There are many amazing cultures on this Earth that I would love to learn about. Some have long been gone from the world, but they leave behind buildings and clues to their way of life. The Mayans were an ancient people who were very technologically advanced for their time. They built structurally sound buildings with precise measurements without any mechanical equipment. Altun Ha, a site of ruins outside of Belize City, Belize is one of the best examples of their architectural abilities. The site covers 8 square kilometres and most of the structures have yet to be unearthed. The ones that have are something to marvel at.
The drive to Altun Ha takes around one hour on roads that have seen better days and are not much wider than the van you drive there in. It is the least-touristy site of ruins I have ever been to. Even when the tour buses rolled in later in the day, we still felt we were in a very secluded area of the world. Perhaps that’s true, considering it took quite some time for this site to come to the attention of archaeologists. It wasn’t until 1963, when a large jade stone was discovered in a quarry, that historians were aware of what treasures were right under their feet. The sheer amount of jade found at Altun Ha suggests that it was a city of great wealth and importance.
This jade pendant still resides in the main bank in Belize City, along with many other valuable finds. Still within the structures are the Sun God and all he has been buried with. Unfortunately, the humidity broke down both his royal robes and the book he was buried in, but the jewels, pottery and other artefacts are still intact. You can climb to the top of his resting place – the Green Tomb – inside the Temple of the Masonry Alters. The steps are very steep, but there is a handrail to help you navigate them. Once on the top, there is no barrier. It’s just you standing atop a large stone structure, looking down upon the rest of the buildings on the site and the forest surrounding it.
Several grassy hills exist at Altun Ha and have yet to be uncovered. Underneath are other stone structures that are slowly being discovered. The large pyramid is only partly visible, as it kept collapsing as archaeologists tried to expose more and more of it. The flint stone that has been unearthed from all the buildings has been covered in another stone material to keep it from eroding further from natural weather and visitors exploring the site.
Our guide was highly knowledgeable about the Mayan people and the site. We learned not only about the structures and artefacts found in and around them, but she also showed us the grounds and explained about plants near the ruins and natural medicines used by Mayan doctors and still used by some of their ancestors today. One thing we found particularly interesting was a form of anaesthetic that was discovered by accident. A plant grown in Belize has spiny pods that can cause numbness and was used to make a paste used during childbirth and surgery.
You will not want to miss the chance to try some local wine made from cashews when you head out to the gift shops on the property. It has a very interesting flavour and makes a great souvenir – and gift for others – from your trip to Belize. Another must is lunch at the café on-site. It’s not much to look at, but you have to try the Belizean chicken that comes with rice, beans and fried plantains. It is one of the best meals you will eat and you’ll have a great time trying to figure out what makes it so good, since the recipes are a closely guarded secret within the Belize community.
We were only in Belize long enough to take a tour of the Altun Ha ruins, drive through Belize City and shop a bit in the port before we had to get back on the cruise ship. We would love to go back and spend more time there.
Have you ever been to Belize? If so, what were some of your favourite memories?