El Pilar is an ancient Maya city located at Belize’s border with Guatemala. It’s a Middle Pre-Classic and Late-Classic Mayan site, which is currently under excavation by the University of California.
As the site is not very well excavated yet, tours to El Pilar tend to focus on the important vegetative areas that were key in Maya history. El Pilar Archeological Reserve for Maya Flora and Fauna extends into Guatemala and was declared a cultural monument. The area has been under threat by looters and was placed on the 1996 World Monument Fund’s list of 100 Most Endangered Sites in the World.
El Pilar is believed to contain 20 or more plazas and hundreds of other structures spread out over more than 50 acres. At least one ball court has been discovered, and the tallest structure stands about 70 feet above the plaza. One of the most interesting features of El Pilar is a three- to five-foot-high wall, which runs westward from the site and into Guatemala.
El Pilar gets its name from the unusual abundance of water in the area. El Pilar is the Spanish word for “watering basin.” Researchers believe construction at El Pilar began around 800 BC, and by 250 BC, there was a thriving community. During its peak, El Pilar could’ve been home to as many as 20,000 people.
Visitors to El Pilar will find several easily navigable trails, and birding enthusiasts will enjoy the abundant bird life that calls El Pilar home.
El Pilar is approximately 12 miles north of San Ignacio and about 20 miles from Melchor de Mencos. Wear loose and lightweight clothing that covers legs and arms. Bring sunblock and insect repellent as you will be hiking through the jungle. Be aware that most structures are still covered, and the only visible elements may be a doorjamb or room. Visitors hoping for fully excavated, towering ruins should consider tours to other sites like Xunantunich or Caracol. Travelers interested in birding should also bring their own binoculars.