I have such great memories of seeing and hiking Mayan ruins when I was young that it was a dream of mine to take my children. On our recent cruise on the Carnival Breeze we took the Xunantunich Mayan Ruins with Lunch excursion with the entire family. It was incredible! Carnival provided our family with one of their cruise packages and threw in a few extras. We purchased some items as well. As always all opinions are my own.
Getting to Xunantunich is an adventure in itself! In Belize the waters are too shallow to go all the way to port so the ships drop anchor a few miles from port. First, you board a tender boat for an about 20 minute ride to Belize.
At port instructions are very clear for joining your excursion. You take a short walk through the terminal and board a tour bus.
Especially for children I think it’s important to note that the people of Belize seemed somewhat gruff compared to the friendly Texas culture we are accustomed too. It may seem a bit scary if children are not prepared.
The bus ride to Xunantunich is about two hours. Initially I was concerned about the long travel with kids, but decided that seeing these spectacular Mayan ruins would be worth it. Our children were in fact the only kids on the tour bus, but they did great, and we had no problems whatsoever. Our kids are ages 6-16.
I absolutely loved the two hour drive into Belize. I felt like I got to see a lot of the country on the drive and our tour guides talked the whole way explaining Belize’s history as well as sites we passed along the way.
Upon arrival to Xunantunich you will exit the bus. If you didn’t bring water with you, there is an opportunity to purchase water as you exit the bus. I highly recommend water for your hike to Xunantunich. From the bus you will cross the river by ferry and then board vans that take you up to a parking lot where there are bathrooms, and a gift shop.
Now you are ready to hike Xunantunich. As you begin your climb up, these are the first ruins you see. My children were not impressed. They didn’t say anything but their expressions said, “We came all this way for this?”
And then we walked up to the center of an incredible group of ruins.
It was so fun to see the kids faces all light up. Everyone of the kids down to my six year old absolutely loved seeing and especially hiking the ruins.
We by no means saw all of Xunantunich. The center of it sits on an artificially leveled limestone ridge that stands almost 183 meters above sea level. From there the site extends for several kilometers. There are four major architectural groups.
We explored Group A, which is overlooked by the 40 meter tall structure “El Castillo.” Often misinterpreted as the primary temple of the site, this immense structure is actually a large multi-complex building that served as dwelling, shrine, and administrative hub for the elite rulers.
“Can we climb that?” My answer of “yes” is what got a rare smile from Little Jason who is usually expected to make faces in our family photos. 🙂
And this was our last view of El Castillo before walking up to make the climb. First you walk up the stairs and then head to the left side of the structure and around back before climbing all the way to the top.
Starting the climb and not even half way up but this little guy was happy he made it this far!
The eastern and western summit of El Castillo have large stucco friezes with carved elements that represent astronomical symbols, the sun god, moon, and Venus. It is so beautiful!
I always like to try to imagine what life would have been like.
Here is the view from about the mid point of the climb.
From the back of El Castillo you can look across and see Guatemala!
And this is the view from the top! It is gorgeous! There is a center area where you can stand and not feel like you are out on a ledge.
Then it was time to make our way back down. My husband and I each kept a firm hold on our boys during the climb. Is it dangerous? Just like visiting the Grand Canyon, use common sense, know your kids, and hold on to them. If your kids have a healthy fear of high places and will obey you, you shouldn’t have any problems. Of course accidents can happen anywhere.
Hiking El Castillo was one of the highlights on our entire cruise experience. If you ever have the opportunity, go!
Next came the hike back down to the vans, driving to the ferry, and loading back up on the bus.
The tour guides didn’t speak on the way back but just let us enjoy the countryside. About half way back we stopped for a Belizean lunch in the town of San Ignacio.
Getting to eat local fare while in Belize was one of my favorite things. The meal is the same for everyone and served as you sit down. Drinks are not included but are $1.
The meal was very tasty and everyone down to the last kid ate their food. The grilled chicken, scoop of rice with beans, coleslaw, and fried plantain hit the spot.
We loved our day spent in Belize and highly recommend the Xunantunich Mayan Ruins with Lunch Carnival Excursion for your next Carnival cruise!