In all honesty, my “bucket list” is pretty eclectic. It ranges from being chosen as an assistant in a magic show, to visiting the Shire in New Zealand. And while my bucket list changes from year to year, there are a few items that have never been booted off or shuffled down.
Ever since World History in the sixth grade, experiencing the mystery of the Mayan Ruins up close has remained near the top of my ultimate bucket list. So when I saw Belize on our cruise itinerary last year, there was no doubt what excursion we were booking. Surprisingly, the Mayan Ruins excursions weren’t quite as expensive as I was expecting. (The prices range from around $54 per person to $120 per person depending on the length of the excursion and other activities included.) After reading the reviews, and researching the different sites, we chose to tour the Altun Ha Ruins, about an hour drive from the port. The Mayan Ruins of Altun Ha are seated deep in the jungles of Belize and cover a stretch of about 5 square miles. This site was once a thriving Mayan city, where several temples, courtyards, and sacrificial alters still remain.
Belize has been, by far, the most humid port we have visited. When the ship dropped anchor, I found every exposed surface to be covered in little droplets of moisture like a liquid disco ball. Because the reef is too high, and the water too shallow, the ship has to anchor out in the deep water, so instead of walking off the gangway, you take a small, local ferry to the mainland.
The water was tumultuous that day, so we were relieved to reach their pier after a choppy ride inland. To my pleasant surprise, the Belize port was undoubtedly the least commercialized and polished out of all the Caribbean ports we’ve visited. The buildings were authentically worn, and all the usual commercialized shopping was absent. (Check out my other blog posts for articles on Cozumel, Grand Turk, and Curacao.)
After walking through the small cruise center, we found our bus was waiting for us in the pick-up terminal with our guides already telling us the story of their fruitful nation. Our excursion included a tour of the city, so we drove through the streets for about an hour before hitting the road to Altun Ha. The roads were hardly what we would consider “drivable” here in the western world- they were mostly gravel or well-worn dirt. As we drove further and further out from the port, houses turned into sheet metal shacks, and we could clearly hear the howl of monkeys in the forest around us.
Our bus finally rolled to a stop at a local goods market just outside of the Ruins site where the locals were selling everything from wooden bowls to freshly picked fruit. With a promise from our guides to return to the market after touring the Ruins, we kept walking down a jungle path until the dense green vegetation opened up to reveal the ruins of a once great city. I had really been expecting one or two dilapidated structures, but instead I stood at the base of towering temples at every side with a courtyard in the middle. Altun Ha is actually one of the few remaining sites where you are still allowed to climb the temple steps to the top- and that’s exactly what we did.
Now if you are planning to visit the Mayan Ruins, it is essential that you DON’T skip leg day. In Mayan times, the temples were constructed with the purpose of appeasing their gods, which only the kings and priests were allowed to ascend. The steps to the temple were built extremely tall because they were meant to be crawled, to show respect to the gods. Now, I wasn’t about to crawl up this giant stone temple, so image doing about 60 vertical lunges in a row. That’s what it feels like to climb the steps of a Mayan temple.
But oh, when you get to the top- it’s incredible. To stand so high where you can see over the top of the Belizean jungle. To literally be surrounded by history- it’s worth the money, and the trip, and the climb. No doubt about it.
More than just temples, you will find stone courtyards that were used to play games, the remnants of homes, and even a massive face carved into the stone. If you are like me, and the Mayan Ruins are on your bucket list, don’t give up on them- they are worth the wait.
I hope this article will help you in your future travels or that it just helped you escape to a grander place. Let me know what you want to hear about next. Sweet Dreams and Happy Travels, lovelies!
2 thoughts on “Are the Mayan Ruins Really Worth the Hype?: My Trip to Altun Ha”
Michelle – Thanks for the update on your Mayan experience. Belize is on my bucket list so I found it very interesting.
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Thanks for following my blog. I would love to climb to the top of a Mayan temple! The closest thing I have done to that is climbing to the top of two mounds built by ancient Indians in Ohio and West Virginia.