Located just across from the modern-day town of San Ignacio in western Belize, Cahal Pech is one of Belize's most unusual ancient Maya sites.
The name "Cahal Pech" means "Place of the Ticks" in the local Maya dialect, but the original name for the site is unknown. Local Maya herders nicknamed the site Cahal Pech in the 1950s because much of the surrounding area was used for pasture.
Cahal Pech sits high above a bluff that overlooks San Ignacio Town and the Macal River, and the panoramic view from the site is one of the finest in the country. It is believed that Cahal Pech is one of the oldest Maya sites in the region, first built more than 3,200 years ago.
The site was built as an exclusive residence for the ruling elite of the ancient Maya world. Today, only the core area of the royal palace has been excavated, a series of seven interconnected plazas that include temples and ball courts.
Archeologists have concluded that the town achieved much of its current architecture approximately 1,200 years ago when the site reached its all-time highest population of around 20,000 people. During its zenith, Cahal Pech was surrounded by outlying farms that worked hard to feed the Maya nobility and elite who lived high up on the hill.
Today, visitors can learn more about the Maya ruin by visiting the visitor's center near the entrance that has a modest collection of artifacts excavated at the site.
From there, visitors can visit the two large ball courts that were used for the ancient Mesopotamian game that was half sport and half religious ceremony. Other attractions on the site include touring the many temples, including the one now known as Structure A-1, which rises some 25 meters (82 feet) above the plaza. Today, there are approximately 34 buildings that have been excavated and are open to the public.
Although Cahal Pech is one of the smallest ancient Maya sites in Belize and can be explored in around 60-90 minutes, it functions as a superb introduction to Maya architecture and design.
If you'd like to visit Cahal Pech Maya ruins, book your tour with the Caves Branch Jungle Lodge. Caves Branch also offers combination jungle and sea vacations that include tours to ancient Maya sites like Cahal Pech as well as snorkeling and scuba diving on the reef.