Why you have to visit Xunantunich Mayan Ruins from San Ignacio

by Kelly

Visiting the Xunantunich Mayan Ruins in Belize was the best thing we did in San Ignacio. We loved being out in the Belizian jungle and exploring this site. Full of Mayan history it was so interesting to learn about while seeing it in real life. Xunantunich means “Maiden of the Rock” in two local Maya languages. The “Stone Woman” is in relation to the legend of a ghost of a woman claimed to be seen by several people since 1892. She was thought to inhabit the site, dressed completely in white with red glowing eyes. Reports say she appears in front of “El Castillo”, climbs the stone stairs before disappearing into a stone wall.

All our blog posts contain affiliate links that help us keep our blog running at no extra cost to you! When you click on our links to book accommodation activities or transport we earn a very small commission. This costs no extra to you but helps to keep our blog online!

Where are the Xunantunich Mayan Ruins located?

Located only about a half hour bus ride (10km) from San Ignacio town the Xunantunich Mayan Ruins are not too difficult to get to.

Where to stay in San Ignacio?

San Ignacio makes the best base to see the ruins, these are our best picks of where to stay:

Best budget San Ignacio accommodation:

Venus Hotel – comfortable and big rooms. Great location in the centre of town.

Best midrange San Ignacio accommodation:

Falling Leaves Lodge-beautiful hotel actually located right near the Cahal Peache ruins with easy access.

Best luxury San Ignacio accommodation:

The San Ignacio Resort-beautiful luxurious rooms and excellent hotel restaurant. There are multiple tours run on the property which are included in your stay! Such as the Iguana Reserve, Tea Tasting, Birdwatching etc.

How to get to the Xunantunich Mayan Ruins

You can take a tour that will include a guide who will educate you on the history of Xunantunich Mayan Ruins. This is the best Xunantunich Mayan Ruins tour.

Alternatively you can follow our lead and in true Passport Nomads style do it yourself! We started our day early by being ready to catch the first bus at 7am. We wanted to try to be amongst the first people out there. Sadly it was a Sunday and the first bus did not turn up! We waited for another hour before it finally came. You’ll want to take the local bus to Benque. Catch it at the bus stop by the green bus waiting area in the photo below. It is at the bottom of the main square. Ask the driver to drop you at the ferry or show him the name of the ruins. The bus will cost 2.50BZD per person.

When you’re getting off the bus, double check how often they come back past so you know what time to aim to return. Alternatively you can take a taxi. We asked a local guide nearby to help and he got us a taxi for locals prices! 8BZD total! It was almost the same price as the bus.

Arriving at the river

You’ll have to sign in that you are going up to the ruins with the guard before getting on the hand cranked ferry. It’s a little car ferry that you take across the river. A man will be hand cranking it to pull it across the water. This is where the fun starts. It’s about a 1km walk mostly uphill to the Xunantunich Mayan Ruins. It should take about 20 minutes. 

You’ll be warned by both the guard and ferry man to walk only on the main road and not take any little paths leading away as we are so close to the Guatemalan border and it is not safe! As they say with a shrug of take your own risk- “if you pass over the border to Guatemala it’s not safe and then….we don’t know!”

We were lucky enough to meet a nice American couple on the ferry who were driving and they offered us a ride to the ruins. Grateful is an understatement when we started driving, the road was steeper than I expected although not enough that I wouldn’t recommend it. Just be of regular fitness, take water and go slow!

Entry and history

Once you’re at the top you’ll see the entrance, here you’ll pay 10BZD per person. Walk up to the education centre where you can read about the ruins and its history. It’s incredibly interesting and there’s lots to learn. This will help bring the Xunantunich Mayan Ruins to life.

Walk up the hill to the ruins!

The last bit of uphill walking! It’s only a short way and not too bad. You’ll come out at the side of the ruins and the largest and main temple El Castillo will unveil itself before you. It’s a beautiful sight! 

El Castillo

Take your time and wander the ruins. The largest structure called El Castillo is possible to climb to the very top! The views over the valley and across Xunantunich Mayan Ruins below are stunning. El Castillo has internal spaces which were used for sleeping and there was a burial chamber there also. The steps can be steep so be careful climbing up and down. There is also a sign to remind you not to sit on the edge at the top! The Mayan symbols all represent important people or things from their history. They are explained in the education centre but some are the chief, gods and trees.

After climbing the tallest structure walk around the others, each has an interesting view. There are some you can not climb and they are signed please respect this. There are also armed guards to stop anyone from doing this or destroying the temples, although I can’t imagine who would want to do that.

There’s a ball court where the game pok-a-tok was played. We saw a recreation of this in Merida, Mexico. There’s another few structures around the centre and climbing to the top of Plaza A-II offers a nice view of El Castillo.

a map of Xunantunich Mayan Ruins Belize

Plaza A-III

My favourite spot however is Plaza A-III. It’s the one set right at the back. You can climb up here to the top and the views out to El Castillo are gorgeous. You feel hidden away, and it’s easy to imagine how the Mayan people would have felt looking over their temple. For those interested I’ve added the history below so you’ve got a little understanding of what it’s about before you get there!

Leaving the ruins

When you’re ready to leave you’ll walk out of the entrance and head downhill. It’s not a hard walk but a little long. Again we were really lucky and a guide picked us up. We got a ride to the bottom of the hill and hopped out at the ferry thanking them profusely!

Back across the ferry we grabbed a taxi to San Ignacio town with the help of a local guy. He got us a taxi for locals prices, 8BZD total!

We loved our time at the Xunantunich Mayan Ruins. I’m so glad visited it. While I think going with a guide would make it easier and you would learn a lot more, going by ourselves have a sense of exploration and discovery! I can only imagin how the first people to uncover it must have felt! I was in awe of the beautiful landscape and ingenuity of those who built it. We loved this little adventure and really recommend it!

San Ignacio is the perfect base to explore the Cayo district. It’s set in the jungle so you’ll really get those adventurous vibes.

Where to next?

Ragga Sailing Adventures – must do in Belize!

Caye Caulker must visit destination in 2025

The Lodge at Jaguar Reef – the best place to stay in Belize

Is Hopkins worth visiting in Belize?

Crossing the Mexico – Belize land border in 2024

Gluten free Belize

What to do in the jungle town of San Ignacio, Belize

You may also like

Leave a Comment