The name of the site Xunantunich is pronounced in different ways, but the name means “Stone Woman” in the local Maya dialect. This strange and enigmatic ancient ruin was re-discovered more than a century ago during the colonial period of Belize. Many people have claimed to have seen a mysterious, ghostly figure of a woman that haunts the site, leading to it being dubbed “Stone Woman” in the local Maya tongue.
Despite being one of the oldest, continuously excavated ancient Maya sites in Belize, Xunantunich still has much to reveal. Only a small portion of the vast site has been fully explored and is now open to the public.
Some of the treasures discovered at Xunantunich include a colossal plaster frieze running around the outside of the building known as El Castillo (“The Castle” in Spanish.) Although some parts are missing, it is still possible to see a three-dimensional figure seated on a throne as well as a dancing figure holding on to “birth ropes” that lead to a house where a woman is presumably giving birth inside.
El Castillo is the most iconic building at the site, rising some 130 feet (39 meters) above the plaza below. This makes it the second-tallest man-made structure in Belize, even today. There are two temples on the El Castillo site, one with the enormous frieze and another with carved masks that represent the sun and moon gods of the ancient Maya pantheon. The views from atop El Castillo are some of the finest in all of Belize.
It is believed that Xunantunich was first founded more than 2,500 years ago, but it remained a small trading site until around the year 900 AD when it steadily grew in size. This is unusual because most other major Maya sites were being abandoned during this period. Archeologists believe that Xunantunich was originally a satellite city of the much larger Naranjo site in Guatemala but grew once Naranjo was abandoned during the years of climate change, civil war, and large-scale strife.
Xunantunich is located across the Mopan River from the village of San Jose Succotz just a few miles from the border with Guatemala. To reach Xunantunich, visitors must cross the Mopan River using a hand-cranked ferry. San Jose Succotz lies directly off the George Price Highway (commonly called the Western Highway) some eight miles west of San Ignacio, making it one most accessible of Belize’s ancient Maya sites.
If you’d like to visit Xunantunich, you can book your tour with Barefoot Rentals and Services.
Questions about this tour? Send us an email or call +(501) 523-3066. We will love to help you plan your Belize tours and activities.