We went with a guide from duPlooy's and a family of four: Mom, Dad and two little kids. I really liked the small group.
On the way down the hill, we spotted a couple of iguanas on the the rock wall. The driver pulled over to let us see them up close and take pics (I didn't). He also pulled a leaf off a tree and told us to smell it and guess what it was. I thought it smelled like cinnamon. T couldn't name the scent but thought it smelled great. The dad of the family thought it smelled like Christmas. It was the leaf of an allspice tree!
Xunantunich is very close to duPlooy's, probably about 20 minutes. It is on the other side of the Mopan River, and the way to cross the river is on a hand-cranked ferry.
We spent time looking at one main area, but apparently the site is quite large. The area we went to had three structures, dominated by El Castillo. An interesting thing to note is that there are more structures that are buried under the jungle growth.
T is standing on the last structure. At the trees, you can see the middle structure, and in the background, El Castillo
The guide did a great job with explaining about the city and everything, but I was pretty overwhelmed by how beautiful and green everything was. I also thought about how ancient this place is; it dates back to 600 AD. The structures are huge and made of stone. Imagine what it took to construct these temples!
As we were walking, I asked the guide if there were any monkeys around. He said there were spider and howler monkeys and that maybe we would get to see some when he took us along the back of El Castillo. We didn't have to wait, though. As we were coming down from the second structure, we saw a howler monkey in the trees. As we kept watching, we noticed more monkeys. I think there were about six monkeys in the family that we saw, including a couple of babies! They didn't make any noise, though. I was kind of bummed because I was really interested in hearing the howler monkey noise.
How many monkeys can you see? I counted five.
We watched the monkeys for awhile, then the guide ushered us along to the main event: El Castillo. It's 130 feet high and very impressive, both from the ground and from on top.
View of El Castillo from the plaza. If you look at the top, you can see people up there. They look tiny!
As you can see, there are a lot of steps. The thing about the Mayans, they didn't really have building codes so the steps are pretty uneven in height and width. (hahaha) You don't climb straight up, though. You walk up those stairs you see right there in front, then you go around to the sides and up the back way. Here's the view from about half-way up:
This is looking back to the first two structures. The one at the end of the picture is where we saw the monkeys. T climbed everything in sight.
Then you turn from the valley view and you see this amazing frieze
Xunantunich is known for the beautiful friezes on the east and west sides of El Castillo. The friezes have been restored and they are really neat.
From there you continue up some tiny stairs along a pretty narrow path to reach the top. I took my time and the view was worth every step.
Looking down at the valley
A look down from the top
A view into Guatemala. See that road? It's right on the border
Me and T
There was a great breeze up there, which explains why my hair looks strange.
We stayed up on top for awhile because the view was so gorgeous and the breeze was so pleasant. A few drops of rain fell on us, but that's all it was, a few drops, so nothing to worry about.
We were really only a few miles away from the Guatemalan border at this point. In fact, when we came into the site, there were three or four heavily armed soldiers walking along the road. I asked the guide about it, and he said that there was a small Army post on the grounds because of the proximity to Guatemala. There had been incidents of looting. There was also some drug trafficking in the area, so the Belize government kept soldiers at the site.
We came down the other side of El Castillo and saw the restored frieze on that side as well.
Then we headed back down the hill to the car. On our way out, we spotted another small group of howler monkeys. I had my new big lens on my camera so I was able to zoom in on the monkeys pretty well, but they were very high up in the very tall trees, so the pics are a little blurry. Still, I like this one because you can kind of see his face.
We went back to duPlooy's and had some lunch, then T and I took a nap in our room under the blessed ceiling fan. We were pretty worn out. T had climbed everything to be climbed at least three times each. Yes! He went to the top of El Castillo and back down at least three times.
It was a truly splendid day for all of us!