Cahal Pech Mayan Ruins In San Ignacio: A Hidden Gem Away from the Crowds

No doubt one of my favorite Ruins in Central America happened to be the Cahal Pech Mayan Ruins in San Ignacio, Belize. Come find out all you need to know about visiting such as the history, entry fees, how to get there, and more!


Located in the charming town of San Ignacio, Belize, the Cahal Pech Mayan Ruins stand as a testament to the rich heritage of the ancient Mayan civilization.

Perched atop a hill overlooking the lush Belize River Valley, these majestic ruins offer visitors a glimpse into the past. Showcasing intricate stone temples, palaces, and artifacts that tell stories of a thriving civilization that once called this place home, it is a must-visit.

With its breathtaking views and fascinating historical significance, Cahal Pech is not only an archaeological treasure but also a must-visit destination for history buffs and adventure seekers alike.

Now I was lucky enough to stumble across Cahal Pech listed as a must do cheap activity from my hostel while I was backpacking Belize. This and the ATM cave tour were equally amazing each in their own way, and highlights of my visit.

Nevertheless, let’s get into what you need to know about visiting Cahal Pech Mayan Ruins including how to get there, why it’s worth visiting, entry fees, opening hours, and more!


arriving at one of the other temples in cahal pech on the walkway
arriving at one of the other temples in cahal pech on the walkway
looking through one of the doorways and step staircases at cahal pech mayan ruins
looking through one of the doorways and step staircases at cahal pech mayan ruins

🚗 How I Book Ferries & Shuttles In Belize: GuateGo


History Of The Cahal Pech Mayan Ruins

The name Cahal Pech means “Place of the Ticks” in the Yucatec Maya language, and was given when the area was used as pasture during the first archaeological studies in the 1950s.

The site consists of 34 structures, including temples, palaces, ball courts, and plazas, arranged around a central acropolis. The tallest temple is about 25 meters in height and offers a panoramic view of the surrounding landscape.

It also features several carved stelae, altars, and hieroglyphic texts that reveal some aspects of its history and culture.

The site was first settled around 1200 BCE during the Early Middle Formative period, making Cahal Pech one of the oldest recognizable Maya sites, making it a major landmark of Belize. It was continuously inhabited until 900 CE when it was abandoned for unknown reasons.

During this long span of time, Cahal Pech witnessed several changes in political and social organization, as well as cultural and artistic development. The site reached its peak of prosperity and power during the Classic period (250-900 CE) when it was part of a regional network of Maya polities that engaged in trade, warfare, and alliance.

Cahal Pech was rediscovered in the 1950s, and the main excavation and restoration of the site began in 1988. The site is now an archaeological reserve and houses a small museum with artifacts from various ongoing excavations.

Cahal Pech is one of the many Maya sites that can be found in Belize. Other nearby Maya sites include Chaa Creek, Xunantunich, Baking Pot, and Lower Dover.


Why Visit Cahal Pech In San Ignacio

Cahal Pech Mayan Ruins is a hidden gem, with its rich history and distinct character, and offers a multitude of reasons to pay a visit.

One of the standout features of Cahal Pech is its serene atmosphere. Unlike some more popular Maya ruins that can be crowded with tourists, Cahal Pech offers a peaceful retreat into history.

You can explore the site at your own pace, take in the breathtaking views, and immerse yourself in the ancient Maya world without the hustle and bustle of large tour groups, or simply other people in my case.

Cahal Pech boasts a stunning collection of architectural wonders. From towering temples to intricately designed palaces, every structure tells a story of Maya craftsmanship.

The tallest temple offers a mesmerizing panoramic view of the lush Belizean landscape, providing a unique perspective that’s hard to find elsewhere.

tash amy walking towards the ruins at cahal pech in san ignacio
walking towards the ruins at cahal pech in san ignacio
a tree growing up the side of one of the temples at cahal pech
a tree growing up the side of one of the temples at cahal pech

Entry Fee To The Cahal Pech Mayan Ruins

The entry fee to the Cahal Pech Mayan Ruins is BZD $10.00 / $5.00

You purchase your tickets by the museum before taking the easy five-minute walk up to the ruins.

looking across the various ruins at cahal pech
looking across the various ruins at cahal pech

Opening Hours Cahal Pech

Cahal Pech Mayan Ruins and the onsite museum is open to visitors from 8 A.M. to 5 P.M.

Just be aware depending on the time of year it may be best to visit in the morning or afternoon to avoid the heat.

discovering some of the bridges and temples between the different temples and palaces at cahal pech mayan ruins
discovering some of the bridges and temples between the different temples and palaces at cahal pech mayan ruins

🚗 How I Book Ferries & Shuttles In Belize: GuateGo


How To Get To The Cahal Pech Mayan Ruins

Cahal Pech is located on a hill overlooking the town of San Ignacio, which is about 1.6 kilometers away. There are several ways to get to Cahal Pech from San Ignacio, depending on your preference and budget.


Walk

If you enjoy walking and want to save some money, you can follow the signs from the San Ignacio town center to Cahal Pech.

The walk is uphill and takes about half an hour. You will pass by some local shops and houses along the way.

After you turn off the main road and past the roundabout there is a very steep hill you will need to climb. Make sure you have enough water to keep hydrated. This was the option I chose and I was pretty sweaty by the end.


Taxi

If you prefer a more comfortable and faster option, you can take a taxi from San Ignacio to Cahal Pech.

The taxi ride is about 10 minutes and costs around $5.00 per trip. You can ask the driver to wait for you at the site or arrange a pick-up time.

If you plan to take a taxi back this is a must as you won’t find them waiting around the ruins as it isn’t a super busy spot.


Guided Tour

If you want to learn more about the history and culture of Cahal Pech, you can join a guided tour from San Ignacio.

Many tour operators offer half-day or full-day trips to Cahal Pech and other nearby attractions, such as Xunantunich or El Pilar.

The tour price usually includes transportation, entrance fees, a guide, and lunch. The duration varies depending on the itinerary, but it usually takes between 3 to 6 hours.

tasha amy admiring the impressive grandeur of the ruins at cahal pech
admiring the impressive grandeur of the ruins at cahal pech

How Long To Spend At The Cahal Pech Mayan Ruins

The recommended amount of time to spend at Cahal Pech Mayan Ruins is typically around 2 to 3 hours for a comprehensive visit.

This will allow you to explore the site at a leisurely pace, appreciate the architecture and history, and visit the museum. It also provides ample time for taking photographs and enjoying the peaceful ambiance of the ruins.

If you have a deep interest in archaeology, history, or photography, you might want to spend more time there.

On the other hand, if you’re on a tight schedule or have limited interest in historical sites, a shorter visit of 1-2 hours can still provide an interesting experience.


When To Visit The Cahal Pech Mayan Ruins

Belize has a tropical climate with two main seasons: dry and rainy. The dry season runs from November to April, and the rainy season from May to October.

The dry season is generally more comfortable for visitors, as the temperatures are cooler and there is less humidity and rainfall. However, the rainy season also has its advantages, as the landscape is greener and more lush, and there are fewer tourists and lower prices.

trees growing on top of the ruins at cahal pech san ignacio
trees growing on top of the ruins at cahal pech san ignacio
walking along the pathway in between temples at cahal pech san ignacio
walking along the pathway in between temples at cahal pech san ignacio

What To See At The Cahal Pech Mayan Ruins

When visiting Cahal Pech, you can explore the remnants of this once-thriving city and learn about its history. The site actually covers an area of about 2 acres and consists of seven plazas and 34 structures.

Here are some of the highlights to see and experience at Cahal Pech:


Museum

The museum at Cahal Pech is small but informative and showcases the artifacts and history of the ancient Maya site. Here you can find models, paintings, and a film that explains the significance.

The museum also displays pottery, jade, obsidian, and other items that were found during the excavations.

It is located near the entrance, and tickets can be purchased from the visitor center or at the museum at the Cahal Pech site.

There are also public toilets here which are kept in pretty good condition.


Main Plaza

The Main Plaza is one of the most impressive features of the site, as it contains several structures that reflect the power and wealth of the elite Maya family that lived there.

Here you will find two ball courts, as well as a large palace-type structure that faces the plaza and has a royal burial chamber inside. The plaza was used for ceremonies, festivals, and public gatherings.


Central Acropolis

The most impressive structure is the Central Acropolis, which is a large complex of temples, palaces, and courtyards. The Central Acropolis was the residence of the elite Maya family that ruled.

You can climb up the stairs and enter some of the rooms and chambers that were once occupied.

showcasing the scale of one of the temples at cahal pech mayan ruins san ignacio
showcasing the scale of one of the temples at cahal pech mayan ruins san ignacio
hiding in a bit of shade from the midday heat at the cahal pech mayan ruin site
hiding in a bit of shade from the midday heat at the cahal pech mayan ruin site

Ball Court

Another interesting structure is the Ball Court, which is located near the back of the site.

The Ball Court was used for playing the Maya ball game, which was a sport that involved hitting a rubber ball with various parts of the body.

in the middle of the two ball courts on the lower part of cahal pech
in the middle of the two ball courts on the lower part of cahal pech

Temple Prymids

The Temple Pyramids at Cahal Pech hold both architectural and religious significance within the archaeological site.

These pyramids feature a distinctive stepped, terraced design constructed from limestone blocks, although the original stucco and paint have largely weathered away over time.

Most of these pyramids are equipped with steep staircases, which hold dual symbolism: they provide access to the summit and symbolize the journey to the heavens or the underworld.

The orientation of these temple pyramids was meticulously planned by the Maya to align with celestial events, illustrating their advanced understanding of astronomy.

exploring the incredible cahal pech mayan ruins in san ignacio
exploring the incredible cahal pech mayan ruins in san ignacio

🚗 How I Book Ferries & Shuttles In Belize: GuateGo

Stelae

One of the features of Cahal Pech is the presence of five stelae and one plain altar. Stelae are carved stone monuments that often depict rulers or important events. They are usually accompanied by hieroglyphic inscriptions that provide historical information.

The stelae at Cahal Pech are among the earliest known in Belize. They date from the Late Preclassic period (300 BC – 250 AD) and are made of limestone and have simple shapes and designs.

The stelae are mostly plain, except for Stela 9, which has a carved face on one side. The face has large eyes, a broad nose, and a mouth with teeth.


Wildlife At The Cahal Pech Mayan Ruins

Cahal Pech is surrounded by lush tropical forest, home to a variety of wildlife.

This includes more than 200 species of birds, including hummingbirds, parrots, toucans, woodpeckers, hawks, and owls. Some of these birds are migratory and only visit during certain seasons.

You will also find several species of mammals here, such as monkeys, agoutis, coatis, raccoons, and even jaguars. These animals are mostly nocturnal and elusive, but can sometimes be spotted in the forest or near the water sources.

Cahal Pech is surrounded by a tropical forest that provides a rich habitat for wildlife. The many types of trees, plants, flowers, and fruits attract the animals and provide them with food and shelter.


My Experience At The Cahal Pech Mayan Ruins

After spending the morning checking out the nearby Green Iguana Conservation Project I headed a bit further up the road to reach Cahal Pech Mayan Ruins. However not before a quick ice cream and drink stop.

And thank god I did! The hill just before reaching the site is super steep, as someone on foot I took plenty of breaks under the shady trees.

Arriving I was quite surprised at the lack of cars around, and seemingly other travelers. Nevertheless, I purchase my ticket, have a little wander around the museum, and head up the manicured wooden track up to Cahal Pech.

Arriving you honestly can’t see too much straight away, however, I choose to take a seat in a rest area and have a big drink. It’s freakin hot here!

Jumping back up ready to explore I head around the corner and straight away am met by a massive pyramid temple standing straight over me. You are able to climb up them here, but it’s way too hot for me.

Instead, I climb up a short way and find a hidden shady spot where I can appreciate the view. Looking out across the Main Plaza it’s so incredible how grand Cahal Pech is, but there is not a single other tourist here.

I literally have it all to myself!

Starting to venture further into the site I came across the Central Acropolis where a network of homes and buildings can be found. I explore around the different levels and just take it all in as I am in no rush.

Down a staircase at the back, you really start to feel like you are in the jungle as I spot the remains of the Ball Court. I grab a seat for a while enjoying the sounds of nature and watching the leaves rustling with various birds and insects.

I then continued my exploration and eventually came across one other tourist we both agreed how spectacular and a literal hidden secret this place is. No doubt this is one of my favorite Mayan Ruins in Central America.

However with the midday sun well and truly beating down I decide it is time to start my walk back to the center of San Ignacio, especially since I am running low on water.

I highly recommend that you bring a packed lunch and extra drinks up to Cahal Pech with you. There is some seating at the start of the ruins, and then you can really enjoy it for longer.

incredible having the ruins of cahal pech all to myself in san ignacio
incredible having the ruins of cahal pech all to myself in san ignacio
tasha amy finding a little bit of shade while exploring one of the temples at cahal pech mayan ruins
finding a little bit of shade while exploring one of the temples at cahal pech mayan ruins

What To Pack For A Visit

If you are planning to visit Cahal Pech, here are some things you should pack:

  • Sunscreen and hat: Cahal Pech is exposed to the sun and can get very hot, especially in the dry season. You should protect your skin and head from sunburn and heatstroke by applying sunscreen and wearing a hat.
  • Water and snacks: There are not any food or drink vendors on site, so you should bring your own water and snacks to stay hydrated and energized.
  • Repellent: Cahal Pech may mean “Place of Ticks” in the local Maya dialect, but you are more likely to encounter mosquitoes than ticks. You should bring repellent to avoid getting bitten.
  • Supportive shoes: There is uneven terrain and steep stairs that can be slippery when wet. You should wear supportive shoes that have good grip and are comfortable for walking.
  • Camera: Get ready for stunning views of the surrounding landscape and impressive architecture of the ancient Maya. You should bring a camera to capture these sights and memories of your visit.
one of the courtyards surrounded by stairs at cahal pech
one of the courtyards surrounded by stairs at cahal pech

Where To Stay In San Ignacio?

San Ignacio has many options for cheap and cheerful accommodation, ranging from hostels and guesthouses to campsites and eco-lodges.

Personally, I stayed at Bellas Backpackers. After having such a good stay at their Caye Caulker location and making a lot of new friends I was excited for the same experience in San Ignacio. Though surprisingly the location here is a lot more quiet than on the island.

I was actually the only person in my dorm for all 3 nights of my stay. On average there were about 4 to 6 people staying in the whole property each night.

Nevertheless, the small number of people actually made for quite a homely feel. At night we would all hang out in the kitchen, discuss travel plans, and cook up a yummy meal.

If you are looking for a more social stay Old House Hostel is actually where the majority of backpackers stay. I met a couple of travelers who were staying there are they said it was super busy, so the complete opposite of my hostel experience.

Bellas Backpackers

Bellas Backpackers

A chill family-style hostel in the center of town. Dorms start at $12.00 per night.

BOOK NOW
The Old House Hostel

The Old House Hostel

The most popular hostel in the town. Dorm rooms start from $12.00 per night.

BOOK NOW
Yellow Belly Backpackers

Yellow Belly Backpackers

Another lovely hostel in a great central location. Dorms here start for around $12.00 per night.

BOOK NOW
Nabitunich

Nabitunich

A beautiful countryside farm stay for a unique experience. Private rooms here start at $60.00 per night.

BOOK NOW

Things To Do In San Ignacio

San Ignacio offers a variety of attractions and activities for travelers. Here are some of the best things to do in San Ignacio:

  • Visit the Xunantunich Ruins: These are ancient Maya ruins that date back to the 7th century AD. You can climb the El Castillo pyramid, which is the second tallest structure in Belize, and enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding jungle and river.
  • Explore the ATM Cave (Actun Tunichil Muknal): This is one of the most adventurous and fascinating things to do in San Ignacio. The ATM Cave is a sacred site where the Maya performed rituals and sacrifices. You will need to hike, swim, and crawl to reach the cave, so be prepared for a challenging but rewarding experience.
  • Green Iguana Conservation Project: This is a project that aims to protect and conserve the endangered green iguana in Belize. You can visit the project at the San Ignacio Resort Hotel and learn about the iguanas and their habitat.
  • Take a day trip to the mighty Tikal Mayan Ruins: Tikal is one of the most famous and impressive Maya sites in Guatemala, and it is only a two-hour drive from San Ignacio. You can cross the border with a tour or on your own and explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Discover the ancient ruins of Caracol: Caracol is another Maya site that is located in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve, about two hours from San Ignacio. Caracol was once one of the largest and most powerful Maya cities in Belize, with over 35,000 buildings and 140,000 inhabitants.
  • Visit the San Ignacio Market: The San Ignacio Market is a lively and colorful market that takes place every Saturday. You can find fresh fruits and vegetables, spices, crafts, clothing, souvenirs, and more.

🚗 How I Book Ferries & Shuttles In Belize: GuateGo


Any Questions? Let me know in the comments!


LIKE IT? PIN IT!

No doubt one of my favorite Ruins in Central America happened to be the Cahal Pech Mayan Ruins in San Ignacio, Belize. Come find out all you need to know about visiting such as the history, entry fees, how to get there, and more!

Want more Belize Inspiration? Check out….


Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. So, if you click on it and purchase something, I get a small percentage at no extra cost to you. As always all opinions are my own and your support is much appreciated.

Related Posts

Solo Travel In Belize: My Experience As A Solo Female Backpacker

Find out all you need to know about Solo Travel in Belize so you can [...]

Caye Caulker Snorkeling Tours: Discover The Ultimate Underwater Paradise

If you happen to be visiting Caye Caulker then no doubt you need to discover [...]

Visiting The Iguana Eco Sanctuary In San Pedro: Is It Worth It?

Come check out all you need to know on the Iguana Eco Sanctuary in San [...]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *