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Concierge.com

Mayan Sites in Belize

Concierge.com's insider take:

Occupying the southern half of the Yucatán's Caribbean coast, Belize was part of the Mayan heartland for centuries. The most visited ancient site is Altun Ha, about 30 miles north of Belize City, where several pyramids have been excavated and restored, but much of the city remains gorgeously entangled in the jungle.

The approach—by boat up the New River and into an adjoining, jungle-hemmed lagoon—is one of the most compelling aspects of a visit to Lamanai (also in Northern Belize). El Castillo, once the Mayan world's tallest building, continues to offer prime jungle and lagoon views from the top.

In Western Belize, the massive site of Caracol covers 35 square miles in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve (www.caracol.org). However impressive the ball court and carved glyphs, the scene-stealer is 143-foot-high Caana ("Sky Palace"), now the tallest Mayan pyramid in the country.

In the Cayo district of the Mayan Highlands near the Guatemalan border lies Xunantunich, an easily accessible hilltop site, with fantastic views from the top of its 130-foot El Castillo pyramid (be aware this El Castillo is different from the one in Lamanai).

Arguably the Mayan magnum opus, Guatemala's Tikal is close enough to the border that you can easily go for the day. (Or stay the night at nearby La Lancha, Francis Ford Coppola's newest property; www.lalancha.com.) The five huge temples (and countless other ruins) that make up the complex are surrounded by a 143-square-mile national park, where Technicolor flybys and simian theatrics round out the experience, lest you not be sufficiently dazzled by the neighborhood's millennium-old high-rises.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.