Jungle Ruins: Lamanai

One of the goals of the trip was to visit some ruins. We had plenty of options: Altun-Ha, Caracol, Cerros, Xunantunich – and those are just a few of the ruins that are known in Belize.

We ended up visiting Lamanai, an archeological site in Orange Walk District (northern Belize) that was occupied between the 16th century BCE to 17th century CE, with its heyday occurring several hundred years before and after the start of the Common Era.

01 Water Taxi
Our trip started with a 45 minute water taxi from Caye Caulker to Belize City with Dave and Noelle.

Once we were in Belize City we met up with Jason, a local guide that Dave and Noelle use for a lot of their business on the mainland. Jason loaded us into his car and drove us about an hour north to our tour with Reyes and Sons, which is located on the New River pretty close to one of John McAfee’s compounds (now that’s a juicy, odd story).

The river ride was my favorite part of the trip because I got to get my birding on, and the tour guide – who is a fisherman to supplement his income – was also big into the river life. We saw kingfishers, diving birds, little brown birds and so many different raptors. I’m going to save most of my birding photos for after the trip when I can do some photo-editing, but here are a few shots from the river that turned out pretty well straight “out of the box”. 

1 Night Heron

A juvenile night heron makes a daytime appearance.

2 Great Blue Heron

A great blue heron takes flight above the lilies. 

3 Black Hawk

A great black hawk at rest on a tree limb above the river. 

4 Orchid

This is a banana orchid. If you look closely you can see tiny ants crawling all over the flowers. These stinging ants share a symbiotic relationship with the orchid. The ants protect the orchid from plant-eating creatures, while the orchid provides shelter and nectar for food.

5 Jacana - Jesus Christ Bird

Jesus Christ! No really, this is a Northern Jacana, a brown and yellow lilypad walker, which is also called a Jesus Christ bird because it appears to walk on water. 

6 Hawk Mennonite Compound

A hawk rests on a post in front of a Mennonite community. The Mennonites have a well-documented history in Belize (here’s a short version by e-how). The more progressive sects use some mechanized farm equipment, which might explain why I saw two Mennonites boarding a … I shit you not…. a jetski. That’s right, I saw Mennonites on a jetski. I win all the things.

7 Kingfisher
A kingfisher perches on a tree branch. 
8 Fisherman

A river fisherman shows off his catch. 

9 Black-Collared Hawk

A black-collared hawk in flight. 

10 RWBs

Red wing blackbirds flitting among the tall grass and bushes. 

11 Crocodile

A crocodile! Lamanai is named from the Yucatec Maya word Lama’anayin, which means “submerged crocodile”.

12 Cormorants

Cormorants gathered on a rocky outcropping.

We arrived at a dock by the Lamanai archeological site. We walked past some gift shops and then started into the jungle where we saw MOAR wildlife!

13 Heliconiaceae

Heliconiaceae, otherwise known as a lobster claw flower. 

14 Linneated Woodpecker
Linneated woodpecker searching for grubs – mmmm, yummy!
15 Brown Jay

A brown jay perched in a tree. 

17 Jungle Walk

Walking through the jungle toward the ruins.

We arrived at the first temple after about ten minutes of walking through the jungle. An interesting bit of information from our guide was that we had been walking through the city for most of the trek. In what seems to be a recurring theme, the people of Lamanai destroyed the environment in the name of progress. They eliminated the rainforest and built a city of concrete, which led to some pretty serious consequences such as extended droughts and elmination of the forest that had provided food and medicines. The rainforest that we were in was mostly new growth that appeared after Lamanai was abandoned. 

18 Mask Temple

The Mask Temple 

19 Mask Temple with Us

The Hubby and I in front of the mask temple.

20 High Temple

High Temple – the second of the temples we saw. Most of the group decided to climb up the temple stairs. That sounded way to much like work, so I volunteered to be the official ground-level photographer. 

21 Climbing High Temple
The Hubby, however, was feeling adventurous. Seeing this photo – taken from the base of the temple – made me even happier with my decision to relax at the bottom.

The Hubby also took a video of the jungle and river from atop High Temple:


22 Kitchen by Jaguar Temple

A kitchen that was used to prepare meals for the king, his dozens of wives, multitudes of children, servants, et cetera et cetera.

At the “kitchens” ruins our guide spoke a little about the ritual human sacrifices that were performed by the people of Lamanai. Sacrifice was considered an honor, and only the best offerings were given to the gods. In sports competitions, the winner was sacrificed and assured a great afterlife, while the loser was stuck here. The best of the king’s sons were often first to be sacrificed during ceremonies. Even the King himself was bled, sometimes to the point of death, for the sake of his people. The gorey details: the priests would take a string ray barb and pierce the king’s fleshy parts, including the tongue and penis, and then they’d take the damn thing and move it back and forth to increase blood flow. Yeeee-ouch!

23 Jaguar Temple

Jaguar Temple 

24 Jaguar

One of the two jaguars constructed at the base of the temple. 

After seeing the Jaguar temple we walked back to the gift shops and covered pavillions and enjoyed a homemade lunch prepared by the mother of our guide!

25 Lunch

Stew chicken, red beans and rice,a cabbage-based salad, a potato salad and freshly-cut pineapple.

The boat ride back was fairly quiet. We were all tired from the hike through the warm jungle forest and we didn’t stop to look at the wildlife on the return trip. I left Lamanai with the humbling reminder that this planet ain’t all about us. There were people and civilizations before us, and if we get our act together, there will be people and civilizations after us.


A quick note: everything that I wrote about Lamani is second-hand information from the local guide of the ruins, recalled from memory. If anyone knows more about Lamanai or sees something that looks wrong, let me know in the comments!

Jungle Ruins: Lamanai
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One thought on “Jungle Ruins: Lamanai

  1. 1

    I’m envious! I’ve been wanting a vacation in Belize for years now and Lamanai is one of the top sights I want to visit. It looks as amazing as I imagine it.

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