Last Updated on November 5, 2022
Located deep inside a lush jungle, Lamanai ruins, an ancient Maya city, stands. Pyramids emerge here and there through the dense vegetation. It seems time has stopped in this remote area where remnants of a golden era linger. Lamanai used to be a major trading city and reached 35 000 inhabitants at its pinnacle. Read on to learn more about this majestic city, how to get there, and other things to do in Orange Walk, the closest city to the site.
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Lamanai ruins history
Traces of human activity were found going back as far as the 16th century BC. The city reached its pinnacle during the Pre-Classic Era, from the 4th century BC to the 1ft century AD. Lamanai was occupied until the 20th century when archaeologists relocated the villagers to Indian Church. It’s one of the longest-occupied Maya cities, spanning over three millenniums.
Due to its strategic location near the river, the city’s flourished to reach around 35 000 inhabitants at its peak. Lamanai ruins are one of the largest Maya sites in Belize, thousands of structures have been identified, but only a few have been fully excavated.
Lamanai ruins today
There are four main structures you can see clearly today.
The Mask Temple
Only three stories can be seen, but there’s actually a lot more, hurricanes destroyed the top three stories, and underneath, there are still around nine stories that haven’t been excavated. Usually, each new ruler would add a level.
On each side, you’ll notice two 15 feet tall mask, representing the king who had this story built. The sculptures you see are not the originals, they’re made of fiberglass and protect the stucco carving underneath it.
The High Temple
The High Temple is the highest Pre-Classic structure in Belize. It was build from the 2nd century to the 8th century. On top, the view over the jungle and the river is just breathtaking.
The Ball Court
Common amongst Maya, ball courts can be found in most Maya cities. In Lamanai, it is believed the captain of the losing team was sacrificed (contrary to other cities where the winner was killed). You’ll see markers in the middle used to score points (in some cities they used loops on the side).
The Jaguar Temple
Called Jaguar Temple because of the two sculptures on each side. The structure was build in the 6th century and remodeled in the 13th century.
Before the temple, you’ll see some foundations, around a plaza, dignitaries and his/her family inhabited this area.
Lamanai actually means submerged insects, cartographers misunderstood the name and just wrote down Lamanai. The actual name is Laman Ayin, or submerged crocodile.
Fun fact: The guide implied that Jesus’ last words were in Mayan because he allegedly used the world Laman, found in no other language than Mayan. I don’t know where it got that from because I found no evidence of this.
There’s a small museum there, explaining about the site, its history and the Mayas in general.
Boat ride to Lamanai Ruins
The 2-hour scenic boat ride from Orange Walk to Lamanai is an experience in itself. Along the way, you’ll see endless jungles, some Mennonites villages and lots of wildlife. Expect to see birds, crocodiles and maybe manatees.
What to bring
- Water and snacks
- Mosquito repellent
- Comfortable shoes
How to reach Lamanai
The closest city to Lamanai is Orange Walk. From there, it’s either a 2-hour boat ride (via a tour company) or a 26-mile ride through a dirt road. The only bus to Lamanai (Indian Church) leaves from Orange Walk on Monday afternoons and comes back on Fridays. If you’re a group, you can hitch-hike, but don’t do it if you’re alone.
Lamanai ruins tours from Orange Walk
There are several companies based in Orange Walk that offers tours to Lamanai. They all offer basically the same thing, but the prices vary between $50 US to $120 US.
You can also join a Lamanai tour from Belize City or San Pedro.
Lamanai entrance fee and opening hours
The entrance fee is 10 BZD for foreigners, 5 for locals. The site is open every day from 8 AM to 5 PM.
Where to stay near Lamanai
Right next to Lamanai, you’ll find the Lamanai Outpost Lodge, the only accommodation in the area. They offer all-inclusive packages as well as accommodation-only options. The all-inclusive package includes transfer from Belize city, full-board and two activities a day.
There are a few options in Orange Walk, from budget accommodation to high-end hotels.
Other things to do in Orange Walk
Apart from visiting Lamanai, there are not many things to do in Orange Walk. You can stroll around downtown and check out the market. You can also relax by the river or go to one of the city’s many pools.
Related articles to help you plan your trip to Belize:
- Placencia – Belize’s best beach destination
- Must-see Mayan ruins in Belize
- Packing hacks – Items that actually help you save space in your luggage
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