Meaning "submerged crocodile" in Yucatan Mayan, Lamanai is perhaps the most mysterious Maya site in Belize, because it is not yet completely uncovered. See history in the making as you visit the excavation site, where some temples still remain buried underground. Exposed structures that rise from the jungle floor offer plenty to explore.
Lamanai consists of ceremonial pyramids, open-air plazas, a ball court, and other remnants of an ancient Maya civilization. Most tours of the archaeological complex start at the on-site museum to learn about the history of the Maya civilization before heading to the Jaguar Temple, part of which is carved into the shape of the jungle cat. Squint hard enough and you might be able to spot it.
Next is the High Temple, which rises above the treetops and offers panoramic views from its summit. Finally, visit the Mask Temple, which is adorned with a 13-foot (4-meter) limestone mask of an ancient Maya king. Much of Lamanai still remains concealed under dense jungle growth, with the restoration and evacuation of the site focused on these three large structures.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Nature lovers will enjoy spotting exotic birds and howler monkeys at the archaeological site.
- The High Temple features a wooden staircase that winds around the back of the pyramid, making it easier to climb to the top.
- Many tours combine a trip to the ruins with a riverboat ride along New River, providing more opportunities to spot local wildlife.
How to Get There
From Belize City, you can hop a bus from the local station to Orange Walk. From there, you’ll need to grab a taxi because Lamanai is located about 30 miles (48 kilometers) from the town of Orange Walk. An easier option: Tours from Belize City offer transportation directly to the site or to the New River in Orange Walk, where you’ll take an hourlong boat ride up to Lamanai.
When to Get There
Lamanai is open from 8am to 5pm daily. When cruise ships dock in Belize City, Lamanai can get crowded, so check the schedule and plan accordingly if your dates are flexible. Keep in mind that the rainy season (typically from June to November) may interfere with the riverboat ride. Late November to mid-April is dry season in Belize, and that’s when you’ll experience the most pleasant weather.
Another Maya archaeological site in Belize, Altun Ha is located a little more than two hours away from Lamanai and is divided into Plaza A and Plaza B. In Plaza B, the Temple of Masonry Altar is believed to have been the main religious center of the civilization. It’s also home to a giant piece of jade carved into the shape of the head of the Maya sun god Kinich Ahau.