet. In other news, Colin and I have very large muscles.

It took us hours to finally reach Xunantunich from our San Ignacio hotel due to a “hilarious” misunderstanding of how time is quantified in Belize.

Several local people had told us, “Oh yes, you can walk to the ruins. It’s not far,” but in reality, that statement was so false that Colin and I ended up walking along the side of the highway (flanked by endless neon green grass and curious cows) for over an hour in the blazing noon-time sun, panting at each hill’s crest: “It’s GOT to be close! Right?!” Wrong.


We staggered between the highway and these crazy green, cow-covered fields outside San Ignacio, Belize for over an hour, thinking the Xunantunich ruins were just over each hill. They weren’t.

Two miles and four times of nearly being run over by blue-painted school buses that serve as Belize’s main public transport later, I swoon-sat by the side of the road and refused to go on. Colin heroically stood by the highway until a taxi (marked in western Belize by nothing more than a green licence plate) chugged by.


To reach the ruins of Xunantunich, cross a river on this hand-cranked wooden ferry.

We climbed into the car, panting and grinning from relief. We either smelled so bad, or were so tall and surprising that everyone packed inside the vehicle was stunned into silence.

I tried chatting in English, then had more success in Spanish, given that we were right by the Guatemalan border. The ride revealed we were still miles away from the ferry to the hill to the ruins.


How amazing is the jungle around Xunantunich? Look at the tiny people next to the towering trees!

“You saved us!” I gushed to the leathery driver in Spanish as we paid him. He cracked the first smile of the ride and puttered off.

“Hello,” said a soft spoken Belizean man with the local Jamaican-like accent. “Would you like a guide for the ruins? It will enhance your experience. It will be $20 U.S. dollars total.”

“We should probably get a guide,” reasoned Colin, “or we’ll just be dumbly looking at rocks.”


Without our excellent guide at Xunantunich, we would have just been ignorantly staring at stones.

Let me tell you: This guide was well worth $20. He knew everything, and was professional, patient, and interesting. In addition to his knowledge, he also displayed such love and reverence for Xunantunich (despite having led the tour hundreds or even thousands of times) that it inspired us.

Again and again we are impressed by the caliber of the Belizean tourist industry and its people.


We climbed all the way up to the top of El Castillo where you can sit on the edge, no guardrail!

Our guide even explained to us about the misinterpretation that had led us to hike along the highway for miles: “The people told you the ruins were close by because they wanted to make you feel better.”

“Um, that didn’t really make us feel better,” said Colin, swaying from the continued sunstroke.

Since then, we now know to multiply any time estimates here in Belize by at least three.


The sides of Xunantunich are adorned with ornate, symbolic decorations. When we visited, these girls were sliding down the grass like I used to fly down snowy hills in Boston’s winter.

Now let’s talk about Xunantunich. These celebrated Mayan ruins are around 1,212 years old, awe-inspiring, and rightly considered some of the best in Belize.

Several facts stood out to us. One, the tallest structure (“El Castillo”), which we ultimately climbed, has a secret back staircase. The Mayan ruler used to walk up the front staircase to halfway up the pyramid, then flit over to the back staircase, where he’d enter the building and do a quick costume change. He’d then emerge (seemingly by magic) at the very top of the structure, just like a god!


How often do you get to sit atop a 1,212-year old, 130-foot-tall ancient Mayan building? Unbelievable.

Another fact about Xunantunich that made me gasp centered around sports: They ancient Mayans used to play a ball game similar to soccer… and KILL the losing team! When the Mayans would play this sport, one team would usually be made up of captives from other places– unfortunate souls who had never played the ball game before. Which side do you think usually lost??

This piece of athletic history gave new weight to the Olympic events Colin and I watched that evening. There was a time when sports WERE life or death!


Does this spot look tempting to you? Then travel to the Xunantunich Mayan Ruins in San Ignacio, Belize!

When we finally made it back to our hotel that evening, we were so tired we could barely move. We sprawled on the bed, murmuring, “What an honor it was to climb 1,212-year-old Mayan ruins today!”

Source


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#446043 - 09/07/12 10:13 AM Re: Xunantunich Maya Site [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Here's a site with some cool drawings of Mayan temples from around Cayo, Belize, and La Ruta Maya.

"Steve Radzi, owner of Mayavision, is a renown illustrator of Mayan archaological sites throughout Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. He is located in Coral Springs, Florida."

LINK


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#490937 - 05/16/14 06:15 AM Re: Xunantunich Maya Site [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

XUNANTUNICH, Stunning Archeaological site in Belize

XUNANTUNICH, BELIZE — It’s not as famous as Yucatán’s Chichen Itza. It’s not as tall as Guatemala’s Tikal. But there in western Belize, the Xunantunich Mayan ruins will make your jaw drop. And maybe your palms sweat.

Pronounced shoe-NAN-to-nitch (or as some tourists mangle it, Tuna Sandwich) its name means “stone maiden.” The dominant structure, El Castillo, is notable not only for its elegant friezes of hieroglyphs depicting rulers and gods, but for the fact that visitors can still climb to the top of the 130-foot temple, if they dare.

Unlike at Mexico’s Chichen Itza, which was closed to climbers in 2006 after a woman fell to her death, Xunantunich’s climb is done in bits and pieces, with plenty of flat places to stop — and even a handrail staircase for the final descent.

Still, it’s not for everyone.

Xunantunich Mayan Ruins in Belize

Xunantunich Mayan Ruins in Belize

I’m afraid of heights,” one tour guide confessed as he stood in the shade on a plaza halfway up, watching the rest of his group ascend to the very top. “The view is still good from here.”

View from the top

View from the top

Mayan grandeur

Reachable independently by car or as a day-trip excursion for cruise ships docked in Belize City (see sidebar), Xunantunich is one of Belize’s top attractions, although many Americans have never heard of it.

The entrance near the village of San José Succotz is surrounded by small shopping kiosks selling crafts and textiles. From there, every person, vehicle and animal must cross the Mopan River on a hand-cranked ferry to enter the park. Then it is a 1-mile uphill trudge to the visitors plaza (or a swift ride in a mini-bus, highly recommended in this humid climate where the average temperature is 88 degrees.)

From there, you walk a bit farther, past a gift shop, a brand new visitors center that opened March 21, groves of allspice trees, then onto a grass-covered plaza and the humbling sight of El Castillo.

In Xunantunich’s heyday, roughly 600 to 900 AD, “the walls would have been whitewashed plaster and almost certainly painted,” says Jason Yaeger, University of Texas at San Antonio professor of anthropology, who has spent every summer for 23 years in and around Xunantunich. The site spreads out with 26 structures and multiple plazas, many still uncovered.

In terms of importance, “It is a middle-sized site, not as big as (Guatemala’s) Tikal certainly, but at certain times in its history, it was the capital of an autonomous kingdom.”

Although many people think Mayan culture was restricted to what is now Mexico, the grand kingdoms of the first millennium spread throughout what is now Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

Xunantunich just became a tourist attraction in the early 1990s as excavations progressed and tourism infrastructure was added. Today it draws about 46,000 visitors a year.

Stairway to the main temple

Stairway to the main temple

I found that the special beauty of Xunantunich was compounded by its setting in Belize’s western Cayo District.

This region of rolling hills and rivers looks a lot like Pennsylvania, except with monkeys. It seemed somehow familiar. Relaxing. Some researchers believe Xunantunich was more of a royal ritual getaway, like a country place to escape the nasty politics back in the city. I can see that. I could live here.

From the top of El Castillo, one can kick back and look out at gorgeous vistas for 360 degrees. Problems? What problems?

It wasn’t all fun

Of course, the site and region do have reminders of the sometimes cruel world of the Maya. There’s a ball court, where the loser of the games faced sudden death — literally. Not far from Xunantunich is a mysterious cave that was important for Mayan ritual and human sacrifice.

For Yaeger, a Decatur, Mich., native, it is worth spending extra time in the region to see not only Xunantunich and other ruins, but also Actun Tunichil Muknal (in English, Cave of the Crystal Sepulchre), thought by the ancient Maya to be an entrance to the underworld. The cave was rediscovered in 1989.

It’s an all-day adventure tourism trip,” he says. “You hike through jungle and swim a river to get to a cave, then walk through an underground stream for a quarter-mile, then climb into a giant chamber where the Maya left offerings. Sacrificial victims, food offerings, skulls, they are still there on the altars, left where the Maya placed them,” he says. “And you see a small niche where a woman was sacrificed 1,200 years ago, and there are (sparkling calcite) crystals all over her bones.”

After that, a climb to the top of Xunantunich’s El Castillo will seem simple.

Source: Detroit Free Press

Belize - Xunantunich from Keith'ster on Vimeo.

Journey to Xunantunich

A guest to Xunantunich made a pretty cool video of the journey from Belize to El Castillo.


Xunantunich from The Learning Cycle on Vimeo.

Xunantunich


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#491217 - 05/22/14 07:09 AM Re: Xunantunich Maya Site [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline


Xunantunich is a grand Mayan ruin in the rolling countryside of western Belize's Cayo District.

Mayan glory days at Xunantunich ruins

It's not as famous as Mexico's Chichen Itza. It's not as tall as Guatemala's Tikal.

But in western Belize, the Xunantunich Mayan ruins will make your jaw drop.

And maybe your palms sweat.

Pronounced shoe-NAN-to-nitch (or as some American tourists mangle it, Tuna Sandwich) its name means "stone maiden."

The dominant structure, El Castillo, is notable not only for its elegant friezes of hieroglyphs depicting rulers and gods, but for the fact that visitors can still climb to the top of the 40-metre temple, if they dare.

Unlike Mexico's Chichen Itza, which was closed to climbers in 2006 after a woman fell to her death, Xunantunich's climb is done in bits and pieces, with plenty of flat places to stop - and even a handrail staircase for the final descent.

Still, it's not for everyone.

"I'm afraid of heights," one tour guide confessed as he stood in the shade on a plaza halfway up, watching the rest of his group ascend to the very top.

"The view is still good from here."

Reachable independently by car or as a day-trip excursion for cruise ships docked in Belize City, Xunantunich is one of Belize's top attractions, although many tourists have never heard of it.

The entrance near the village of San Jose Succotz is surrounded by small shopping kiosks selling crafts and textiles. From there, every person, vehicle and animal must cross the Mopan River on a hand-cranked ferry to enter the park.

Then it is a 1.6-kilometre uphill trudge to the visitors plaza (or a swift ride in a mini-bus, highly recommended in this humid climate where the average temperature is 31C.)

From there, you walk a bit further, past a gift shop, a brand new visitors centre that opened on March 21, groves of allspice trees, then onto a grass-covered plaza and the humbling sight of El Castillo.

In Xunantunich's heyday, roughly 600 to 900 AD, "the walls would have been whitewashed plaster and almost certainly painted," says Jason Yaeger, University of Texas professor of anthropology, who has spent every summer for 23 years in and around Xunantunich. The site spreads out with 26 structures and multiple plazas, many still uncovered.

In terms of importance, Yaeger says: "It is a middle-sized site, not as big as (Guatemala's) Tikal certainly, but at certain times in its history, it was the capital of an autonomous kingdom."

Although many people think Mayan culture was restricted to what is now Mexico, the grand kingdoms of the first millennium spread throughout what is now Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

Xunantunich just became a tourist attraction in the early 1990s as excavations progressed and tourism infrastructure was added. Today it draws about 46,000 visitors a year.

I found the special beauty of Xunantunich was compounded by its setting in Belize's western Cayo District.

This region of rolling hills and rivers looks a lot like Pennsylvania, except with monkeys. It seemed somehow familiar. Relaxing. Some researchers believe Xunantunich was more of a royal ritual getaway, like a country place to escape the nasty politics back in the city. I can see that. I could live here.

From the top of El Castillo, one can kick back and look out at gorgeous vistas for 360 degrees. Problems? What problems?

Of course, the site and region do have reminders of the sometimes cruel world of the Maya. There's a ball court, where the loser of the games faced sudden death - literally. Not far from Xunantunich is a mysterious cave that was important for Mayan ritual and human sacrifice.

It is worth spending extra time in the region to see not only Xunantunich and other ruins, but also Actun Tunichil Muknal (in English, Cave of the Crystal Sepulchre), thought by the ancient Maya to be an entrance to the underworld. The cave was rediscovered in 1989.

"It's an all-day adventure tourism trip," Yaeger says. "You hike through jungle and swim a river to get to a cave, then walk through an underground stream for a quarter-mile, then climb into a giant chamber where the Maya left offerings. Sacrificial victims, food offerings, skulls, they are still there on the altars, left where the Maya placed them," he says.

"And you see a small niche where a woman was sacrificed 1200 years ago, and there are (sparkling calcite) crystals all over her bones."

After that, a climb to the top of Xunantunich's El Castillo will seem simple.

IF YOU GO

GETTING THERE: By cruise-ship shore excursion: In Belize, you can take a day trip from cruise ships docked in Belize City to the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich, Altun Ha or Lamanai, although not to Caracol, as it is too far. In Mexico, you can visit Chichen Itza and Uxmal if your ship docks in Progreso. You can visit Tulum from Cozumel port.

PLAYING THERE: By escorted tour: One example is an eight-day Belize Archaeology and Tikal, which gets you to Xunantunich, Caracol and other Mayan sites. See themayantraveler.com.

Source


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#492000 - 06/07/14 06:35 AM Re: Xunantunich Maya Site [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Health and Safety Standards For Xunantunich


A ceremony highlighting the signing of health and safety standards at the Xunantunich Archaeological Site in the Cayo District took place on the grounds of the Mayan ruin on Thursday. The document outlining the health and safety standards to be adopted and implemented by the Institute of Archaeology was drafted as part of the project dubbed, Making Tourism Benefit Communities Adjacent to Archaeological Sites. According the George Thompson, the Associate Director of Parks Management, the adaptation of these health and safety regulations seeks to improve the tourism experience in Belize.

GEORGE THOMPSON, Associate Director, Parks Management

“Today marks a special day as we take one more significant step in improving the quality of service at our archaeological and tourism destinations. It brings me great pleasure to see us taking significant steps towards our mission which first and foremost is protection and preservation. It is only by ensuring that these communities feel that they are a part of what we’re doing and what we’re managing that they will ultimately have the buy-in that is necessary to move protection and preservation to another level. Today we seek not only to have exceptionally beautiful well managed archaeological parks, as is evident here at Xunantunich; it is really a beautiful environment. What we are seeking to do is to move to another level where we seek to manage visitor experience. The people who come to our parks, it is to see a beautiful environment, beautiful excavations, well documented archaeological site, proper research taking place but at the same time to move to another level where we manage our experience . From this point onward as was rightly mentioned, the Institute of Archaeology will be the key organization that will move forward in the implementation of these standards whether it is in the areas of trail ramps, sanitary facilities, emergency preparedness and boats or our gas for in times of natural disasters; those are the things that we will be charged with. As was mentioned, we have 90 rangers; we need to improve the capacity of our staff to implement these standards and also the capacity of the staff to ensure that we provide the proper oversight when it comes to dealing with and adopting these standards. We look forward to more collaboration with our industry partners. These standards are by no means written in stone and it will take the necessary periodic monitoring and evaluation of these standards to see what is working, to see where adjustments can be made and it is through this evaluation that we will ultimately seek to improve our tourism destination and by extension, all the other things will fall in place, whether it’s for the national economy for our country, the tourism industry, adjacent communities and we look forward to ensuring that we at the Institute of Archaeology, the National Institute of Culture and History remain at the forefront of the continued development of our archaeological and cultural sites.”

The project is being carried as a component of the Belize Rural Development Programme II and is being funded by the European Union and the Government of Belize.

LOVEFM


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#493106 - 07/06/14 05:24 PM Re: Xunantunich Maya Site [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

A Mayan marvel in Belize’s jungle

The archaeological site of Xunantunich rivals some of the better-known Mayan ruins in Mexico and Guatemala.

It’s not as famous as Mexico’s Chichen Itza. It’s not as tall as Guatemala’s Tikal.

But here in western Belize, the Xunantunich Mayan ruins will make your jaw drop.

And maybe your palms sweat.

Pronounced shoe-NAN-to-nitch (or as some tourists mangle it, Tuna Sandwich) its name means “stone maiden.” The dominant structure, El Castillo, is notable not only for its elegant friezes of hieroglyphs depicting rulers and gods, but for the fact that visitors can still climb to the top of the 130-foot temple, if they dare.

Unlike at Mexico’s Chichen Itza, which was closed to climbers in 2006 after a woman fell to her death, Xunantunich’s climb is done in bits and pieces, with plenty of flat places to stop — and even a handrail staircase for the final descent.

Still, it’s not for everyone.

“I’m afraid of heights,” one tour guide confessed as he stood in the shade on a plaza halfway up, watching the rest of his group ascend to the very top. “The view is still good from here.”

Reached independently by car or as a day-trip excursion for cruise ships docked in Belize City, Xunantunich is one of Belize’s top attractions, although many Americans have never heard of it.

The entrance near the village of San José Succotz is surrounded by small shopping kiosks selling crafts and textiles. From there, every person, vehicle and animal must cross the Mopan River on a hand-cranked ferry to enter the park.

Then it is a 1-mile uphill trudge to the visitors plaza (or a swift ride in a minibus, welcome in this humid climate where the average temperature is 88 degrees.)

From there, you walk a bit farther, past a gift shop, a new visitors center that opened in March, groves of allspice trees, then onto a grass-covered plaza and the striking sight of El Castillo.

In Xunantunich’s heyday, roughly 600 to 900 AD, “the walls would have been whitewashed plaster and almost certainly painted,” says Jason Yaeger, a University of Texas at San Antonio professor of anthropology, who has spent every summer for 23 years in and around Xunantunich. The site spreads out with 26 structures and multiple plazas, many still uncovered.

In terms of importance, “It is a middle-sized site, not as big as (Guatemala’s) Tikal certainly, but at certain times in its history, it was the capital of an autonomous kingdom,” said Yaeger.

Although many people think Mayan culture was restricted to what is now Mexico, the grand kingdoms of the first millennium spread throughout what is now Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

Xunantunich just became a tourist attraction in the early 1990s as excavations progressed and tourism infrastructure was added. Today it draws about 46,000 visitors a year.

Beautiful as the area is, the site and region do have reminders of the sometimes cruel world of the Maya. There’s a ball court, where the loser of the games faced sudden death — literally. Not far from Xunantunich is a mysterious cave that was important for Mayan ritual and human sacrifice.

For Yaeger, it is worth spending extra time in the region to see not only Xunantunich and other ruins, but also Actun Tunichil Muknal (in English, Cave of the Crystal Sepulchre), thought by the ancient Maya to be an entrance to the underworld. The cave was rediscovered in 1989.

“It’s an all-day adventure tourism trip,” he says. “You hike through jungle and swim a river to get to a cave, then walk through an underground stream for a quarter-mile, then climb into a giant chamber where the Maya left offerings. Sacrificial victims, food offerings, skulls, they are still there on the altars, left where the Maya placed them.

“And you see a small niche where a woman was sacrificed 1,200 years ago, and there are (sparkling calcite) crystals all over her bones,” Yaeger said.

After that, a climb to the top of Xunantunich’s El Castillo will seem simple.

SOURCE


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