“The borders that encircle the countries we recognise today as Belize, Guatemala and Honduras mean little in the story of the Maya.”
While long abandoned, the Maya’s ancient cities are arguably just as important today as they were at the peak of the civilisation. They provide jobs for local people, encourage visitors to more remote areas and help protect forests. Ironically, in a time where these indigenous peoples often have to fight for proper education, healthcare and a political voice, their ancient temples and traditions are aiding a resurgence in their countries economies following years of civil war and political unrest.
Cahal Pech: The beginnings of agriculture and trade
Then: From 1200BC onwards, the people of this ancient Maya village hunted local game from the forests and began to grow corn, beans and chillies, living in simple dwellings of thatched roofs and clay floors. Farming of course led to trade and expansion, as well as connections with other communities, which is evident from artefacts such as musical instruments, toys and ceramics found at the site by archeologists.
Next: In the late 800s AD the site was abandoned, with some evidence of the Maya only returning to undertake ritual sacrifices to their many gods. More recent scientific discovery suggests that a long drought might have caused famine that significantly decreased population numbers from this time, however the there’s still an element of mystery surrounding the final days of Cahal Pech.
Today: Twenty minutes walk from the town of San Ignacio, I was able to explore this site in an afternoon – finding hidden rooms in the royal residence, marvelling at the way trees were gradually reclaiming the structures and negotiating the steep, slippery steps of the temples to get views of its hill-top location.