Welcome to Belize, the land of Mayan ruins! There are many incredible ruins to visit, but Lamanai is the only one accessed by river. Well, yes, you can drive to it but why would you when you can enjoy an early morning cruise down the “New River?” Not wanting to get up early for the 2+ hour drive from San Ignacio to Orange Walk for a 9 Am tour, we booked a room and cruise through the website of the Hotel De La Fuente in Orange Walk.
Hotel de la Fuente turned out to be a perfect choice. It is centrally located with shops and restaurants outside their doors, is fully air conditioned, offers wifi throughout and provides spotless, comfortable rooms for a reasonable rate, but what really stands out are the hotel employees.
They made our stay extra special, going so far as to send out for the “tiny breakfast tacos” sold only at the morning street vendor. Oh they were good, along with the hotel’s own iced cappuccino. The hotel has free parking as well as a nice restaurant so you can get an early start to your activities. Highly recommend!
It was a beautiful morning for the tour. We boarded a small motor boat and set off up the river to pick up a few more people to join the 4 of us already in the boat. The water was so still it was truly mirror like to the point that reflections of the puffy white clouds, blue skies and the shoreline vegetation were almost indistinguishable from the real thing.
Our tour guide, Ignacio Jr, from Lamanai River Tours was excellent. Since we had a small group it was easy to hear everything being said-something not always possible in larger tours. Ignacio showed us fruit bats, green iguana, local birds and the Mennonite Village of Shipyard.
After a 30 mile, 1.5 hour trip, the river opens up to what we would refer to as a “lake” but is called a “lagoon” in Belize. Since it’s part of the New River, it’s called, not surprisingly, New Lagoon! The Lagoon is 1 mile across and 20 miles long.
Only a fraction of Lamanai is excavated; approximately 1% to 3%. It is one of the few sites with over 3000 years of continuous occupancy, going back as far as 1500BC making it the 3rd oldest Mayan site in the Mayan world. The tour starts with a visit to a museum then a short, pleasant walk to the first structure..
On the way, we encountered the Copal tree which is good for insect bites, a “grandpa balls” tree (the picture is self explanatory) as well as stones used for grinding.
The Jaguar Temple, so known because of the stones which create a face in the base of the temple appears to be shorter than the “High Temple” but a significant part of this temple is still underground. The Jaguar mask was used to burn incense.
We also saw the Ballcourt, Stela Temple, High Temple and the Mask Temple, which has the largest mask ever encountered in Mayan history. The masks seen on the temple face are covered by fiberglas for preservation of the original masks.
We were permitted to climb the High Temple, which provided outstanding views of the Lagoon and surrounding jungle.
The day ended with a traditional Belizean lunch of rice, beans, chicken and potato salad. After that, we had a refreshing ride home. All in all, we highly recommend both the hotel and the tour. We were not compensated in any way for either of these endorsements – we just had a good time and hope you do too!