The Mayan Ruins at Lamanai can only be reached by taking a trip up the New River by boat. Those that dare, can climb the ruins to heights of over 100 feet. The view is extraordinary.
We visited the Mayan Ruins at Lamanai in Belize after our first relaxing night in this central American country. Lamanai means "submerged crocodile", perhaps so named as a reflection of what might be frequently seen along the long, winding river that leads to Lamanai?
We departed from Belize City about 8:30 AM for an hour long drive to the Orange Walk District, where we were to hop on a boat for a scenic 90 minute ride down the New River through the Lamanai jungle. The boat ride was nice, fairly relaxing, and was full of beautiful sights.
Although on the way out, we saw no crocodiles, submerged or otherwise, we did see lots of birds, a "Jesus Christ Lizard", fish, and beautiful tropical plants and flowers like the banana orchid, cashew trees bearing fruit and lovely lilly pads with their flowers open wide soaking up the morning dew.
As we approached the docking location, the guide pointed out some areas in the trees that were clearly different elevations than the flat lands we had been passing along the way. These mounds were actually unexcavated ruins, still covered by vegetation. I remember thinking, "I wonder when someone is going to work on uncovering those?"
After docking and disembarking the boat, we made our way up to the small Lamanai visitor's center and museum, where we got to see a replica of the typical Mayan hut and several wonderful Mayan artifacts, Mayan tools and a Mayan calendar found as the site was being excavated. In the vicinity of the visitor's center, there are several small outpost-type shops where locals sell snacks and authentic, hand-made Mayan pots, jewelry, and other souvenirs.
We were not the only visitors. As we stood outside of the center, we heard them loud and clear; the howler monkeys were not concerned at all about going unseen. There were so many and the adults in the group found it just as cool as the kids to sit and watch them. Did I mention the hummingbirds? We saw so many of them but unfortunately, couldn't get a clear picture of any of the fast, tiny birds.
As soon as the tour guide was finished with the overview, we were off to visit the first temple: Jaguar Temple. The temple is so named for the constructed jaguar faces on either side of the front of the temple. This was our first climb and it provided a wonderful perspective on the effort that went into building these amazing structures. How on earth did they manage to do this without machines?
We walked through the various plazas on site and the Royal Plaza, which was used by the Mayan elite as residences. We saw beds that had been constructed from stone, the multitude of separate rooms, common areas, and several large stone tools that were commonly used by the Mayans. As we explored, we came upon several large mounds that were obviously structures of the site that had yet to be unearthed.
Off to the big one: the High Temple! So this is it, the one that we would never forget and the one that had we let concern for safety deter us from climbing, we surely would have regretted. While not the tallest Mayan ruin we climbed through the course of this vacation, certainly it was the steepest and most challenging!
The steps are so steep that a rope had been fastened down the middle of the stairs to aid in the climb up to the top and back down. I don't know how to describe the thrill and excitement and the eventual awe of standing atop this structure so I will just say that it is an experience to be had, that should not be missed by anyone planning a trip to Belize. The view from the top was so beautiful. We could see for what must have been miles and miles. Don't miss the High Temple at Lamanai!
The last temple visited for the day was up the Mask Temple. Certainly not the tallest but still an amazing site. On either side of the temple the Mayans constructed masks, which have been fully uncovered and protected by a fiberglass coating. These masks are the things you envision when you think of Mayan culture and structures.
Lamanai is truly an amazing experience and one that I will never forget. After having visited once, I can't wait to go back and see what else I soak in on my 2nd trip. When you go, get a guide! The location is not accessible other than by the 26 mile boat ride and would be difficult, at best, to navigate on your own.