A full day of exploring the Maya World and seeing nature at its best: Cahal Pech, El Pilar, Xunantunich
Cahal Pech was a home for an elite Maya family. Evidence of continuous habitation has been dated to as far back as 900 BC, making Cahal Pech one of the oldest recognizably Maya sites in Western Belize. The site sits high near the banks of the Macal River and is a collection of 34 structures, with the tallest being about 25 meters in height. The site was abandoned in the 9th century AD for unknown reasons. Cahal Pech is now an archaeological park, and houses a small museum with artifacts from various ongoing excavations.
El Pilar is an ancient Maya city, located in the Cayo District straddling the Belize-Guatemala border, 12 miles (19 km) north-west of the town of San Ignacio. It is the largest site in the area with over 25 plazas and covering around 50 hectares. Little archaeological work has been undertaken, but there is a series of trails allowing access to the site. In 1997 El Pilar was listed on World Monument Fund’s 100 Most Endangered Sites in the World. It is managed as an Archaeological Reserve for Maya Flora and Fauna.
Xunantunich (shoo-NAHN-too-nich) is located atop a ridge above the Mopan River, within sight of the Guatemala border. Its name means “Stone Woman” in the Maya language and, like many names given to Maya archaeological sites, is a modern name; the ancient name is currently unknown. The “Stone Woman” refers to the ghost of a woman claimed by several people to inhabit the site, beginning in 1892. She is dressed completely in white, and has fire-red glowing eyes. She generally appears in front of El Castillo; ascends up the stone stairs and disappears into a stone wall.
Most of the structures date from the Maya Classic Era, about 200 to 900. There is evidence that some structures were damaged by an earthquake while they were occupied; this earthquake may have been a reason for the site’s abandonment.
The core of Xunantunich occupies about 1 square mile (2.6 km²), consisting of a series of 6 plazas surrounded by more than 26 temples and palaces. One of its structures, the pyramid known as “El Castillo,” the second tallest structure in Belize (after the temple at Caracol), at some 130 feet (40 m) tall. Archeological excavations have revealed a number of fine stucco facades on some of the ancient temples of this site. Evidence of construction suggests the temple was built in three stages in the 600s AD, 700s AD, and 800s AD.