I boarded my plane {still somewhat tipsy} to Central America around 4:00 AM. By this time, I had lived in New York for nearly nine months. I had grown accustomed to everything that came along with residing in the big apple: the crowded subways, the anxiety-triggering fast pace, the smell of morning garbage wafting along the Manhattan streets, and sounds of honking horns, angry shop owners, and police sirens. Needless to say, I was due for a change of pace. It was time to trade in the concrete jungle, for an actual one.

Cue, Belize.

As I mentioned previously on the blog, one of my ultimate goals for this trip included temple climbing. I did my research {as you always should} and located some of the top Mayan ruins in the surrounding area. Pretty early on, I was determined to witness Tikal National Park in Guatemala, but when it came to Belize, Xunantunich (prounounced: zoo-nan-two-nitch) stole my heart. Now, Tikal is huge {you can read all about my experience visiting the national park here}. So if you choose to visit Tikal first, don’t blame me when you are underwhelmed by nearly every other excavated site in Belize.

This is not to say Xunantunich isn’t impressive, because it is. But it’s not the mother of all Mayan ruins per say, and therefore may be disappointing if you’ve previously been to the motherland. I visited Xunantunich prior to my time in Guatemala, and personally I think this is the way to go.

Xunantunich is located in San Ignacio, Belize and easily accessible by bus. You can board any local bus in Belize heading west to Benque Viejo del Carmen. From the bus stop, you will walk to the hand-operated cable-winched river ferry – it’s free. The ferry will take you to the other side of the river where you are left to your own devices. You can load a car, motorbike, or golf cart on to the ferry and drive yourself up to the ruins. Otherwise, the walk takes about 15-20 minutes to reach the entrance.

I was lucky enough to run into a couple of people that had hired a golf cart. They offered me the back seat and we ended up exploring a lot of the ruins together that morning. The ruins open at 8:00 AM, and I arrived around 9:00 AM. I had the entire place to myself {aside from my new friends}, which allowed me ample time to climb El Castillo {the castle}, the second tallest structure in Belize. I eagerly climbed the 40 meters and was rewarded with a 360 view of the Cayo area. In the distance, I could also spot Guatemala, as the border is less than a mile away.

The weather gods were not on my side on the morning of my trek to Xunantunich, but ultimately I preferred the drizzle as I stood on top of the world. The atmosphere was mystical and sitting on the edge of the ruins, I felt at peace {though it should have been panic because I’m normally afraid of heights}.

Xunantunich was a major ceremonial center and home to 25 temples and palaces. You can easily explore the grounds in an hour or so. I did so on my own and felt satisfied. Alternatively, you can hire a guide at the entrance, or you can book through an agency to include a few extra features. For example, you can take a yoga class at the base of El Castillo, or ride horseback to and from the ruins. Whatever floats your boat.

Upon exiting the ruins, I walked back to the ferry dock and proceeded to find breakfast. My lovely host at Lower Dover recommended Benny’s Kitchen, located only a few blocks away {you can’t miss the signage}. I followed the arrows along the back roads of San Ignacio and eventually settled in for a warm meal. My breakfast was nothing to write home about, but it did the job after a long morning of temple climbing. 

I returned to San Ignacio to explore some of the village and eventually cuddle iguanas. It was a day well spent, and great preparation for my journey to Tikal.

Price: $10 BZD {$5 USD}

Hours: 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM

Location: Located outside of San Ignacio, Xunantunich is easily accessible by bus. The bus drivers will help you out when it comes to locating the specific stop. Just explain where you are going and make a large ‘X’ with your hands. Works like a charm!

And finally, if you are interested in purchasing the hat I’m wearing in this post, you can receive an additional 10% off any purchase here using the code ‘RACHELENROUTE10’.  S. A L T donates a percentage of their profits to the charity of your choice {out of options provided on the website}. It’s a company I strongly believe in and continue to support.

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