Altun Ha Mayan Ruins: Where the Rich and Famous Once Lived
Altun Ha–Mayan for “Rockstone Pond”—is situated amid one of the richest wildlife areas in Belize, so if you’re eager to spot critters in addition to spectacular ruins, come for the bats, foxes, white-tail deer, tapir, armadillos and ancient buildings. This site is composed of 44 acres of archaeological history. First settled around 250 BC, Altun Ha is a relative newcomer when compared to other Belize ruins that harken back to 1000 BC, but it’s so unique, it’s well worth touring this place. Over 200 species of birds also call the area home, so don’t forget to look up when you visit.
Altun Ha Mayan Ruins
Among outstanding features of this former ceremonial center frequented by wealthy, powerful Mayans are two main plazas and 13 structures including the Temple of Masonry Altars. If engineering impresses you, check out the Maya-constructed water reservoir where crocodiles hang out these days. Once a project that provided settlement water, you may wonder how rain collected here instead of leaching or leaking away. Engineers used yellow clay to seal the ground so water couldn’t escape–yet another testament to Mayan ingenuity.
Why you should visit Altun Ha
Aside from seeing the aforementioned plazas, structures and water retention pond that gave this settlement its name, Altun Ha is a relatively “new” community, so you can compare the architecture, symbolism and progress to others and figure out what separates this era and place from them. Since Altun Ha is close to the Caribbean Sea, topography is different from remote ruins, likely a reason the rich and famous gathered here along a chain of cultural zones that drew Mayan elite. Because prominent people flocked here, area tombs were filled with exotic goods so they could live large in the afterlife.
Where in Belize is it located?
Altun Ha is situated 31 miles north of Belize City along the Old Northern Highway and about 6 miles west of the Caribbean Sea shoreline. If you drive, travel half an hour past Sandhill Village and two miles down Rockstone Pond Road toward the reserve. This two miles isn’t paved, so prepare for a bumpy ride.
When is the best time to visit?
Altun Ha is open year-round and like all open air sites, you’ll be exposed to that season’s weather fluctuations. Take advantage of lower accommodation, airfare and attraction prices during low season and you’ll not only come away from Altun Ha filled with wonder, but your wallet won’t be empty.
Best way to get here
Is your vehicle designed to traverse unpaved road? You’re ready for the trip. On the other hand, you can emulate the lifestyle of the wealthy inhabitants of Altun Ha by letting someone else drive you here. Tour companies, private contractors and resort staff are happy to arrange formal tours that include transport, though budget-minded tourists who don’t mind a two-mile walk can catch a daily bus from Belize City, get off at Lucky Strike village and follow signs to Altun Ha.
Best way to experience Altun Ha Mayan Ruins
A guidebook describing the history, society and lifestyle of Mayans occupying this community from 250 BC forward offers a great foundation for your visit because you’ll understand what you’re seeing as you stroll this site. Imagine this area at its zenith when 10,000 Mayans roamed this community, and learn more about geographic proximity that made it a thriving trading stop where jade, obsidian, flints and skins were commercially exchanged. The temples and tombs—especially the mysterious Temple of the Green Tomb—are fascinating. Wear comfy shoes to climb the single stairway to the top of the Temple of Masonry Altars where community rituals were held, but if you stand in awe of artistic mastery, seeing the jade head of Kinich Ahau the Sun God may thrill you most of all.