As recently as 1986, the only way in to the Maya site of Chan Chich (Kaxil Uinich) was with machete in hand and a canoe to cross the swiftly flowing rivers. Most people making the trip were either loggers, pot farmers, or grave robbers. Then in the northwestern corner of Belize in Orange Walk District, near the Guatemala border, an old overgrown logging road, originally blazed by the Belize Estate and Produce Company (logging operators), was reopened, and consequently, the site of Chan Chich was rediscovered.
When found, three of the temples showed obvious signs of looting with vertical slit trenches—just as the looters had left them. No one will ever know what valuable artifacts were removed and sold to private collectors all over the world. The large main temple on the upper plaza had been violated to the heart of what appears to be one or more burial chambers. A painted frieze runs around the low ceiling. Today, the only temple inhabitants greeting outsiders are armies of small bats and spider monkeys.
The ruins provide opportunity for discovery and exploration, and the population and diversity of wildlife here is probably greater than anywhere else in Belize. The nine miles of hiking trails wind through the verdant jungle and give ample chance to sight wildlife, including big cats.
This is not a public archaeological site and the ruins are unexcavated. Chan Chich Lodge looks after the site.
Originally the hub of the British Belize Estate and Produce Company’s mahogany logging operation, the land was purchased by Barry Bowen. Gallon Jug Village and Estate (tel. 501/227-7031 ext. 5251, www.gallonjug.com ) is now a privately owned diverse working farm, ranch, and community, with an airstrip, post office, coffee-roasting facility, and school. The scientific research conducted here, led by Bruce and Carolyn Miller, has focused on jaguars and neotropical bats.
A dozen upscale thatch-roof cabanas rest inside a peaceful Maya plaza. Though decried by some archaeologists when it was built, the presence of Chan Chich Lodge serves as a deterrent to temple looters and marijuana traffickers (both of whom used to thrive in northern Belize).
This elegant and luxurious retreat is surrounded on all sides by unexcavated pyramids and the second largest tropical forest in the Americas. The landscaped grounds, subtly lit pool and Jacuzzi, and sunset views from the tops of the mounds complement the spacious cabanas, which have modern amenities like water coolers, refrigerators, huge tiled bathrooms, and natural insulation and ventilation.
Guests spend their days exploring the ruins and hiking trails, canoeing at the nearby Laguna Verde, or horseback riding from the Gallon Jug stables. Birding opportunities include seeing trogons, ocellated turkeys, toucans, and hundreds of other birds. All five species of Belizean cat live in the surrounding forest. Tours of the coffee plantation and experimental farm at Gallon Jug provide the opportunity to learn all the steps in the coffee-making process as well as about other sustainable agricultural initiatives taking place here. And the day doesn’t end at the peaceful dining veranda. If you’re not signed up for the night safari, then you can finish off at the Looter’s Trench Bar.
The Chan Chich office in Belize City  is near the water (1 King St., tel. 501/223-4419, U.S. tel. 800/343-8009, www.chanchich.com , info [at] chanchich [dot] com). Considering the logistics of running a lodge so far out in the forest, it’s not such a bad deal: rooms from US$205, plus US$70 per day for meals, plus tours, guides, and taxes. Ask about inclusive packages to lower costs.
Chan Chich is 130 miles from Belize City, an all-day drive from the international airport or (much easier) a 30-minute charter flight to Gallon Jug. Call or write for more information; the lodge can make all your travel arrangements.