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In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age of 38. Now, into their 3rd decade of this financially independent lifestyle, they invite you to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.

Lamanai, Belize

Maya Ruins River Trip

Currency Conversion Site

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli

One of the main reasons for visiting Orange Walk, Belize is its proximity to the Maya river ruins of Lamanai.

This Maya complex is set in pristine tropical forest atop the western bluff of the New River Lagoon. Visiting this location offers you a unique view into the culture of the Maya and how they flourished in the bio diversity of this rainforest.

 

Lamanai is located in north central Belize

Tours to take the river trip to Lamanai are available all over town. We booked ours through our hotel for $100BZD each which included a $10BZD handling fee. The tour covered the 26 mile boat trip to and from the ruins, came with a knowledgeable guide, and the tour company provided lunch.

 

Our tour boat

The morning of the river tour, we got up leisurely and had a breakfast of bananas, peanut butter with dark local honey on toast, and coffee or tea which was included in the price of the hotel room. There was also a selection of pastries and a Belizean staple, meat pies. We waited on a bench outside the hotel for our guide to arrive and, along with several other tourists, we walked to the boat dock a quick 5 minutes away.

 

Belize's New River is smooth as glass

After making several stops along the river to pick up more passengers, we had a total of 30 tourists in our boat. We began a two hour up river journey through jungle vegetation, seeing wild animals and beautiful birds.

 

With 2 hours ahead on the boat, I grabbed a seat under the shade tarp

The river journey is just as integral to the tour as the ruins themselves. Alligators, bats that blended into the bark of trees, and exotic birds all made their appearance right on cue. If you are a birder, this tour will offer you rare and unusual sightings. We saw large blue herons, white egrets, black birds with white banded wings and a local favorite, the "Jesus Christ Bird" which appears to be walking on water. Actually, this bird walks on the flattened lily pads looking for food, but from any distance, you could swear it is simply walking on the surface of the water. The Jesus Christ Birds blend in with the scenery completely until they fly, exposing a brilliant yellow underbelly.

 

Billy makes a friend

We had a solid selection of international travelers on our boat, this woman and her friend were from Michigan.

We continue boating through miles of virgin river fauna with huge trees and colorful orchids

 

Lily pads and jungle vegetation make for beautiful scenery

Today, this river is called New River, but in the day of the Maya it bore an indigenous name meaning River of Strangers or River of Foreigners. The Maya utilized this waterway for trade and to get from village to village.

 

A Spider Monkey on the bow of our boat

We had wild, bipedal visitors on our boat who enjoyed the gifts of bananas from the lunch bags of fellow travelers. Our guide made whistling sounds and clicks to attract the monkeys and they responded quickly to his calls. Jumping and swinging from the trees, a couple of them boarded our boat with ease.

 

Female Spider Monkey standing straight up

We were instructed by our guide not to shout or make any quick moves. While a male and female monkey both show up, it was the female who was more assertive in her search for food.

Giving her a wide berth, we did not want to upset her in anyway, thereby avoiding any bites or scratches from a jungle-wild creature. She was surprisingly tall, over 3 feet, and very lanky.

 

Onward to the ruins!

Once we enjoyed the exotic sites of nature we make haste onto the ruins. We will enjoy our chicken and rice lunch at the picnic benches and then head on into the jungle to see the old river city of the Maya.

 

Sign at the entrance to the park

Our Maya guide had been doing river tours for 14 years and knew the stories of the Maya gods and all the history of his culture. The name of this site was recorded by the early Spanish missionaries and was misspelled in their written translation. The actual Maya name, according to our guide, should have been Lama'anayin or Lam'an'ain which means submerged insect. As it was recorded by the Spanish and as it is known today, the name appears as Lamanai which means submerged crocodile.

Our Maya expert seemed a bit miffed that the Spaniards got the name wrong, and wanted to be sure we knew the difference.

He also wanted us to know that in the 16th century, Catholic missionaries came to convert the Maya natives, but the Maya already had their own gods and their own ceremonies. They rebelled from any control by the Spanish and burned the churches to the ground in one of their regional uprisings. Today there is a Maya stelae standing in front of what remains of one church and is widely interpreted as Maya renunciation of any allegiance to Christianity.

Leisurely walk through the rainforest

When going on these tours through the jungle, be sure to bring insect repellent, a hat or visor, good walking shoes, and - in case of rain - rain gear.

 

Face of an ancient Maya king

Hundreds of ruins are still unexcavated in the surrounding jungle. Three of the most impressive temples have been renovated.

This temple shows the 13-foot stone mask of an ancient Maya king.

 

Another view of the stone mask

At the height of the culture and productivity here in Lamanai, 55,000 inhabitants lived in this city. Our guide explained how all of these people were able to be sustained with food and water. The Maya utilized raised bed agriculture with beds 10 feet above the water level and located just across the river. During rainy season when the river rose, by having raised beds, all of their agriculture work was not destroyed.

Drinking water was collected and stored rainwater.

 

Another angle of the Mask Temple

Lamanai was occupied continuously for over 3,000 years and the fact that its location was remote supported this continuous occupation to at least 1,650 A.D.

A large portion of the Temple of the Jaguar Masks remains under the grassy earth or is covered in dense jungle growth. If it were excavated, it would be significantly taller than the High Temple.

 

Billy taking a break from the hike

Lamanai features the second largest Pre-Classic structure in the Maya world. Unlike other Maya ruins, much of Lamanai was built in layers where successive generations built upon the temples of their ancestors instead of destroying them.  

 

From top of the High Tower looking down

The government protects this site and due to this security, an abundance of wildlife thrives in the park. We heard the howl (more like a lion's roar) of howling monkeys off in the distance. We were told to be sure not to engage in the howling with them (the monkeys interpret the response of howling as an aggressor) and to be careful when we walked under trees. Sometimes these monkeys would pee on intruders or throw their feces into the air.

Fortunately, we did not encounter this.

 

Akaisha and Billy in front of the High Temple

There are several layers of these buildings making the pyramids - both below us and above us into the sky.

 

Another view

You will notice on the right that part of this pyramid remains covered in earth and jungle. How much is still below ground?

The first detailed description of the ruins was made in 1917 by Thomas Gann. Excavations at the site began in 1974 and continued through 1988. More archeological and restoration work began in 2004.

 

Lovely wide view of an area between a Maya neighborhood and a temple

Our guide took us through what would have been called "suburbs" or a Maya neighborhood which is where we are standing to take this photo. We were shown the walls of homes, a stone bed in a bedroom, and some internal "plumbing" which was a simple open water trough running through the homes.

 

A Tarzan vine swing

We're in the jungle, and thick natural vines are everywhere. While walking back to the boat we found this vine swing and had to take advantage of the freedom of it!

 

Boating back home

After enjoying the ruins, we all board the boat and receive sodas, beers or rum punch which never saw a rum bottle. All of us are pretty windblown, sun scorched and tired from the hiking. It was another couple of hours on the boat, but he sped fairly quickly through the winding river route.

As the evening closed in we went out for some street food and found a local eatery with delicious burritos and fresh watermelon juice for a total of $7.50BZD for the two of us.

For more stories and photos of  Belize click here

About the Authors

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their popular website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurerís Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.

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