We went on our first big Belizean adventure sponsored by the Community Liaison Office last weekend. The destination was Lamanai! I’m feeling particularly lazy this evening, so I’ll just paste some of the history from Wikipedia for background.

Lamanai (from Lama’anayin, “submerged crocodile” in Yucatec Maya) is a Mesoamerican archaeological site, and was once a considerably sized city of the Maya civilization, located in the north of Belize, in Orange Walk District. The site’s name is pre-Columbian, recorded by early Spanish missionaries, and documented over a millennium earlier in Maya inscriptions as Lam’an’ain.

Lamanai was occupied as early as the 16th century BC. The site became a prominent centre in the Pre-Classic Period, from the 4th century BC through the 1st century CE. In 625 CE, “Stele 9” was erected there in the Yucatec language of the Maya. Lamanai continued to be occupied up to the 17th century AD. During the Spanish conquest of Yucatán, Spanish friars established two Roman Catholic churches here, but a Maya revolt drove the Spanish out. The site was subsequently incorporated by the British in British Honduras, passing with that colony’s independence to Belize.

The vast majority of the site remained unexcavated until the mid-1970s. Archaeological work has concentrated on the investigation and restoration of the larger structures, most notably the Mask Temple, Structure N10-9 (“Temple of the Jaguar Masks”) and the High Temple. The summit of this latter structure affords a view across the surrounding jungle to a nearby lagoon, part of the New River.

Now that you know a little bit about the destination, I’ll tell you about our actual trip. We woke up crazy early, even before the baby got up at 6:00am, and tried to get organized. The journey had almost been cancelled due to rain, but I wasn’t worried…and actually welcomed it…because the overcast skies kept the normally 90-degree temperatures down.

About 20 of us gathered on the housing compound, crammed into two vans and set off along the Western Highway toward Belize City. Near Belize City we turned north along the (wait for it) Northern Highway and continued to the town of Orange Walk. Once in Orange Walk we met our guides and piled onto a speedboat for a twisty turny ride through the mangroves and palms. The driving took about two hours, and the river was about another hour by boat.

Along the way we encountered various wildlife, including the suicidal dog we hit on the Western Highway. There are wandering dogs all over the place. I’m just glad the six kids that were in the back of the van didn’t seem to notice or they probably would’ve been traumatized. Happily, we didn’t kill anything on the river (that we know of). But we did stop to enjoy some close encounters and take photos of Spider Monkeys, bats and a variety of bird life. However, I was disappointed that we didn’t see any crocodiles.

After our three-hour journey, we landed at a small pier at a wide spot in the river that looked more like a lake. There had been so much rain that the river had actually risen by four feet in the last 24 hours, and as you walked on the land you could see grass and flowers submerged just below the water line on the shore.

The Lamanai site has a covered picnic area where they gave us a lovely lunch of chicken, green salad, chips, salsa, plantains, rice and beans, sodas, and a coconut puff for dessert. After lunch we perused the small museum that housed a dozen or so Mayan artifacts and a “typical Mayan home.” There are also three little gift shops and we paused and picked up a few souvenirs on our way out, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

From the museum we spent the next several hours walking in a circle through the jungle, stopping to admire temples and structures, Howler Monkeys, ocelot prints in the mud, and cutter ants carrying leaves across the trail. I climbed two of the five structures, including the High Temple at 108 feet that had a magnificent view above the jungle and out over the river.

All in all, it was a very good trip and I’m very glad that we did it. But it was exhausting. So for all those folks that are planning to come visit, we might be showing you something a little closer to home. 😉

Lamanai site map.