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.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Belize features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

The best aerial views in the world

The best aerial views in the world

View Sydney from the Harbour Bridge, Australia The ‘coat hanger’, as it’s affectionately dubbed by locals, was the longest single span bridge in the wor…

17 Dec 2014 • Olivia Rawes camera_alt Gallery
19 places for a digital detox

19 places for a digital detox

Find peace at Buddhist monastery, Nepal Trim out the religious and/or mystical connotations and Buddhism boils down to something quite simple – brain trainin…

14 Nov 2014 • Neil McQuillian camera_alt Gallery
The best of the world's smallest countries

The best of the world's smallest countries

Qatar Jutting northwards into the Persian Gulf, Qatar is one of the world’s smaller nations (about the size of Yorkshire, England), but it is also the world…

29 Oct 2014 • Greg Dickinson camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month