Long before Europeans arrived in the New World, the ancient Maya civilization stretched from what is today’s Mexico all the way down to El Salvador. The modern nation of Belize formed the heartland of this mighty civilization, serving as an important nexus in the Maya’s vast trade network that connected its more than one million citizens.
For reasons not yet completely understood by archeologists, the Maya civilization began to collapse around AD 900 in what is known as the Post Classic period. Whether due to climate change, agricultural blight, civil strife, or a combination of several factors, the collapse of the Maya civilization saw the fragmentation of the Maya into distinct kingdoms and principalities.
But for more than 2,000 years, the abundant sunshine, fertile soils, and the rich fisheries of the offshore reef allowed the Maya civilization to flourish in what is now Belize. The Maya dug a channel to separate what is now the island of Ambergris Caye from the mainland and used waterways like the Belize River to move goods, people, and valuables between city-states.
Many of Belize’s most celebrated Maya ruins, sites like Xunantunich and Caracol, were locked in a cycle of alliances and wars with each other and powerful city-states like Tikal in what is now Guatemala. Historians have carefully pieced together the archeological evidence and now know that Caracol once ruled over vast swathes of Maya territory during the reign of the so-called Snake Dynasty.
Other important Maya sites in Belize include Altun Ha and Lamanai. Following the collapse of the Maya Empire, these impressive displays of architecture were swallowed up by the jungle, lost for centuries until rediscovered at the end of the 19th century. Although archeologists have performed heroic work in excavating these important sites, much work remains to be done. In fact, a 2016 dig at Xunantunich uncovered the largest Maya royal tomb ever discovered.
Today, the living descendants of the ancient Maya are an important component of Belizean life, keeping their language, music, foods, and customs preserved for generations to come.
Black Orchid Resort offers the perfect Mayan Ruin tours for anyone interested in seeing the true majesty of the once-great Maya Empire. Although Belize is home to more than 800 Maya sites, our tour focuses on the very best, including: