“The borders that encircle the countries we recognise today as Belize, Guatemala and Honduras mean little in the story of the Maya.”
Xunantunich: A tumultuous battle for Maya supremacy
Then: No one knows what the Maya called this city, as the name Xunantunich meaning Stone Maiden was given in 1925 by British explorer Thomas Gann referencing a story of a ghost that roamed the site. Inhabited from 1200BC and the largest site in the Belize river valley, evidence suggests that the city’s heyday was between 600-900AD when its palaces were decorated with lavish friezes and trade flourished.
Next: Often seen as a key rival of other large Maya societies to the north and west, Xunatunich underwent several battles and changes of leader over the centuries. Although like Cahal Pech, evidence suggests that numbers and prosperity dwindled during the drought of the final years of the first millennium AD.
Today: A local bus, a crank ferry and a steep but short walk delivered me to the site from San Ignacio, Belize. I really enjoyed the visitor centre, where explanations of the site’s restoration and protection are mixed with memorable idiosyncrasies such as the rules of a Maya football game, where spectators had to remove their clothes when a goal was scored. The ruins themselves are compact and it didn’t take long to walk around, however I wish I’d prepared myself for the vertigo-inducing drops from the top of its main temple!