Once the beating heart of an advanced civilization, Belize lies in the center of what was once a vast Maya empire that stretched from Mexico in the north to El Salvador in the south. Belize is home to more ancient Maya cities, pyramids, palaces, and ceremonial caves than anywhere else on the planet.

Amazingly, most of the magnificent cities built by the ancient Maya were abandoned around the year 900 AD. Archeologists are still debating whether climate change, civil wars, or other factors led to the downfall of the Maya, an advanced civilization that compiled detailed astronomical observations, accurate calendars, and colossal stone monuments built in the heart of the jungle. After more than 1,000 years of neglect, many of the Maya’s finest cities in Belize have now been excavated and opened to the public, including:

Altun Ha

Famous for its signature Temple of the Masonry Altars used on the logo of Belikin Beer, Altun Ha is conveniently located just 31 miles (50 km) from Belize City. There are several large structures located on the site, including royal tombs that produced intricate jade and shell jewelry when excavated.

Lamanai

The only ancient Maya city that retains its original name, Lamanai has been continuously inhabited for more than 3,000 years. Visitors to this site can see the progression of history, including ancient Maya temples, the remains of colonial-era Spanish churches, and corn growing and storage facilities from more modern times.

Cahal Pech

The ancient world’s version of a gated community, Cahal Pech is a cliffside community located near San Ignacio that was exclusively for Maya nobles and members of the elite. Despite its relatively small size, Cahal Pech boasts more than 34 structures, including a soaring temple measuring 82 feet (25 meters) high.

Caracol

One of the largest Maya cities ever built, Caracol was once home to a population double that of modern-day Belize City, the largest urban area in the country. Caracol is also home to the Sky Palace, still the tallest man-made structure in Belize.

Xunantunich

This colossal city one vied with nearby Tikal (now in Guatemala) for dominance of the region. Xunantunich is home to the largest royal Maya tomb ever discovered, unearthed in 2016.

If you’d like to explore these and other amazing sites in Belize, the best way to do so is with a vehicle rental from Tour Belize Auto Rental. Tour Belize Auto Rental has two convenient locations in the country, including one in downtown Belize City and a second location at the international terminal of the Philip Goldson Airport.