On the banks of the New River Lagoon in north central Belize, you'll find the impressive Lamanai Mayan ruins. Lamanai certainly deserves mention among the top Belize Maya sites. This ancient ceremonial center is among the largest in the country, and the occupation span for the city, which lasted some 3,000 years, was longer than at most other Mayan settlements. The tropical forest setting of the ruins adds to the mystical ambience, and should you be bold enough to climb some of the larger temples here, you will be rewarded with some pretty amazing views of the surrounding landscape. The Lamanai Mayan ruins are one of the rare Mayan sites where researches have uncovered the original name. You might notice a good amount of crocodile representations while touring the Lamanai ruins, and the ancient Maya name of Lamanai translates to "Submerged Crocodile". There is a lagoon within the site's reach where you will find crocodiles, so perhaps this had something to do with all of that. Curiously enough, a good amount of howler monkeys call Lamanai home, so you are bound to spot them in the surrounding trees as you make your way about the network of trails.
The first Maya settlers at Lamanai are believed to have arrived around 1500 BC. Significant building did not occur until the Pre-Classic era (4th century BC- 1st century AD), which is when most of the main structures were erected. The Maya managed to remain at Lamanai until the mid-1600"s, and interestingly enough, during the 1500"s, two Roman Catholic churches were erected here. The Spanish were busy conquering the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, and certainly had their eyes on modern-day Belize. The Maya natives at Lamanai did not take too kindly to the Spanish churches on the whole, burning them to the ground. By the 1640"s, the Spanish had pretty much abandoned the town. Not too long thereafter, various epidemics would play a significant role in reducing the Maya presence at Lamanai.
Today, much of Lamanai lies covered, waiting to be excavated. Though hundreds of buildings are believed to be found here, only a small percentage have actually been unearthed. Because the Lamanai Mayan ruins have among them some of the oldest Belize Maya structures, they are of significant importance. It's interesting to consider while you walk the grounds at Lamanai that at one time, some 35,000 people lived here. Trade would have extended into present-day Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and other parts of Belize. The main temples that have been renovated at the Lamanai Mayan ruins are the Mask Temple, the High Temple, and the Jaguar Temple. The High Temple is a daunting climb indeed, and it's not for everyone. The reward is not only satisfaction for satisfaction's sake, but also some pretty cool vistas. One of the more interesting sights at Lamanai is the Crocodile Mask that is carved out of stone at the base of one of the main pyramids.
There are a few different ways to go about visiting the impressive Lamanai ruins in north central Belize. You can head to Orange Walk Town and take a 26-mile, scenic boat ride to the site, overnight in Corozal and head down, or even head inland from offshore Ambergris Caye on a tour. Various Belize vacation packages include Lamanai tours, so while you're enjoying a birding tour or staying on a caye to enjoy the world-class Belize scuba diving, for example, you can still compliment your trip with a Lamanai experience. Keep in mind the fact that the museum at Lamanai has an impressive collection of Maya artifacts that you'll want to make time for. Bring a packed lunch with you, and you can take advantage of the picnic area as well! All in all, the Lamanai Belize ruins are a good place to be, without question. Thankfully, finding a Belize travel agency that offers Lamanai tours is easy as can be. Heck, most of the Belize hotels and resorts have their own travel desks, so you're already ahead of the game there.