Maiden of the Rock

Maiden of the Rock

While we spent a lot of time on the beach in Belize, it wasn’t the (sole) reason we visited the country. We took three ventures off-resort. The first was to see a Mayan ruin located about 80 miles west of Belize City. It was about a three hour drive from the resort, but well worth the time.

We piled into a mini-bus with a group of other guests wishing to see the ruins. It was a popular destination so the bus was packed full. This time we weren’t the last ones to board, so we at least got to sit together for the drive. There was a lot of conversation between groups of guests, and between guests and the driver, before people settled down for the long haul. There was a lot to see along the way and the driver pulled over to show us things along the side of the road (such as banana fields and a bridge collapsed by a storm a few years prior). He also offered to stop whenever people wanted to take pictures of something they caught out the window. A lot of people wanted to catch toucans, but unfortunately we didn’t see any on the road that day.

We finally stopped at a small market set up just across the river from the ruins. It seems the government doesn’t allow more than a few merchants close to the site, so the rest took up residence here. Some of them lined the road with their wares, holding them up and calling to us as we walked from the van down to the ferry that would take us across the river. Luckily they didn’t mob us (I’ve heard in some places they won’t leave you alone until you buy something) and we piled onto the ferry. It was just a small wooden raft onto which they loaded a van which we all stood around. Our guide called it the Mayan Titanic.

(Vendors line the way to the “Mayan Titanic”)

On the other side of the river, we took a short walk to the top of the hill and our tour began. These ruins are called ‘Xunantunich‘ (shoe-nan-two-nich) which our guide said means “maiden of the rock” or “stone lady.” The highlight of this particular ruin was a temple at which priests used to perform religious ceremonies.

It’s hard to put into words what it’s like to stand at the base of the ruin and glance up at the top. It’s a large structure, and it’s only the remains of what once was. It’s an impressive sight now, it must have been magnificent when it was complete. Parts of the ruin have been restored and parts of it are the same stones on which the Mayans walked when they performed and attended their religious ceremonies.


One of the first things we noticed was the size of the stone stairs used to mount the first part of the temple. You have to lift your legs so high for each stair, it’s almost as if you prostrate before the temple. When my husband pointed that out, our guide confirmed it was an intentional part of the initial design. Once past the initial stairway, the stairs became small and narrow. I ascended most of them pressed against the wall, half-terrified of tumbling off the side (there are, of course, no guard rails). While many ruins now are just mounds of rock and stairs, the temple at Xunantunich still has some rooms. We were able to stand inside the upper portion of the temple and look out through triangular windows.

(Unfortunately all my inside pictures are too dark to see much)

Moving even further upward, we were able to stand on top the ruin. There were two military men sitting on either corner of the ruin. None of us were sure exactly why; they may have been watching the Guatemala border (since you could see it quite well from atop the ruin) or they may have just been there to discourage people from defacing the ruins.

(I angled my camera so that one of the soldiers ended up in the photo without actually taking a picture of him. I didn’t want to tick off a guy with a gun, after all)

Either way, that didn’t stop my husband disobeying the signs.


It’s hard to get a sense from pictures of just how high this temple is. My mother-in-law is afraid of heights, so she didn’t take the climb. Instead she took a picture of us from below while we took a picture of her from above.

(My husband calls this “a picture of a chicken.” He’s rude ;)

But I also snapped a few shots when we left the temple portion of the tour in an attempt to give scale to just how grand this temple really is.


Next we passed through the ball court and our guide explained a little about the game. I believe this court was relatively small compared to most others, but you can still see the distinct shape of the court.


The final stop along the way was referred to as ‘the palace.’ It sat across the courtyard from the temple. It was a much smaller structure height wise, though it was still fairly large. We were able to climb on this but there weren’t any rooms, just a semi-flat surface and more ruined walls.

(The palace and the rickety staircase leading up to it)

When we finished at Xunantunich, several of our group went shopping among the vendor stands back on the other side of the river. When we were all back in the bus, we took a short drive into the city for lunch. I don’t recall the name of the local restaurant and, alas, I don’t think any of us thought to snap a picture of the sign. I wish I’d thought to write down the name of the local dish I tried because I can’t remember anymore. All I remember is that it was phenomenal! It was a meat dish served with mini pita-pockets to wrap the meat along with fixings. We took a look at the restaurant gift shop while we were there and picked up a box of four Belize hot sauces that still make my chili awesome to this day.

To fill out the day, we made a final stop at a local iguana reserve. Not only do they rehabilitate adult iguanas there, they raise and release babies into the wild. We were able to visit their adult iguanas, who were were more than happy to pose for pictures. Then we took a trip to the baby enclosure and held some baby iguanas. They were adorable! Though a few got loose on the guest side of the enclosure and man can they move! The keeper had a heck of a time getting them all back in the right spot.

(Iguana! Anyone familiar with my Goole-Plus profile has seen this picture already :)

The only downside to the excursion was the number of bug bites we all came back with. Seems mosquitoes like to hang out in the same places as iguanas and they were not deterred by bug spray. I think most everyone dozed on the drive back to the resort. It was a long, fulfilling day and one of the most memorable things I’ve ever done.

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