Appearing more than 3,500 years ago in the Yucatan Peninsula of what is now Mexico, the ancient Maya civilization soon spread throughout all of Central America.
For more than 2,000 years, the Maya were the dominant civilization, constructing a vast network of trade routes, religious sites, and enormous stone pyramids, palaces, and temples. The Maya also developed advanced forms of mathematics and used astronomical observatories to create the world's most accurate calendar.
The Maya were also master craftsmen, designing and creating elegant jade items, engraved stones, and innovative agricultural implements that allowed them to feed their vast population. It is estimated that more than 1 million Maya lived in what is now Belize. Today, Belize has a population of only a quarter of that figure.
Today, archeologists are still unsure why the Maya civilization suffered a widespread collapse around the year 900 AD. Long before the arrival of the Europeans, the Maya had abandoned most of their large cities, including sites like Xunantunich, Caracol, and El Pilar. Reclaimed by the jungle, these were lost from sight and memory until the 20th century.
Visitors to Belize are fortunate to be able to explore many of this ancient Maya marvels today. Whether it's smaller sites like Santa Rita, Altun Ha, and Cahal Pech or sprawling megacities such as Xunantunich, Caracol, and Tikal (now located just over the border in Guatemala), many of the ancient Maya's greatest creations are now open to the public.
Equally astonishing are the sacred sites once used exclusively by Maya priests, many of them located in the extensive underground cave network that crisscrosses Belize. The ancient Maya believed that caves were a gateway to the underworld of the gods, known to them as Xibalba. Forgotten for more than 1,000 years, these sacred caves give visitors an exclusive look into the long-lost world of the ancient Maya religion.
And, although the grand Maya civilization came to an end around the year 900 AD, the Maya themselves persisted. Today, the descendants of those ancient Maya can still be found in Belize, many of them still enjoying a traditional lifestyle. Using their deep knowledge of the plants and animals around them, many Maya villages are entirely self-sufficient, growing their own food and making clothes, shelter, and medicines from the natural resources in the jungle.
If you'd like to experience Maya culture and explore the wonders left behind by this mighty civilization, book your vacation with Adventures in Belize.