Cahal Pech, Belize

The western part of Belize, situated in the Maya Mountains, is about as close to paradise on earth as I have seen, rolling hills dotted with archaeological sites, secluded valleys and clearings, beautyful fresh-water streams, banana and orange groves and a climate that is less hot and humid than the coastal areas. Also, there are few if any mosquitoes here.

I spent one day on a canoe trip on the Copal river, visiting several Mayan sites, and getting caught up in an incredible outburst of rain; it turns out two of us had angered the gods by peeing at the last Mayan site. Anyway, I was finally able to make use of the plastic emergency poncho I had been carrying around for years, and I was the only person who was able to stay reasonably dry.

I visited a number of Mayan sites in and around San Ignacio, a charming little river town about 20 miles east of the Guatemalan border. Right in town there is Cahal Pech, a somewhat later post-classic site with a number of palaces and courtyards. Further out to the south is Aguamayo, on the Copal river, and the site of the late Mayan Fort at Tiho, where the Natives defeated and massacred the Spanish in 1571. To the west, near the border with Guatemala, lies Xunantunich, across the river from the road. There are many other large Mayan sites in western Belize, such as Caracol and Naranjo, but these are hard to reach, and there is not much to be seen of the remains at these sites.

Banana Grove at Aguamayo House

I stayed at a small ranch hotel called Clarissa Falls, in a Mayan hut with bath, and watched and admired the many birds Minta kept at the main house, as well as 200 or so head of long-horn cattle that shared the meadow outside the window of my hut, as well as assorted dogs, cats, goats, geese, many chickens and a beautiful Toucan named Romeo.
The owners of the ranch were kind enough to let me leave my rental car here for a few days, while I took a bustrip into Guatemala and Tikal, because you can not take a rental car across the border.

Cahal Pech, Main Plaza and Pyramid

Cahal Pech means 'place of ticks', although the site is not really infested by many pests. There are 34 major structures, grouped around several courtyards and plazas. A large group of Formative Period figurines, from about 1000 BC-250 AD have been found at the site, some of them in the form of ocarinas or whistles.
The Main Plaza is surrounded by temple platforms, one of which is built into the natural hillside of the site to create a pyramid. This view is looking into the east courtyartd, with the stepped terraces of the main pyramid ascending toward the right side.

West Facade of Structure 1

Cahal Pech is an earlier, Pre-Classic Mayan site, and it is of somewhat cruder construction. The buildings are grouped around a main plaza and several subsidiary courtyards lined with steps and terraces, they form shallow palace structures with doorways facing into the plazas. The interiors of the buildings are typically lined with benches along the rear wall.

View of Temple 2 with Exposed Vault

Mayan construction technology was relatively crude and simple, most of the palace structures are made of parallel walls spanned by corbelled vaults, creating long, shallow interior spaces, accessed by multiple doorways along the sides of the courtyard. The tops of the vaults are locked into place with a counter-weight, creating the typical crowning roofcomb.

Arched Gateway in East Plaza

The courtyard of the East Palace complex is accessed by a large corbelled Mayan Archway. Inside this is a smaller courtyard surrounded on three sides by long, vaulted buildings with open arcades. A free standing wall and the Arch close off the courtyard on the south side.

Chicotto, or Central American Nosebear

These can be found in groups at many of the archaeological sites in the area. They're pretty tame and they'll climb all over you for food; they have even been known to attack some of the weaker tourists when they get real hungry.

Andreas Kultermann -
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