The World Didn’t End: Maya in Belize

Posted on October 22, 2013



(Lamanai; courtesy of Seaduced by Belize)

Lamanai: El Mundo Maya
by AnneLise Sorensen

BELIZE “It looks fake,” says the Canadian, peering through his sunglasses at a reptilian hump in the distance. Our paint-flecked boat – Mrs. Cristina – glides closer, nosing marshy reeds. Captain Ignacio cuts the engine, and water ripples gently over the ridged torso, which remains motionless.

“Yeah, it’s just a piece of driftwood,” says the New Yorker, handing the binoculars over.

And with that, the baby crocodile pushes off with a muscular thrust of its tail, leaving a solitary, expanding water ring in its wake. It’s a prescient sign – we’re floating down the New River to the Maya site of Lamanai, whose name comes from “submerged crocodile.”

Like many of Belize’s Maya ruins, Lamanai lies deep in the jungle – but it also overlooks the New River Lagoon, so most visitors journey here on a riverboat from Orange Walk, just as we were doing.

The river waters are eerily placid, but the jungle along its banks are not. Howler moneys scamper overhead, emitting guttural howls, while a great blue heron extends its long neck, and flaps into the sky. As we float near a strange black cluster quivering on a tree branch, the swarm disbands, and hundreds of bats fly off every which way.

An old barge, heavy in the water with its load of molasses, slowly drifts past us. On the deck sit three sun-browned beefy locals in sunglasses who raise their hands in unison. Around a bend, in the distance, lies the Dutch Mennonite settlement of Shipyard. It’s both a strange and beautiful image: Men in wide-brim hats and women in ankle-length dresses, hoeing the soil and hanging up laundry, against the tropical backdrop Belize.

Our boat pulls up to the wooden dock at the Lamanai entrance, and it begins to rain – fat drops as we clomp single-file, stumbling over muddy roots. We’re sweating in our windbreakers, mosquitoes are biting, and it all seems like a lot of effort – and then the first majestic temple looms into view.

Once the sun comes out, we start up the 35-metre High Temple, which was the largest structure in the Maya world when it was first constructed in 100 BC. We pull on a slippery rope, heaving up one big step, then another. At the top, we look out at the jungle canopy, a 360-degree panorama of tangled green stretching into the horizon. From up here, anything seems possible. Until you look at the climb down.


Information: Several companies offer trips to Lamanai down the New River, including Jungle River Tours, 20 Lover’s Lane, Orange Walk, 501-302-2293.



Scuba tanks in the Cayes (Belize), a short trip to Lamanai (Photos by AnneLise Sorensen)

Posted in: Belize