Of the other ruins that I’ve seen, they all have something worth visiting for, but in my opinion, none of them are must-sees like Caracol and Lamanai.
Altun Ha is the closest site to Belize City, so on cruise ship days it’s swarming with socks-and-sandals-wearing, Hawaiian-shirted, elderly North Americans, who are having a day off from playing shuffleboard and eating at buffets to do a whistle-stop tour of whatever exotic destination is next on their round-the-Caribbean holiday-of-a-lifetime. Altun Ha’s biggest building, the Temple of the Masonry Altars, is famous throughout Belize, as it’s depicted on Belikin beer bottles (even if most people are too busy drinking to know what the picture is of). It’s also where researchers discovered a large carved jade head representing the Maya sun god Kinich Ahau, which (unlike the beer) hardly anyone has ever seen, as it’s so precious that it’s kept under lock and key in a vault somewhere (although a replica is on display at the Museum of Belize in Belize City).
Cerros is the only ruin that’s right on the coast – it sits on Corozal Bay, opposite Corozal town and only a few kilometres south of the Mexican border. The location is perfect, looking across the bay towards northern Belize and southern Mexico. You can get there from Corozal by boat across the bay or by vehicle down suspension-testing gravel roads, a trip that includes the quaint experience of crossing a river by hand-cranked ferry. And for lunch, you can stop at Cerros Beach, a resort that’s about as ‘off-the-grid’ and environmentally-friendly as it’s possible to be, as well as having great food (it’s run by two ex-chefs). Cerros would be a great little excursion from Corozal, were it not for the ridiculous number of mosquitoes – as I walked from the car park to the site, I saw what I thought were black seeds littering the ground, standing out against the light green leaves that covered the path. But as I stepped on the leaves, the ‘seeds’ were disturbed, and I walked straight into a cloud of thousands (I’m not joking, the little bastards were EVERYWHERE) of whining, biting mosquitoes. Within a second, hordes of them were all over me, poking their malarial proboscises into my skin and aggressively seeking out every facial orifice. I ran, flapping my arms around me like a gooney bird and punching wildly into thin air, into the safety of the park ranger’s hut. The taxi driver who took me saw my predicament, immediately wound up the windows of his car and refused to come out. Perhaps it didn’t help that I visited at the end of the rainy season (and, to be fair, the rest of the site isn’t as overrun with mozzies as the entrance), but Cerros is one place where you should bring bug spray. And possibly a full-body protective suit.
Lubaantun is in Belize’s south, less than twenty kilometres from Punta Gorda (PG), and just outside the large (population 2,000) Maya village of San Pedro Columbia. Like the other ruins, it has ruined temples, crumbling plazas, and empty ball-courts. Lubaantun is famous for its Crystal Skull, allegedly discovered in 1924 by F. A. Mitchell-Hedges (an English adventurer and traveller, and a man famous for telling colourful tales of his exploits), and on his death passed down to his daughter Anna. She kept the skull (occasionally exhibiting it to a paying public) until her death in 2007, continually claiming that it had paranormal properties and was thousands of years old (the only time it was examined, it was found to have been made with modern equipment and dated at about 150 years old, most likely a European forgery from the 19th centruy. And bought at auction in the UK in 1943.). Still, Mitchell-Hedges (who wrote books with titles including Danger, My Ally and Battles with Giant Fish!) became famous for his ‘discovery’, and is one of several people said to be the real-life inspiration for Indiana Jones (who was last seen looking for psychic alien crystal skulls in South America, or something like that).
And finally, there’s Xunantunich, located in western Belize, midway between San Ignacio and the Guatemalan border. It’s not a large or historically important site (though it does have a large pyramid, comparable with the tallest at Caracol and Lamanai [but you can’t climb it, only walk around it]), but it makes up for that in the easy (and pleasant) manner of getting there – a short bus ride from San Ignacio takes you to the sleepy village of San José Succotz, then it’s a cute little river crossing on a hand-cranked ferry, followed by an uphill (but not particularly strenuous) walk to the site. It’s one of the easiest ruins in the country to get to, no tours, taxis, or private transport required. And after visiting, you can have lunch in the village (or do what I did, and get stuck talking to a drunken ex-soldier, wandering the village in military fatigues, who found out I was British, assumed I was a fellow Army man, and insisted on saluting me and calling me General for the rest of the conversation!).