Lamanai is a thousand-year-old legacy of the Mayan civilization. Belize

Lamanai is the ruins of the most enduring Mayan city. Belize

In the northern part of Belize between Rio Bravo Conservation Area and Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary on the banks of the New River are the remains of one of the ancient Mayan cities called Lamanai.

Lamanai on a map

  • Geographic coordinates 17.764401, -88.652603
  • Distance from Belize capital Belmopan approximately 60 km
  • Distance to the nearest Philip S. W. International Airport У. Goldson about 45 km

In the depths of the Central American jungle are still living out their next millennium, several buildings of the ancient Indian settlement. The lush forest vegetation tries to hide from prying eyes the legacy of a very strong, and sometimes bloodthirsty civilization.

Ruins of the City of Lamanai

It is known that the Mayans periodically liked to pour blood on their land. It was done very subtly. Ancient texts describe ritual ceremonies where the heart and other internal organs, which are no longer needed, were ripped out of living people. The entire action was accompanied by copious rivers of blood. Then the head could be cut off and thrown from the upper level of the pyramidal temple. These pyramid-shaped temples have survived to this day in Lamanai.

It was a very large settlement at that time. Some scientists believe that Lamanai was the largest Mayan city in ancient times. It was a ceremonial center. It is possible that with those pyramids, where all the tourists so eager to climb, once dumped the heads, sacrificed unfortunate people.

City of Lamanai

A little history Lamanai

The name of the city means “immersed crocodile” or “drowned crocodile. Early Spanish missionaries noted that the word Lam’an’ain was very common in these parts. It most likely referred to its name.

The city has a history of 3,000 years. It is proved that this is how long people lived here continuously. At the dawn of the Maya civilization (around 250-900 A.D.) the city had about 20,000 people.

Archaeologists have established that 1,500 years BC, the city of Lamanai already had inhabitants. It is believed that after 900 AD the history of the great Maya people has sunk into oblivion. And, like many cities of this civilization, in the 9th century Lamanai was subjected to great social and demographic upheaval. But people did not leave the city. It was inhabited until the 16th century, when the Spanish conquerors first came ashore.

The Spaniards were not ceremonious with the locals. The brutal treatment forced the Indians to leave the city. But the European conquerors often caught fugitives and forced the Indians to return and work for them. The Indians were forcibly baptized. And churches were built on the site of ancient Mayan sanctuaries. The natives, of course, did not like it, and periodically there were uprisings. It went so far that, according to the records of 1641, Lamanai burned out and was abandoned.

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In the 18th century, the Spanish left Belize. And until almost the end of the 19th century, British laborers and their families lived around the town growing sugar cane.


In 1974, professional and full-scale excavations of the ruins of the city began. Archaeologists found many artifacts at the site of the search, some of which are now on display in the local museum. It is believed that the city is only 5% explored. What secrets Lamanai holds are yet to be discovered. Excavations are still going on.

Temple of the Mask

The most prominent surviving structure is the Temple of the Mask, which features a bas-relief of a huge stone head.

Temple of the Mask. Lamanai

The High Temple

The High Temple is the largest and tallest pyramid in the city of Lamanai. It is about 33 meters high, and the views from the top are mesmerizing to the surrounding jungle and the New River flowing nearby.

High Temple. Lamanai

Temple of Jaguar

Another thing worth checking out is the Jaguar Temple. There is something about it that resembles the animal’s predatory grin.

Temple of Jaguar. Lamanai

It is noteworthy that the High Temple is in the center, the Temple of the Jaguar is 360 meters to the south and the Temple of the Mask is the same 360 meters to the northeast.

There is a small pier not far from the Temple of Jaguar. The journey through the ruins of Lamanai begins at the Temple of Jaguar, followed by the High Temple, which you simply must climb. If you don’t, you haven’t been to Lamanai. The Temple of the Mask completes the route.

In addition to the ancient structures, in the surrounding area you can admire a large number of local animals and plants. If you are lucky, you can see the yabiru bird, which is considered the largest in the Western Hemisphere.

15 Impressive Ruins of the Mayan Civilization

The Mayan civilization was one of the greatest pre-Columbian civilizations. Its scale extended over the entire northern region of Central America, including the territories of the modern states of Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Mexico, and the southwestern outskirts of Honduras.


The peak of their urbanism and large-scale construction most Mayan city-states reached in the classical period from 250 to 900 AD. The most notable monuments of this period are the ancient temples that were built in almost every major city. For reasons still unknown, most Maya centers fell into disrepair over the next few centuries. And by the time the conquistadors arrived, the Maya civilization was already in deep decline.

There are several versions of the possible cause of the civilization’s demise, including soil exhaustion, loss of water sources and erosion, earthquakes, disease, and probable military invasions by other highly developed cultures. Some Mayan cities of the highest historical and cultural value are included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Of particular tourist interest today is the ancient architecture, stone sculptures, bas-reliefs and stylized religious paintings on the walls of houses. And as well as preserved massive palaces, ancient temples and pyramids.

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We have already told you about the impressive ruins of the Inca Empire, today you can get acquainted with the most interesting ancient Mayan cities.

Ancient Mayan Cities – PHOTO

Tikal, Guatemala

The ruins of Tikal are located in the national park of the same name. And it is probably one of the largest archaeological sites of the Maya civilization in Central America. It was this place that inspired and then was reflected in Mel Gibson’s movie “Apocalypse”. A trip to Tikal is quite expensive financially, compared to other destinations to the ruins of the Mayan civilization. But the preserved pyramids, stone royal palaces, paintings and frescoes are worth seeing. In 1979, Tikal National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. By the way, be on the lookout for predatory jaguars in the dense forests surrounding the park.


Chichen Itza, Mexico

The great pre-Columbian city of Chichen Itza is located in the Mexican state of Yucatan. This large ruined city appears to have been one of the Tollan, a place of veneration of the mythological deity Quetzalcoatl (the feathered serpent). This is evidenced by the images found in the ball stadium. Chichen Itza is known for a great variety of architectural styles. This city was attractive to its inhabitants because it had two deep cenotes that provided the population with water all year round. One of these natural wells is the Sacred Cenote, a place of sacrifice and pilgrimage of the ancient Maya. Chichen Itza is very popular with tourists, with over 1.2 million visitors a year.


Palenque, Mexico

This Mayan city flourished in southern Mexico in the 7th century BC. After the fall, the city was swallowed up by the jungle for a long time before it was rediscovered and turned into a famous archaeological site. Palenque is located on the Usumasinta River, 130 km south of Ciudad del Carmen. It is much smaller than Tikal, but boasts its architecture and preserved sculptures and bas-reliefs of the ancient Maya. Numerous hieroglyphic inscriptions on monuments allowed experts to reconstruct much of the history of Palenque. The same experts and archaeologists claim that at the moment only 10% of the ancient city has been excavated and studied. The rest is nearby, but hidden underground in thick jungle thickets.


Calakmul, Mexico

The ancient ruins of Calakmul are hidden in the jungle of the Mexican state of Campeche. It is one of the largest Mayan cities. More than 6,500 buildings have been discovered on an area of about 20 square kilometers. The largest pyramids reach a height of 50 meters and a base width of 140 meters. The classical period saw the dawn of Calakmul. At that time it was in fierce rivalry with Tikal, this confrontation can be compared to the clarification of the political ambitions of the two superpowers. Called the Serpent Kingdom, Calakmul spread its active influence to a radius of several hundred kilometers. This is evidenced by the characteristic stone emblems depicting a snake’s head found in small Mayan villages.

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Ushmal, Mexico

The Mayan ruins of Ushmal are located 62 kilometers from Merida, the administrative center of the state of Yucatan. The ruins are famous for their size and decoration of the buildings. Little is known about them, however, since no significant archaeological research has been conducted there. Ushmal was founded in 500 AD. Most of the surviving buildings date back to 800 – 900 years, the pyramids and various structures can be seen in almost pristine condition. The Pouk architectural style prevailing here is characterized by the variety of decorations on the facades of buildings.


Lamanai, Belize

The ruins are located on the shore of a lagoon in Orange Walk County in north-central Belize. In the Mayan language the name of the city, which has three thousand years of history, means “drowned crocodile”. Unlike other Mayan cities Lamanai was still inhabited when the Spanish conquistadors invaded in the 16th century. During the excavations carried out in the 1970s, the focus was on three significant structures: the Temple of the Mask, the Temple of the Jaguar and the High Temple. To find yourself among these ruins, located deep in the jungle, you must join an organized water tour from the city of Orange Walk. There is a small museum showing ancient artifacts and telling the history of the Maya.


Chunantunich, Belize.

The name of this ancient archaeological site means Stone Woman. It is associated with the history of Belizeans, according to which the ghost of a woman allegedly periodically appears in these places since 1892. The ghost in white robes with fiery red eyes climbs the stairs to the top of the main temple and disappears through the wall. The ruins are located near the village of San Jose Succotz in the west. In this village you must take a small ferry to cross the Mopan River. Once you reach the ruins, don’t deny yourself the opportunity to climb to the top of the Junantunich Palace, a huge pyramid that offers a stunning view of the river valley.


Tulum, Mexico

The fortress city of Tulum, which served as a port for the city of Coba, is located on the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. It was built in the 1200s, at a time when Mayan civilization was already in decline. So it lacks some of the elegance and grace in architecture typical of the classical period of development. But its unique location on the shores of the Caribbean Sea, the proximity of numerous beaches and Mexican resorts has made the Mayan port city of Tulum very popular with tourists.

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Coba, Mexico

The large ancient Mayan city, home to 50,000 inhabitants at its peak, is located 90 kilometers east of Chichen Itza, about 40 kilometers west of the Caribbean Sea and 44 kilometers northeast of Tulum. All destinations are now connected by modern, convenient highways. Most of the sites were built between 500 and 900. There are several high pyramids in the city. The tallest pyramid, El Castillo, which belongs to the Nohoch-Mul group of buildings, reaches a height of 42 meters. At the top of the temple, where there is a small altar, which served as a place of sacrifice, lead to 120 steps, on which those who wish can make the ascent.


Altun Ha, Belize

The ceremonial and commercial center of the Maya Altun-Ha is located 50 kilometers from Belize City. This area is only 10 kilometers from the Caribbean coast and is known for its rich fauna. Typical inhabitants of these forests are armadillos, tapirs, agouti, foxes, tayras and white-tailed deer. In addition to the spectacular wildlife, Altoona Ha is known for the artifacts found here by archaeologists from the Royal Ontario Museum. Among them is a huge jade statue depicting the head of the sun god Kinich Ahau. The find is now considered a national treasure of Belize.


Caracol, Belize

The major center of archaeological excavations of Caracol is located 40 kilometers south of Shunantunich in Cayo County. The ruins extend 500 meters above sea level on the Waka Plateau. Caracol is now known as one of the most important political centers of the Maya civilization in the Classic period. At one time Caracol extended over 200 square kilometers. This is more than the area of modern Belize, the largest city in the country. Even more surprising is that the current number of Belizeans is only half of its ancient predecessors.


Yaxchilan, Mexico

The stunning Mayan ruins are located on the banks of the Usumasinta River in the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas. Yaxchilan was once a powerful city-state and rivaled cities like Palenque and Tikal. Yaxchilan is known for the large number of well-preserved stone decorations decorating the doorways and windows of the main temple. On them, as well as on various statues, there are hieroglyphic texts telling about the ruling dynasty and the history of the city. The names of some rulers sounded menacing: the Moon Skull and the Jaguar Bird dominated Yaxchilan in the fifth century.


Quirigua, Guatemala

In the department of Isabal in southeastern Guatemala there is a three-kilometer-long archaeological site of Quirigua. During the classical period of the Maya civilization this ancient city was at the crossroads of several important trade routes. An interesting attraction of this place is the Acropolis, the construction of which began in 550. The archaeological park of Quirigua is known for its tall stone monuments. Considering that the city is located on a transformational geological fault and was prone to major earthquakes and floods in ancient times, it is worth a visit to see the preserved monuments and appreciate the town-building skills of the ancient Maya.

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Copan, Honduras

The archaeological site of the Maya civilization of Copan is located in western Honduras on the border with Guatemala. This relatively small town is known for a series of well-preserved architectural artifacts. Some of the stelae, sculptural decorations, and bas-reliefs are among the best evidence of the art of ancient Mesoamerica. Some of Copan’s stone structures date back to the 9th century B.C. The highest temple reaches a height of 30 meters. The dawn of the city falls on the 5th century, at this time there were about 20 thousand inhabitants.


Kahal Pech, Belize

The ruins of Cahal Pech are located near the town of San Ignacio in the Cayo area on a strategic high ground at the confluence of the Macal and Mopan rivers. Most of the main construction dates are from the Classical period, but the existing evidence suggests a continuous occupation of the area since as early as 1200 B.C. The city is a concentration in a small area of 34 stone structures arranged around a central acropolis. The tallest temple is about 25 meters in height. Kahal Pech, like many other towns, was abandoned in the 9th century AD for unknown reasons.


This is only a small part of the huge historical and cultural heritage that the mysterious civilization left behind. In total in the northern region of Central America there were discovered more than 400 large archaeological sites, and more than 4000 small, but no less interesting ancient settlements related to the peoples and cultures of the Maya civilization, which existed for more than 2500 years.

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The Ancient City of El Taquin

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Chichen Itza, Mexico

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The Ancient City of Calakmul

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