Lamanai Archaeological Zone
Set on the edge of a forested broad lagoon are the temples of Lamanai. One of the largest and longest-inhabited ceremonial centers in Belize, Lamanai is believed to have served as an imperial port city encompassing ball courts, pyramids, and several more exotic Maya features. Hundreds of buildings have been identified in the two-square-mile area.
Lamanai in 2012
The Maya calendar places great significance on the year 2012 and countries throughout the Mundo Maya are planning a yearlong uplifting of Maya culture with events and ceremonies at various Maya archaeological sites.
To learn about what is planned for 2012 at Lamanai, please visit the Lamanai in 2012 page from our Maya 2012 travel guide.
Archaeologist David Pendergast headed a team from the Royal Ontario Museum that, after finding a number of children’s bones buried under a stela, presumed that human sacrifice was a part of the residents’ religion. Large masks that depict a ruler wearing a crocodile headdress were found in several locations, hence the name Lamanai (“Submerged Crocodile”).
The ruins of Lamanai huddle to one side of New River Lagoon and sprawl westward through the forest and under the village of Indian Church (which was relocated by the government from one part of the site to another in 1992). It is reachable by boat from Orange Walk or by road from San Felipe.
The Institute of Archaeology has done a great deal of work at this site, and the main temples are impressive even to the uneducated eye. The High Temple can be climbed to yield a 360-degree view of the surrounding jungle and lagoon.
With the advent of midday cruise ship tours, the site boasts a new dock, visitors center, craft shops, and museum. Lamanai is also a popular site for day-trippers from Ambergris Caye and can be quite crowded in the middle of the day, especially during the week. If you want a more solitary experience, go early in the morning or late in the afternoon, as cruise ship crowds arrive at noon and disappear in less than two hours. The reserve is open to the public 8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily. Entrance to the site is US$10 per person.
All regional tour operators in Orange Walk, Corozal, and Belize City offer tours to Lamanai. Tour providers throughout San Pedro and Caye Caulker also transfer guests into the interior, where they often subcontract local boats and guides for the trip to the ruins.
Getting to Lamanai
Most visitors use one of the tour companies based in Orange Walk or the transfer services of their lodge, but it is possible to do it yourself as well. A two-person boat transfer from Orange Walk should cost about US$125, less if you can get in with a bigger group. You can drive the San Felipe road in about 1.5 hours, depending on road conditions.
Or you can take the village bus to Indian Church, which leaves Orange Walk at 5–6 p.m. on Fridays and Mondays. The same buses depart Indian Church at 5:30 a.m. on the same days, so you’ll have to make a weekend out of it—or more. On the opposite end of the time, comfort, and price spectrum, you can charter a 15-minute flight from Belize City to Lamanai Outpost Lodge’s airstrip with one of Belize’s private charter services.
© Joshua Berman and Avalon Travel from Moon Belize, 9th Edition