Xunantunich & Cahal Pech: Perfect Day Trip Combo

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xunantunich and cahal pech split in half
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Xunantunich & Cahal Pech make for a perfect day trip. Both ruins can be accessed by bus, taxi and car with ease.

I'll show you how to get there by bus, taxi and car rental.

tall mayan ruin belize
Photo of Xunantunich Mayan Ruin
small mayan ruin belize
Photo of Cahal Pech Mayan Ruin by Katrin

What I like about Xunantunich

  • it has a beautiful half hour drive through scenic road leading up to the ferry entrance.
  • you get to cross a small river on a short hand-cranked ferry ride.
  • if going without a car, you get to hike up a pleasant 1 mile (1.5 km) trail upwards that's perfect for bird-watching.
  • a special hidden trail is available for those looking to go bird-watching; ask the park rangers at ticket booth.
  • the tallest structure called "El Castillo" is the second-highest building in Belize and makes for stunning photos.
  • there's a breathtaking 360 degree view from the top of El Castillo with a glimpse of the Guatemalan border (0.6 miles/1km away)
  • possibility of seeing howler monkeys jumping around the trees and hearing them growl like dinosaurs
ferry crossing at xunantunich belize
Photo of Xunantunich ferry crossing by Barking Fox Farm
man operating hand-cranked ferry
Photo of man operating ferry by Brandon Rosenblum
el castillo mayan ruin
Photo of El Castillo ruin at Xunantunich
small structure below el castillo
Photo of view from the top of El Castillo

What I like about Cahal Pech

  • only 30 mins away by foot from the center of San Ignacio (C.W.C Bus Stop).
  • the Mayan site feels like a mini Mayan City with complex mazes that are fun to explore.
  • during early mornings, late evenings or when the site is empty, you can see wildlife like the agouti.
  • trees grow wildly throughout the site and even sprout out of the well-preserved temples.
  • the huge trees growing throughout the site provide shade almost like a canopy which is perfect for the harsh midday sun.
mayan ruin mossy rock with women in background
Photo of mossy rocks at Cahal Pech
rodent like animal in belize
Photo of agouti occassionally spotted at Cahal Pech

Comparison of Ruins

Both ruins are open 365 days a year.

General InformationXunantunichCahal Pech
Entrance Fee$5.00 USD per person$5.00 USD per person
Opening Hours8:00 AM to 5:00 PM8:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Recommended Time2 Hours1 Hour
Tallest Structure130ft (40m) tall77ft (23.5m) tall
ViewGuatemalan BorderJust the site itself
How old is it?1000 BC to 250 AD1200 B.C.
What does it mean?Stone MaidenPlace Of Ticks
PronunciationSHOO·NAN·TUN·NITCHKA·HAL·PETCH
Distance from town40 min drive (12.2km)20 mins walk (1.6km)
Ways to get thereBy bus, taxi, carBy taxi, car, walking

How to get to Xunantunich

There are four ways to get to Xunantunich from San Ignacio:

  1. Colectivo taxis - fastest and cheapeast method
  2. Public bus - gives you a local experience
  3. Car Rental - allows the most flexibility
  4. Hitchhiking - fun and extra local experience

To get back to town is just as easy. Wait for a taxi or bus and pay the same fee to be dropped off in the center of San Ignacio.

Here are detailed steps to get to Xunantunich using taxis, bus, rental and hitchhiking.

Getting to Xunantunich by Colectivo Taxi

  1. From San Ignacio, take a colectivo (shared taxi) from Martha's Guesthouse crossroads for $1.50 USD or ($3.00 BZD) per person. This goes towards the Guatemalan Border and stops at the Mayan Ruin Entrance which is before the small village of Benque Viejo. The trip is roughly 25 mins by car.
  2. Shortly after seeing the river on the right side of the road, you'll see the big brown sign labeled Xunantunich Archeological Reserve along with the ferry that looks like a floating house.
  3. Take the short man-operated ferry to cross to the Mayan Ruin Site which is included in the entrance fee upon arrival (No charge here)
  4. Walk for 1 mile (1.5 km) uphill towards the Mayan site which takes around 25 minutes. Do bird watching on the way.
  5. Upon arriving the office, the cost is $5.00 USD or ($10.00 BZD). Locals enter for half the price.

Getting to Xunantunich by Public Bus

  1. From San Ignacio, make your way towards the C.W.C Bus Stop found beside the Cayo Welcome Center.
  2. If there is are no buses, sit & wait on the public chairs with the locals for the next bus to arrive. (normally hourly)
  3. The bus that goes in the direction of Xunantunich will be labeled as BENQUE.
  4. After grabbing a seat on the bus, wait till the conductor comes to charge you and tell him/her you are stopping at Xunantunich. The charge is approximately $2.00 BZD ($1.00 USD) which is payable in either local currency or dollars.
  5. Shortly after seeing the river on the right side of the road, you'll see the big brown sign labeled "Xunantunich Archeological Reserve" along with the ferry that looks like a floating house.
  6. Take the short man-operated ferry to cross to the Mayan Ruin Site which is included in the entrance fee upon arrival (No charge here)
  7. Walk for 1 mile (1.5 km) uphill towards the Mayan site which takes around 25 minutes. Do bird watching on the way.
  8. Upon arriving the office, the cost is $5.00 USD or ($10.00 BZD). Locals enter for half the price.
bus with benque label
Photo of Benque Bus that passes Xunantunich before arriving Benque

Getting to Xunantunich by Car

  1. From San Ignacio, drive towards San Jose Succotz and stop upon seeing the "Xunantunich Archeological Reserve" sign.
  2. Park your car and wait for instructions from the ferry operators. The ferry transfers up to four cars in one trip and takes a couple of minutes to transfer you across the river.
  3. Upon parking on the ferry, the operator will ask all passengers to exit the vehicle except the driver. Now, enjoy the slow ride across the green-blue waters of the Mopan River.
  4. After crossing the river, wait for the operator to give you the green light, and exit the ferry.
  5. Follow the Xunantunich Road and ride one mile upwards, towards the Archeological site.
  6. The entrance will be properly labeled, and you can proceed to parking in the parking area and then buy your ticket at the ticketing booth.

Getting to Xunantunich by Hitchhiking

  1. From San Ignacio, make your way towards Kontiki Service Station (roughly 30 mins walk from center of town) which is the last gas station in town that also happens to have a speed bump nearby.
  2. Look out for pickup trucks which have a high probability of giving you a ride.
  3. Play the waiting game and have fun getting a ride and enjoy the conversation on the way to the second-largest ruin in Belize.
french guy hitchhiking behind pickup
Photo of backpacker hitchhiking to Xunantunich

How to get to Cahal Pech

Cahal Pech is even more accessible than Xuanantunich since it is within San Ignacio Town. You can go by taxi, car, or even by foot. The last block to the archeological site has a steep 3 minute walk uphill — almost 45 degrees — which can suck if you have bad knees.

Day Trip to both Ruins

Here's a possible game plan for a day trip that might help you figure out your schedule.

TimeActivity
7:30 AMFrom San Ignacio, make your way to Xunantunich
8:00 AMArrive ferry entrance, cross river and hike up 1 mile
8:30 AMBuy ticket and explore site for 2 hours
10:30 AMHike down to ferry & make your way back to center of town
11:00 PMHave lunch at the market or any restaurant of your choice
1:00 PMTake a tour at AJAW Cacao or visit Iguana Center
3:00 PMMake your way towards Cahal Pech, buy ticket and explore
4:00 PMExit site and make your way back to your accommodation

After visiting Xunantunich over a dozen times, I personally recommend going early in the morning because the temperature is cooler. There are also fewer people in the morning, and you can spot a lot more birds and wildlife during the morning.

To fill in the gap during midday, you can grab lunch and do a tour like the AJAW Chocolate tour or perhaps visit the Green Iguana Conservation site.

Cahal Pech can be visited at any time of the day since there are many trees to shade you from the harsh midday sun. My favorite time to visit is in the evening since there is less foot traffic from tourists.

Quick History Lesson

Xunantunich

What does Xunantunich mean?

Xunantunich means Stone Maiden. It is told that a maiden appeared one night, more than a century ago, but quickly dissolved into the stone of El Castillo (Structure A-6) leaving only her memory and now a name for this ancient city.

What was the population at Xunantunich?

Archeologists believe Xunantunich, like many other sites, was an ancient city. It was not a large city and had a population of 7,000 to 10,000 people living within a radius of 1.86 miles (3 km) from the site center.

Cahal Pech

What does Cahal Pech mean?

The name of the site means Place of Ticks in the Yucatec Mayan language which was coined in the 1950's when the area around the site was used for to graze animals.

What was the population at Cahal Pech?

During the Late Classic period, it is estimated that 10,000 to 20,000 people lived in the city and its' periphery during the time. The majority being farmers in the periphery and a smaller number of elites living in the site center.

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FAQs

What should I bring?

Bring enough water, good sunscreen and a decent pair of shoes.

Where can I find a guide?

If you need a guide, wait till you arrive at the entrance of the ferry in San Jose Succotz to book one.

Can I drive to Xunantunich?

Yes, the road is paved and there are clear signs marking the entrance of the compound. Be wary of speed bumps; we rarely label those in Belize.

What time does the ferry operate?

Ferry opening hours are between 7:30 AM and 4:00 PM. But don't worry, the ferry operators will wait for you if they notice visitors that checked in haven't checked out but be wary of the time.

Do I need to tip the ferry operator?

No, it is not required. They are paid by the government and the entrance is inclusive of the short ferry transfer.

Where can I eat closeby?

Xunantunich Restaurant & Cafe is a new spot that has authentic local dishes, and it's only a block away from the ferry entrance.

Resources

  • Niche Belize

  • Xunantunich Information Center