Lamanai Mayan Ruins: The Crocodiles Don’t Bite at this Ancient Ceremonial Center
To understand how insightful the Mayans who built Lamanai were before the name Submerged Crocodile was bestowed upon this 958.5 acre spread by 17th century Franciscan missionaries, look at this ruin from the air. Doesn’t it resemble that ferocious amphibian raising its head amid miles of jungle? Considered one of Belize’s most spectacular ceremonial centers, much of Lamanai is obscured by forest, so only by making an in-person visit to this epicenter of folklore, superstition and history can you appreciate this splendid ruin.
Lamanai Mayan Ruins:
Located along the banks of the New River Lagoon, Lamanai’s structural ruins include temples, a ball court, living quarters and commercial buildings constructed by generations of dwellers that range from indigenous Mayans to Spanish colonists. Coexisting on the complex are statues to pagan deities and the Spanish churches Mayans were forced to build when conquistadors instituted slave labor practices in the 1500s. The most recent building addition—-all but destroyed—-is a symbolic 19th Century sugar mill, making this one of the most continually inhabited Mayan ruins in Central America.
Why you should visit
Lamanai Mayan Ruins deserve your attention because they uniquely reflect centuries of occupation by differing societies. You’ll see ruins built in 200 BC and those built in the last century. A highlight of this stop is the iconic, 13-foot-high, stylized mask of a half man/half crocodile carved on Stele #9 that pays tribute to one of the most revered deities of all: Lord Smoking Shell. Stroll the ball court that separates three temples located along the compound’s perimeter. Trees shade so much of this area, thus getting into the complex is the only way you’ll be able to see for yourself the full extent of the evolution of this ancient Mayan stronghold.
Where in Belize is this site located?
The district that’s in closest proximity to Lamanai Mayan Ruins is Orange Walk and, specifically, the villages of San Filipo and Shipyard. Use them as your point of origin when planning your trip.
When is the best time to go?
If you’re eager to peek into every nook and cranny—climb 125 feet to the High Temple’s summit and explore the other temples and buildings in this massive compound—visiting during the green season may not deliver the most enjoyable experience. On the other hand, if you could care less about rain and feel comfortable scaling ruins wearing proper shoes, come any time during the year because the park is always accessible.
How to get to Lamanai Mayan Ruins
If you’re not vacationing in Orange Walk, travel there first. Choose between the water taxi that goes up the New River Lagoon or rent an all-terrain vehicle for the 28-mile-long drive through both San Felipe and Shipyard to reach Lamanai. A packaged tour is the most relaxing way to travel—particularly if you dislike driving dirt roads.
Best way to experience Lamanai Mayan Ruins
Start at the Mask Temple since it was the most contiguously occupied structure of all and then move on to the other temples, saving the High Temple for last since it’s the most dramatic. Note the architectural differences reflected in buildings that may have been constructed as recently as AD 1300. Be sure to visit Stele #9 to see the 13-foot man/crocodile statue and you’ll be in close proximity to the ancient residential complex believed to be the quarters of Mayan elite. Along the periphery, western architecture stands in stark contrast to Mayan buildings. While the ball court is one of the smallest among Central America’s Mayan compounds, it’s no less fascinating when you imagine this as a gathering place for generations of villagers.