Some 55km north of Belize City and just 9km from the sea is the remarkable Maya site of Altun Ha (daily 8am–5pm; Bz$10), which was occupied for twelve hundred years until it was abandoned around 900 AD. Its position close to the Caribbean suggests that it was sustained as much by trade as by agriculture – a theory upheld by the discovery here of obsidian and jade, neither of which occurs naturally in Belize.
Altun Ha clusters around two Classic-period plazas. Entering from the road, you come first to Plaza A, enclosed by large temples on all sides. A magnificent tomb was discovered beneath Temple A-1, the Temple of the Green Tomb. Dating from 550 AD, this yielded jades, jewellery, stingray spines, skin, flints and the remains of a Maya book. The adjacent Plaza B is dominated by the site’s largest temple, the Temple of the Masonry Altars. Several tombs have been uncovered within the main structure; in one, archeologists discovered a carved jade head of Kinich Ahau, the Maya sun god. Just under 15cm high, it is the largest carved jade found in the Maya world; a replica is on display in the Museum of Belize.
Outside these two main plazas are several other areas of interest, though little else has yet been restored. A short trail leads south to Rockstone Pond, a reservoir in Maya times, at the eastern edge of which stands another mid-sized temple. Built in the second century AD, this contained offerings from the great city of Teotihuacán in the Valley of Mexico.