San Ignacio is often called the “cultural heart” of Belize, and for good reason. Many travelers have immediately fallen in love with San Ignacio’s authentic charm and abundant natural wonders, filling their vacation with cave tubing, canoeing, bike riding, hiking, and more.

If you’re interested in some of Belize’s man-made wonders, San Ignacio is also the place to be. And, if you’re a history or archaeology buff, you’ll definitely want to check out some of the best Maya sites near San Ignacio.

Cahal Pech

Centrally located in San Ignacio, Cahal Pech contains 34 structures, including pyramids, ball courts, stelae, and more. The tallest temple is 77 feet tall and overlooks San Ignacio itself. Cahal Pech features an onsite museum and a recreation of what it’s believed the Maya center looked like prior to abandonment around 800 AD.

Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Caves

Without a doubt, Actun Tunichil Muknal is one of the most popular attractions in Belize. Commonly referred to as “ATM Cave”, you’ll hike, climb, crawl, and swim in underwater caverns. Mayans historically believed these caves were portals to the underworld, known as Xibalba. You’ll even see the “Crystal Maiden,” a skeleton believed to be a teenager who was sacrificed in one of the chambers.

Xunantunich

Xunantunich Maya Site

Xunantunich Maya Site in Cayo

Xunantunich is one of the best Maya sites near San Ignacio. It’s a short 15-minute or so drive from the town, wherein you’ll then board a wooden hand-crank ferry for a short trip across the Mopan River. The highlight is El Castillo, the 130-foot pyramid that offers unsurpassed views around Belize and into Guatemala.

Tikal, Guatemala

The UNESCO World Heritage-listed site of Tikal is one of the most visited sites in Guatemala. However, you you’ll pretty much need to stay overnight in Guatemala to see one of the most famous Maya sites in the world. Sunrise tours and sunset time are ideal times to visit Tikal from a photography standpoint.

Caracol

Visiting Caracol on a day trip from San Ignacio means approximately a 2.5 hour drive, with stops at either Rio On Pools or Big Rock Falls for a quick swim. Caracol is considered the largest archaeological site in Belize, although much of it still lies underground. It’s also one of — if not the — most remote of the Maya sites in Belize, with a 4×4 vehicle required during certain times of the year. Caracol dates back to the Classic Period and, at its peak, may have had a population of over 140,000 inhabitants. The crown jewel at Caracol is Caana Temple, which towers at 140 feet above the ground, offering incredible 360-degree views.

Crystal Cave

For a different look at Mayan history, take a Crystal Cave and Blue Hole National Park day trip from San Ignacio. Much like ATM Cave, you’ll head into the world of Xibalba and look for artifacts and learn about ancient Mayan rituals.

About The Author

Erin is a freelance writer, blogger, and photographer. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including AFAR Magazine, Destination Belize, Viator, TripAdvisor, Trivago, and Roam Right Travel Insurance.

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