To get to Xunatunich from San Ignacio (Cayo), take one of the numerous west-bound buses. Tell the driver you would like to get out at the ferry to Xunatunich, which is about 7 miles west of town. The bus ride should cost US$0.75 per person. The ferry across the Mopan River is free. After crossing the ferry, there is a one-mile uphill walk to contend with. Bring drinking water!
You may hear from local people, especially taxi drivers, that it is unsafe to walk this stretch. They may try to scare you with stories of muggings or worse. My feeling on this is that it is a ploy to get taxi fare, but you need to decide for yourself. I did not find the walk to be threatening in any way, but I was with my husband. Single women should maybe hook up with other travelers to make the trip.
After paying the US$2.50 per person entrance fee, we stopped briefly at the unimpressive museum. Fortunately, the site itself did not disappoint. The site is a combination of excavated and unexcavated ruins, the largest restoration being a 130-foot stone pyramid called El Castillo. As Xunatunich is already set on the top of a large hill, the view from the top of El Castillo is long, and includes 360 degrees of seemingly endless jungle. Also from the top, the view of the rest of the archeological site, including the courtyards of green grass and families having picnics, is very tranquil. El Castillo has some ornate carvings on the east and west sides. While beautiful, it was interesting to find out that they are replicas, the originals being kept elsewhere for safekeeping.
While exploring the lower structures and hills (which contained unexcavated structures), we were able to find private quiet corners for relaxing, and we saw a lot of bird life. I lost count of how many parrots and toucans that we saw flying back and forth across the courtyards.
We spent ½ day traveling to and from, and exploring Xunatunich and felt that this was adequate time. I suggest visiting Cahel Pech in Cayo first to get the benefit of its superior museum before visiting Xunatunich. One could be visited in the morning, and the other in the afternoon, with lunch in Cayo in between.
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West Palm Beach, Florida
January 8, 2005
To get to the ruins at Xunantunich, your vehicle has to be pulled across on a small "ferry". Fun! Xunantunich is a sprawling compound of several buildings, separated by long flat plazas, that were used for various purposes (commercial, residential, spiritual) in Mayan times. The highlight was the steep climb to the top of the central building. It is theorised that the steps were so high as to place the climbers (usually specific and diminutive Mayans of a spiritual vocation) in a prostrated position of subservience to the gods that they were seeking to worship. The view from the top was amazing. We could see out over the lush Guatemalan border.
Mario dropped the other group off at the nearby butterfly farm (it looked interesting, but I doubt that I could have spent more than 30 minutes there) and took us for a yummy lunch in San Ignacio. Afterward, we picked up the group and headed for Cahal Pech. Here Mario showed us the ball field, where the Mayans would play a game that involved a rubber ball and a small hoop. History is ambiguous about what happened to the winners of the game. In some theories, they become human sacrifices, and in others, the losers are killed. Cahal Pech was smaller and quieter than the ruins at Xunantunich, and we enjoyed the shade and the respite from the crowds of people. While we were there, Mario also pointed out some tall, suspicious, dirt-covered hills. He said that there may be ruins under those hills, as well, but the Belize government does not have the money to put into further archeological investigation. So for now, they will continue to be a mystery.
From journal Belize Navidad
Port Angeles, Washington
July 16, 2004
From journal Cayo is Cool
by globe trotter
Manchester, United Kingdom
January 4, 2001
From journal Ruins & caves & kayaks in the jungle