One of the most picturesque Mayan ruins in Belize, Lamanai features three large pyramids, various restored stelae, and open plazas as well as a small but unique ball court. Also, the ruins of two 16th century Spanish churches are nearby. The site enjoys an isolated location in the jungle on the banks of the New River Lagoon, a river with numerous crocodiles.The river trip that is part of the tour is one of the highlights of the day. A scenic 26 mile boat ride from Orange Walk Town up the New River is the easiest way to get to Lamanai. Gliding along past villages and outposts, including a Mennonite community that seems very out of place for the jungles of Belize. Perhaps the least understood, although most conspicuous, population of Belize, the Mennonites hold fast to their culture and strict beliefs while continuing to assist the commerce, carpentry, engineering, and agriculture industries of Belize. The Mennonites emerged during the Radical Reformation of the 16th century in Northern Europe. Persecuted throughout the ages for their beliefs, particularly their refusal to pay land taxes or support the military, this Anabaptist group migrated from Holland to Germany and finally to Prussia. Their unique dialect, an archaic amalgamation of Dutch and German, has persisted the 400 years since this move and is still spoken in the Mennonite communities of Belize. The Mennonites are responsible for a large percentage of Belize agriculture.

Also along the river is a great view of the jungle and its denizens. You have to watch closely to see the national bird of Belize, the Toucan nesting in the trees, or the lazy crocodile sunning on a fallen tree trunk alongside the river.

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Or the friendly spider monkey that comes right down to the boat for a piece of fruit. This guy has the tour boat operators well trained, when the boat turns the corner, he yells and beats on his chest to let them know he wants some yummy fruit to eat.

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The scenery is beautiful as you wind along the river. All manner of birds and flora abound in the warm Belizean countryside. After about an hour on the boat we arrived at the ruins. Nestled alongside of the river you imagine that the ancient Mayans traveled the same route that you have taken. A large sign welcomes you along with a small museum and gift shop. On display in the museum are numerous artifacts and stones from the temples. Some of the artifacts date to before the time of Christ. It gives great pause to think about how truly old these things are and how such a large vibrant society could have vanished as it did.

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After spending some time in the museum, our tour guide Eric led us down the jungle path toward the ruins. As we stepped into the jungle there was a terrific noise and clatter. I can only liken it to how it must sound in Jurassic Park. The sounds were a combination of a lions roar and giant dinosaur. Eric assured us that it was two troops of howler monkeys in the trees overhead. They were arguing over the territory. It was truly an awesome sight. We saw numerous monkeys over our heads, following us along in the treetops. I’m not sure that “howling” is how I would describe the magnificent noise they make.

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When the trees opened up to the clearing of the first temple, it was really a majestic sight.

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Amazing to see how intact these structures are after so many centuries.The High Temple is an enormous pyramid, rising 108 feet above the plaza level. It was first built around 100 BC and modified several times but its impressive height was already reached in the initial construction phase. This makes it one of the largest securely dated Maya structures from the Preclassic period.

A short distance to the south of the High Temple is a ball court, the only one in Lamanai, dating to around 900-950 AD. It has a circular stone marker which covers a mysterious chamber where liquid mercury and several pieces of jade were found.

Structure N10-9, another of Lamanai’s massive pyramids, was initially constructed around 500-550 AD. Also informally referred to as the “Jaguar Temple” because of a jaguar mask found here, the structure is twelve feet shorter in exposed height than the High Temple. However a significant amount of this temple is under the ground.

The smallest of the three excavated temples at Lamanai is the Mask Temple, named after a 13 feet  high carved mask. It represent a humanized face with a crocodile headdress and dates to the late 5th to early 6th century. It is quite difficult to not be in awe of these structures and the engineering skills that the Mayans possessed.

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Written by Tripping Vagabonds

Freelance Travel Writer and Photographer, Member International Travel Writers and Photographers Alliance

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