Tour Maya Ruins starting from Mundo Maya Headquarters
by Luis Blas Mendez
The Mundo Maya is comprised of five countries: Mexico (States of Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Campeche, Chiapas and Tabasco), Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
• Map of Central America and the Caribbean –Belize is the headquarters of Mundo Maya.
The fascinating and intriguing world of the Mayas is best captured if you start with its headquarters: - BELIZE. That is my country which has the lowest population of the five countries that comprise the Mayan world called Mundo Maya in Spanish. I was born a couple miles from Xunantunich Ruin (once known as Benque Viejo Ruin) and since as a child I used to walk/run from Benque Viejo with my relatives or friends to visit Xunantinich. Benque Viejo is the lowest rates in food and living in Belize. Our journey was made this way:- we took a canoe which is still available in Benque Viejo and cross the clean crystal Mopan river that has many mini water falls and divides my Town from the vast area that the Mayas used to occupy where the majestic Xunantunich Ruin rest on its highest hill. We walked through still existing trials. Having crossed the river we bet as a child to run up hills towards the Maya ruin. We didn’t go through an available Ferry at san Jose Succtoz 1 mile from my town which is a longer trip; we took the short cut and reach the ruin from the back entrance where the dormitory area lays. I think this is the way the Mayas moved back and forth these two areas since in Benque Viejo various Mayas sites still exist and the view of the Peek of the Highest Maya ruin of Belize can be seen from my hometown.
At the peek of the ruin you can see the Maya Mountains behind Benque Viejo (the western border town of Belize to the Republic of Guatemala) and Melchor de Mencos which is the border town of the Republic of Guatemala to Belize lays side to my hometown. 360 degrees all around the peek you can see up to 10-15 miles where the horizon curves and doesn’t let you see further. From that peek you can take a road connected to a parking area and go to Caracol Ruin which is the biggest of all ruins in Belize and is about 45 miles to the south. You can travel to Caracol Ruin upwards into the Maya Mountain where there is a vast rain forest reserve on a 2 hours trip with any small high vehicle. Before reaching Caracol Ruin you can take a look at a 1,800 ft water fall midst of the journey and visit some vast caves and natural big rocky areas of river pools where you can take a rest and admire the rainforest. Caracol was the city that controlled Guatemala Tikal ruin for some time in history. Both Tikal and Caracol are complete in its archeological set up of temples, palaces, shrines, ceremonial platforms, residences, ball courts, terraces, causeways, and plazas. This is also applicable to Yucatan Mexico Ruins where there are many more ruins and Maya Aztecs use to lived, meanwhile Belize are Maya Mopan and Guatemala are Maya Quiche as description to differentiate their language.
From Xuantunich peek it is claim as a myth that there is a tunnel to communicate to Tikal Ruin which is about 80 miles towards the west. To reach there you have to check on Guatemala immigration office and tours take you to Tikal Ruin and bring you back the same day. Interesting is that before you reach “el remate” where you will cut off to Tikal, you pass trough two lagoon, a salty lagoon first then a sweet lagoon at the village of Macanche. When you take the junction or cut off to Tikal to your left, another lagoon can be seen 1 mile towards the road to Tikal reserve. This lagoon is huge it can take you by boat to the Island of Flores Peten. Tikal park shelters a beautiful jungle and wildlife. My father used to cut for the English mahogany and sapodilla trees here and all of Peten as in Belize. My mother was born in Flores Peten. I used to travel here in the 70’s when my father got chartered trips in his taxi and now I do it sometimes for the sake of my children or visit my relatives. The rain forest trees that grow in the park are many as in Belize and Honduras. To name some I would say Spanish cedar, sapodilla, from which chicle, a base for chewing gum is derived, mahogany and many others.
If you need to go further in your exploration on asphalt road you can reach Quirigua ruins in Guatemala side also. This is an ancient Maya site close to the Atlantic coast of Guatemala in the department of Izabal along the lower Motagua River and has a ceremonial site. Several important trading routes came together here historically and the same you can see in its today surrounding urban towns and municipalities. This would be a 5 hours trip from Xunantunich. From Quirigua you can go to Honduras where you’ll find Copan Ruins. They are located in the western part of Republic of Honduras, in the Department of Copan. Most Guatemalans go to Copan on a day trip. If the trip is done from Belize Xunantuncih and you want to taste the flavor you need to stay over night because the problem is that vehicles are not allowed to cross the border of Belize and Guatemala from 9:00 pm till 6:00 am.
El Salvador Mayan site is at a countryside called Joya de Ceren – but this Mayan village, due to a volcanic eruption, was buried by volcanic ashes for some 1,400 years until discovered in 1976 and will be dealt in future its excavation. Mayan artifacts can be seen at the museum.
All along the way towards these ruins there are small businesses where the Mayas descendants still keep their culture of food and you can see the plantations of their crops at farms along the highway and further more to the high mountains of Guatemala in the journey to this country, Honduras and El Salvador. You can still see the scattered village as they use to live. Their intensive farming technique in the cultivation can still be seen vaguely up to now at the higher mountains.
As you travel to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador the road food you taste comes from their main crops which includes maize (corn), beans, squash, avocados, chili peppers, pineapples and papayas. Included in their trade now are mangoes, guava, orange, ice with syrup, apples, mamey, pineapple, watermelon, and other tropical fruits. While in Belize you eat and drink all of this all five countries are for ceviche. Fish, lobster, conch, all chop in pieces and marinated in lime juice and salt which cooks it. Belize bears many similarities from the Caribbean cuisine introduces by afro Belizeans from those islands and Garifunas whoa re also from Africa. It is widely spread that the Garifunas reached the Caribbean islands before Columbus accidentally landed in the Caribbean. Belize and Honduras have cuisine similarities due to these brave sailors such as the rice and beans cooked together with coconut flavor and fish soups etc. that Mayas have now adapt. If you travel early in the morning or late in the afternoon you will be surprise in the villages with chocolate drink with water, corn tortillas and roast pig or roast deer. They also serve you stew turkey, rabbit, chicken or duck. They like dogs at their homes to mine the milpa corn, children and wife.
In Belize, 2 hours journey east of Xunantunich lays Altun Ha which has been well restored for its here that the a large (almost 10 pounds, or 5 kilograms) piece of jade rarely carved into an image of the head of the Maya sun god was found. This jade head is considered one of the national treasures of Belize. From Xunantunich you can see at the peek of a hill the Ruin of Cahal Pech that is at the side of San Ignacio/Santa Elena Town. The site was a palace home for an elite Maya family. The ruin is at the peek of the hill and at its skirt is Macal river that joins with the Mopan river of my howetown. To the north there is Lamanai Ruin which is the longest continually-occupied site in Mundo Maya. It continued like this during the Spanish conquest of Yucatan (Mexico). The Roman Catholic Church of the colony of the conquistadores is still there after being driven by a revolt in the colonial days by the native Mayas. Lamanai site has a huge lagoon at its side. Other Mayas sites in Belize are El pilar which you can see it from the peek of Xunantucih about 3 miles to the north. Other ruins are Cerros and La Milpa which neighbors Mexico to the north, Lubanntun and Nim Li punit which are at the Toledo district where the Mayas now reside in Belize who continue with their crop and dress customs as the Mayas in Guatemala and Honduras.
If Yucatan Mexico is the flavor to go 5 hours trip from Benque Viejo will take you to Quintana Roo Mexico. There you shall find Chichen Chichen Itza very interesting Maya ruin. During the Spring and Fall equinoxes, (March 21 & Sept 21) the setting sun creates shadows down the steps of the pyramid that resemble a snake descending. Tulum ruin is also beautifull and Nohoch Mul is the tallest pyramid in the Yucatan peninsula. From the top of the pyramid you can view a magnificent span of jungle with the tops of other ruins reaching above the jungle. South of Tulum are the Mayan ruins of Chacchoben and Dzibilchaltun ruins located on the road to Progreso Merida. Chac Mool, Ek Balam, Kohunlich, Dzibanche, Mayapan Muyil, Xel-ha, Uxmal which is one of the best in the peninsula and Oxtankah are other Mayan ruins in Quintana Roo. Away from the peninsula which has the best ruins in Mexico we meet Campeche and Chiapas. I quite don’t know these Mayan ruins but will I’ll mention it so that my essay involve the whole Maya complex sites. At Campeche we have Becan, which is below the peninsula and westward, there is also Calakmul ruin. At Chiapas we find Chicanna, Bonampak and Yaxchilan which is right on the Usumacinta side and visitors almost exclusively come via the long boats that navigate the river. I understand that the only distinguish ruin at Chiapas Mexico is Palenque. This ruin is claim to be one of the premiere ruins of Mesoamerica, featuring the Temple of Inscriptions containing Pakal's tomb, there is also Yaxchitlan & Bonampak Maya ruins at Chiapas region which has similarities in jungle like scenery as Peten Guatemala, Honduras and Belize.
Its so enriched this once isolated world culture of this people of ancient Native American that represented one of the most advanced civilizations in the western hemisphere before the arrival of colonialist Europeans or the Garifunas as its popularly claimed by this race. The Maya sites physical manifestation of the temples creates a perception of melancholic admiration. At the same time it creates a sense of resentment when you acknowledge that rude slavery built such massive innumerous pyramids, temples, and sculpture. At the walls of such temples and artifacts you can notice that they developed a system of writings. Clearly they recorded their achievements in mathematics and astronomy. Mel Gibson Apocalipto only captures the atrocity of the Mayas… here in the deep and thick jungles of temples you can sense so much slavery work of sweet, blood, famine, hunger and tears of meek Mayas. So much straining works with stones when cutting and smoothing before laying and sticking cold stones. The setting one on top of the other arithmetically to impose a regime of such culture that break the meek back for the grandeur of the advantageous clever ones.