Living anywhere in Latin America offers a lot of historical opportunity for those interested in exploring the area. When I moved to San Pedro, Belize, on Ambergris Caye, the first thing I thought of was visiting the Mayan Ruins around the country. Lamanai was one particular site that piqued my interest, so I thought it would be the perfect place to start.
From San Pedro, my friends and I were able to take a water taxi directly to Corozal and catch a chicken bus from there to Orange Walk. We walked from my apartment at the Grand Baymen to the lagoon water taxi site at the back side of the island. From there, the boat leaves everyday at 3 PM for Corozal and costs $50 BZE one-way. The trip took about two hours, with a short stop in Sarteneja village, the halfway point. From the boat dock in Corozal town, it was a short walk to the bus station and we boarded the one-hour chicken/school bus to Orange Walk almost right away.
Once in Orange Walk, we wandered around a bit searching for the perfect place to stay and decided on a small place right by the river.
The following day, we were ready to head to Indian Church Village, the closest town to the ruins. Although most folks cruise up the river on their way to Lamanai, my friends and I decided to rent a car and make a road trip expedition out of the journey. We scored an SUV for $70 USD a day, and off we went, our maps.me app open with directions in hand.
Again, the trip took about two hours and was an easy drive through gorgeous Mennonite farmland. When we arrived in the off-grid (meaning no electricity) village, we found a spot to camp by the river, settled in for the evening, and rested up for a full day at the ruins the following morning.
A Brief History
In Yucatec Mayan, Lamanai means “submerged crocodile.” This civilization was occupied as early as the 16th century BC and became a prominent trading center during the Preclassic period, spanning the 4th century BC through the 1st century CE. During the Spanish conquest of the Yucatán Peninsula, Spanish friars established two Roman Catholic churches on the site, but a Mayan revolt forced the Spanish from the land. Subsequently, the ruins were incorporated by the British into British Honduras, passing into current day Belize with that colony’s independence.
The site itself was stunning. Set amid the deep green jungle and scored with the sounds of howler monkeys calling from the tree tops, Lamanai held a certain historical mystique.
We paid $5 USD each in park entrance fees and strolled through the onsite museum that houses artifacts found by archaeologists over the years. There are also a few small souvenir shops, most notably the Indian Church Village Art Collective, which sells only items that have been handmade by residents of the area.
The largest, most excavated structures at Lamanai are the Mask Temple, the Jaguar Temple, and the High Temple. The Mask Temple is adorned with a 13-foot-tall stone carving of an ancient Mayan king, the Jaguar Temple is aptly named for its jaguar embellishments, and the High Temple affords panoramic views of the once-mighty civilization.
Strolling through the site or scaling a temple, it’s easy to imagine what kings, shamans, and warriors have walked here. The jungle is thick surrounding each of the structures, and tall old banyan trees provide plentiful shade to hide from the hot afternoon while you sit and stare at the ruins.
Visiting Lamanai was definitely worth the trip, and at the end of the day I was reluctant to leave the serenity of the site. Immersion in such ancient history always leaves me feeling a little pensive, and as my friends and I snap a few last photos of the stunning site, I’m reminded—as I often am living my life in new lands—that existence is sometimes fleeting, always precious, and I’m happy to be making the most of every moment.
Interested in reading more about how I’m thriving and surviving in San Pedro, Belize? Click here to discover this island along with me.
Check out the links below to see what other adventures I’ve been on lately.
Settling into San Pedro—Chronicles of Life in a New Land
“Lamanai: High Temple (#2312) by regan76 via Flicker/CC by 2.0
“The High Temple” El Castillo” by Bernard DUPONT via Flickr/CC by 2.0
“Chicken Bus” by jack_g via Flickr/CC by 2.0