Altun Ha, Belize
Out of all of the Mayan sites in Belize, Altun Ha is the most easily accessible from Belize City. This site was once a major trading center, as indicated by the discoveries of jade, jewelry, pottery, and elaborate sculptures. Just 30 miles (50 km) north of Belize City, Altun Ha is a popular day trip for both cruise ship passengers and independent travelers.
Major construction at Altun Ha occurred between 100 A.D. to 900 A.D. At the height of its occupation, it is believed that up to 10,000 Mayan lived in the area around the site. Archeologists believe that the Maya living here traveled with their goods up and down the nearby Belize River in canoes, in order to make trading deals with nearby communities.
This site was also a center of religious activity. Altun Ha has 8 large temples and palaces. The main attraction is the 54-foot (16-meter) tall Temple of the Masonry Altars. Visitors are allowed to climb to the top of this pyramid, where they will find a large, round altar. This altar is believed to have served as the epicenter of religious ceremonies. Several tombs have also been discovered inside the temples, with remains that are believed to belong to Altun Ha’s high priests.
After exploring the ruins, you have the opportunity to purchase locally made handicrafts and art from the vendors located near the site entrance.
While close to Belize City, the road to Altun Ha includes a 10-mile drive on a gravel and dirt road that is full of potholes. Large tour buses also drive on this road, so take care when you turn corners on this road. It is also recommended that visitors carry bug spray.