Lamanai is an incredible Mayan archaeological site in a tropical rain forest setting in the interior of Belize. It’s easy to visit Lamanai from Belize City as a day trip, and here’s how I did it as an independent traveler.
There is a 6:00 a.m. bus that leaves from the bus station in Belize City for a town called Orange Walk. The owner of my bed and breakfast in Belize City was kind enough to drive me to the bus station.
The Belize City area of the country has a certain vibe to it because it lies on the Caribbean Sea. But during the bus ride to Orange Walk, I noticed the scenery beginning to slowly change. The bus ride took about two hours and then we pulled into the dusty little town of Orange Walk, also known as “Sugar City.”
There was only one way for me to get from Orange Walk to the Lamanai site: by taxi. It’s about 30 miles (48 kilometers) from Orange Walk to Lamanai, so I negotiated with a very nice driver who spoke excellent English. I was quite lucky because he was friendly and explained some things along the way. In other words, I had found myself a taxi driver and a tour guide all wrapped up into one!
The ride from Orange Walk was one of the bumpiest rides I’ve ever taken in my life! There were a couple of times that I thought we were going to lose the bottom half of the car! The driver had to go slowly because of the condition of the dirt road, so it took about one and a half hours to get to Lamanai.
We saw lots of sugar cane fields along the way. There were a couple of villages here and there. And Mennonites! I was really surprised when I saw Mennonites in their horse-drawn buggies. What was even more surprising was to find out that the majority of the Mennonites in Belize are descendants from Mennonites from Russia!
Apparently they left Russia in the late 19th century and moved to Manitoba, Canada. Then some of them moved to Mexico in the 1920s and eventually, in the 1950s, some of these moved to British Honduras, later to become Belize. There are also some other groups who moved to Belize from the U.S. and Canada in the 1960s.
Seeing these plain-dressed people in their buggies was just not something I was expecting to see in the wilds of Belize!
The driver and I finally arrived at Lamanai. Having visited several other places around the Caribbean Sea, I was familiar with that kind of landscape. But what I was seeing now was more what I had imagined Central America would look like: this was my first visit to a country in Central America. So, although it was the dry season, I was seeing my first tropical rain forest.
After we parked, the driver stayed at the car while I started stomping around on my own, camera in hand. The site is quite large: it occupies almost 950 acres of forest. It sits along the New River Lagoon and many people choose to arrive by boat.
The Jaguar Temple was the first structure I found. It dates from about 625 AD and is decorated with jaguars, one on either side of the temple. I climbed to the top of the Jaguar Temple and was treated to an amazing view out over the rain forest.
The next thing I stumbled on was the Royal Complex, not far from the Jaguar Temple. The Royal Complex consisted mostly of stone walls, but there were some interesting details. There were several round carved objects, including a large round stone that was decorated with etched characters around its border. The Royal Complex was used a residence by the elite of the Mayan society.
I walked a bit more through the forest and soon came to the High Temple. It rises 108 feet (33 meters) from the floor of the forest and is surrounded by trees. At its base there are three sets of steps that meet on a platform; after this there is a much longer set of steps that goes all the way to the top.
I was quite impressed with this and because it was the High Temple, I thought it was the “highlight” of Lamanai. I walked back to the car and the driver expressed surprise that I was finished. He asked if I had seen the Mask Temple. The what? He said I had to go back: I absolutely had to see this temple.
I’m so glad he told me about it: it was quite remarkable. There was a local man doing some restoration work on the mask, so his presence helped to show the scale and size of the mask.
Visiting Lamanai on your own is an adventure. But do some research so you don’t miss something important like the Mask Temple!
This post is brought to you by Edward from Auvisa.org. Auvisa.org was founded in 2011 by migration lawyers. Auvisa.org is an Australian visa agency and it is responsible for the Australian visa application process for its clients. Edward is enthusiastic traveler who has been to 97 countries. He loves photography, tasting new food and experience differently culture.