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Unveiling the Mysteries of Xunantunich: Exploring Belize’s Ancient Maya City

When most people visit Belize, they stick to the beautiful beaches on the coast, but Belize is also known for its dense jungles and some of the most impressive Mayan ruins in the world, including Xunantunich. explore this amazing UNESCO World Heritage site.

Xunantunich is an ancient Maya archaeological site in western Belize, approximately 70 miles west of Belize City, in the Cayo District. Situated atop a ridge above the Mopan River, Xunantunich is well within sight of the Guatemala border, which is 0.6 miles to the west.

What does Xunantunich mean?

Xunantunich translates to ‘Stone Lady’ in the Yucatec Maya language. More about its significance will be discussed shortly.

To pronounce it, think of the ‘xu’ as ‘shoe,’ and the rest just flows into place.

Xunantunich Travel Guide

Upon arrival at Xunantunich, visitors are greeted by a unique experience—a hand-cranked ferry crossing the river. This fascinating mode of transportation sets the tone for the adventure that awaits.

As visitors make their way through the site, they discover the remnants of what was once a thriving metropolis, known as the Acropolis, where the city’s royalty and upper echelon once resided.

Amidst the ruins, awe is inspired by the grandeur of the structures, some of which can be climbed. One notable structure, El Castillo, captivates with its intricate sculpted artwork, depicting ancient gods and their stories.

Xunantunich boasted a population of around 200,000—an impressive figure that reflects the city’s significance in ancient times.

Despite the scorching heat, visitors find the experience enriching. However, future visitors are advised to prepare adequately for the weather, with sunscreen and plenty of water being essential.

Xunantunich Map

If you’re a visual person, this map will help you visualize where Xunantunich is located within the country of Belize. We’ve also added markers for Belize City (east coast) and Placencia (southeast city) for easy reference.


And if you’re looking for a site map of Xunantunich Archaeological Reserve, here’s a photo showing the map and layout. This includes the visitor center, plazas, and other sites with historical significance.

Xunantunich Map

How to Reach Xunantunich

The largest city near Xunantunich is San Ignacio, which is about a 30-minute drive away.

Alternatively, Xunantunich is approximately a 2.5-hour drive by car (80 miles/125 kilometers) from Belize City. If you have a rental car, you can drive there yourself! Being from the US, it’s very easy to drive in Belize.

By the way, if you need to rent a car in Belize, we highly recommend the discounted rates on Discover Cars. You can save 10% – 30% on rentals!

History of Xunantunich

Deep in the remote jungles of Belize, just across a clear, placid river lies an ancient ruin that was left abandoned and untouched for over 1,000 years. Xunantunich exudes mystery and is named after its ghost story, which has been told and romanticized for centuries.

Xunantunich is the ruin of an ancient Mayan city. Construction on the site dates back to around 200 AD. After a devastating event such as an earthquake around 700 AD, the populous city was suddenly abandoned by its inhabitants.

Xunantunich remained untouched, reclaimed by the thick Belizean jungle until explorers rediscovered the site in the early 1890s. Immediate excavations and studies on the mysterious ruins were undertaken, but it didn’t take long until the first ghost sighting was reported in 1893.

A man on the research team reportedly saw what he described as a Mayan maiden ascending the staircase of the main pyramid of Xunantunich, known as El Castillo. She wore a long flowing white dress and had thick, long dark hair that cascaded down her back. Confused at this sight, the man watched the woman climb the many stairs.

She suddenly stopped to turn and look at the man with glowing red eyes that pierced through his soul. As quickly as she had stopped, she turned back to scale the remaining stairs of the pyramid, then disappeared between the stone walls at the top.

The shocked man rallied a team to search for this mysterious red-eyed woman, yet nothing was found. Since this first sighting, many more reports of this beautiful woman with glowing red eyes walking up the pyramid before suddenly disappearing have been made.

They continue to this day and are responsible for giving Xunantunich its name, which translates to the “stone woman” in the Maya language. Is she the ghost of a Mayan woman who once lived in this great city? Was she a human sacrifice victim who is living out her last moments of life? Or is her spirit something more ancient related to the site? Many have speculated, yet no one truly knows the identity of this enigmatic stone woman.

FAQ For Xunantunich Travel Guide

1. What is Xunantunich?

Xunantunich is an ancient Mayan archaeological site located in western Belize, near the town of San Ignacio. It is known for its impressive Mayan ruins, including the iconic El Castillo pyramid.

2. How do I get to Xunantunich?

Xunantunich is accessible from various parts of Belize. If you’re staying in San Ignacio, it’s just a short drive away. Alternatively, you can take a bus or hire a taxi from other parts of the country.

3. Is there an entrance fee to visit Xunantunich?

Yes, there is an entrance fee to visit Xunantunich. The fee may vary for international visitors, locals, and children. It’s advisable to check the latest pricing before your visit.

4. What should I wear and bring to Xunantunich?

It’s recommended to wear comfortable clothing and sturdy walking shoes, as you’ll be exploring ancient ruins and possibly climbing structures. Additionally, don’t forget to bring sunscreen, a hat, insect repellent, plenty of water, and a camera to capture the stunning views.

5. Are there guided tours available at Xunantunich?

Yes, guided tours are available at Xunantunich. Hiring a knowledgeable guide can enhance your experience by providing historical and cultural insights into the site. Guides are typically available for hire at the entrance.

6. Can I climb the structures at Xunantunich?

Yes, visitors are allowed to climb some of the structures at Xunantunich, including the main pyramid, El Castillo. However, it’s essential to exercise caution and follow any safety guidelines provided by guides or signage.

7. What facilities are available at Xunantunich?

Xunantunich has basic facilities, including restrooms and picnic areas. However, amenities may be limited, so it’s a good idea to bring any necessary supplies with you.

8. Is Xunantunich suitable for children and elderly visitors?

Xunantunich can be suitable for children and elderly visitors, but it’s important to consider the terrain and physical exertion involved in exploring the site. Some areas may be challenging to navigate, especially for those with mobility issues.

9. Are there any nearby attractions to visit alongside Xunantunich?

Yes, there are several nearby attractions worth exploring, including other Mayan ruins, caves, nature reserves, and cultural sites. Popular nearby destinations include Cahal Pech, Caracol, Barton Creek Cave, and the Belize Zoo.

10. What are the opening hours of Xunantunich?

Xunantunich is typically open to visitors from early morning to late afternoon. However, it’s advisable to check the official website or contact local authorities for the latest information on opening hours and any special events or closures.

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