On my way from Belize to Guatemala City, I stopped at Tikal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is home to some of the world’s most magnificent Maya ruins. In addition to the stunning architecture and layout of Tikal, the plant and animal life that has taken over the ancient city was amazing. I ended up spending the night in the park; being able to climb the Temples at sunrise and have the Great Plaza all to myself was incredible.

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Cahal Pech

Cahal Pech is a relatively small complex of ruins a 25 minute walk outside of San Ignacio. After going to church in town, with few buses running on the Sunday afternoon, I decided to check it out. Because Cahal Pech doesn’t receive heavy tourist traffic in comparison to Altun Ha or Lamanai, the ruins seemed much more accessible. Exploring the visitors center and site was enjoyable, and the friendly dog that insisted on being a tour guide was a definite highlight. I also got the chance to talk to an archaeologist from the University of Texas who had been working on the skeletons at Actun Tunichil Muknal the previous day.

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I enjoyed my visit to the ruins at Lamanai, the original name of which, Lama’anayin, means submerged crocodile. Once a city of about 35,000 people, Lamanai survived the economic collapse of the Classical Mayan civilization around 900 A.D. and was still an important commercial hub when the Spanish invaded.

From Orange Walk Town, I took a 90 minute boat ride up the New River, enjoying the sights of birds, iguanas, and spider monkeys. The sound of Howler monkeys (and swarming mosquitoes) greeted us when we docked at Lamanai. Our guide Wilfredo, from Jungle River Adventures, was excellent. As a trainer who had instructed many of the other guides there, he gave detailed explanations of the site’s architectural features, cultural background, and monumental engravings. Part of the Mask Temple had just been renovated and revealed to the public. Most of the massive site is still buried under dirt and trees that grow quickly in the tropical climate, and archaeologists estimate it would cost $70 billion to unearth the whole city. Even so, the excavated parts were impressive. Unfortunately, a thunder storm made it imprudent to climb the High Temple (though others decided to take the risk), but everything else was great.

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