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Lamanai, located on the New River in Orange Walk District, is known for being the longest continually-occupied site in Mesoamerica.

The thriving crocodile population in the nearby New River lagoon gave Lamanai his Name.

GtB Map of the Mayan Site Lamanai. Click to Enlarge
Click any Pictures to enlarge
Many of Lamanai's main structures and excavated artifacts exhibits representate the famed reptile.  Lamanai is the Spanish historic name for Lama’ an/ayin, which means “submerged crocodile.”

Some of Lamanai's ruins are some of the oldest in Belize.  Archaeologists believe the Mayan site was of moderate size as early as 1500 BC. However, some of its later structures were occupied as recently as the 18th century AD, signifying over 3200 years of occupation.

With a population exceeding 35,000 at the height of the city's power, Lamanai's trading influence extended over the borders of present-day Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Belize  Still, of the around 800 buildings within the complex, less than five percent have been excavated and explored.

GtB Only 5% of Lamanai is not coverred from the nearby jungle
Aside from the central pyramid, thick forest has consumed many of the limestone mounds that housed the thousands of Mayan inhabitants. Although Spanish conquistadors held considerable sway over Lamanai by the 16th century, even establishing a Christian church near its center, a native rebellion eventually drove the Spaniards out. The extant remains of the church are still standing today.

Not like other ancient ruins, much of the Lamanai Belize archaeological site was built in layers. Successive populations built upon the temples of their ancestors, instead of destroying them.

Today hundreds of ruins are said to remain unexcavated in the nearby jungle, the most impressive temples have been renovated:

Jaguar Temple

The Jaguar Temple (N10-9), is named for its boxy jaguar decoration. The Temple rises in 9 tiers to about 65 ft. and on the north side is a wide basal stairway. Next to the stairway on the lower level is a mask of a jaguar with a protruding nose. The Jaguar Temple was original build in the sixth century.

GtB The Jaguar Temple of Lamanai, with its boxy jaguar decoration
In the long lasting occupation of Lamanai, the Temple was redesigned in the thirteenth century. It was an ongoing process of modification, the last one where tiny shrines made around the Year 1400.

Ball Court

Lamanai's ball court features a circular stone center marker, underneath which a ceremonial vessel containing liquid mercury was found. The 9,7 cu cm mercury came probably from Honduras. It was the first reported discovery of mercury in the Maya lowlands.

GtB The Ball Court at Lamanai  with its large marker
The ball game, which was a common activity of all Mesoamerican peoples and originated about 3,000 B.C., had a ritualistic function for the ancient Maya. Two teams (the number of players depended on the region where the game was played) faced off on courts whose measurements could vary. Most ball courts had two sloping parallel walls inset with three round disks called markers or a single stone ring, at right angles to the ground.

Ballplayers wore protective equipment during the game to prevent bodily damage by the hard rubber ball. The balls are made of solid rubber and weighed up to 4 kg (9 lbs) or more, and sizes differed greatly over time or according to the version played. Players would attempt to bounce the ball without using their hands and only touch the ball with their elbows, knees or hips through stone hoops attached to the sides of the ball court.

As far a we know, the winners of the game were treated as heroes and given a great feast. The penalty for losing a game was unusually harsh: death. The leader of the team who lost the game was killed. This fit in with the Mayan belief that human sacrifice was necessary for the continued success of the peoples' agriculture, trade, and overall health.

High Temple

The High Temple "El Castillo" (N10-43)   is the largest Pre-Classic structure in Belize with a height of 33 meter (108' ) from the plaza floor. It was first built in 100 AD establishing its full height and its final modification was to the front in AD 600-700. On the south front side, the stairway has been partially consolidated. 
GtB The High Temple in Lamanai, offers visitors a panoramic view from its summit
To climbing the High Temple, all you need is to be free from giddiness and good pair of shoes. Don’t forget your camera, when you climb the High Temple. At the top of the stairway a trail continues to the top for a spectacular view, above the jungle canopy, that extends into Guatemala and Mexico.

Mask Temple

The Mask Temple (N9-56), adorned by a 13-foot stone mask of an ancient Maya king. Build in  Early Classic and Late Classic Periods with final phase of construction AD 550-650. This west-facing structure is decorated with two masks that date to the late 5th or early 6th century.

GtB The Mask Temple of Lamanai with its 13-foot stone mask of an ancient Maya King
The mask to the right (south) of the stairway on the lower level is 15' tall with a human head and crocodile headdress. The upper level mask's face was broken during construction. They masks are made of stone with an unusual thin grey stucco coating.

Lamanai Tour

We can recommend taking the Lamanai Ruins Jungle River Tour only with a licensed tour guide. Compare the price and service before you book. If you need a map of the Lamanay Site, at our Maya Site Maps page, there is a printable version available for download.

On the mainland you can take a Bus to Orange Walk Town and start your tour from there with a local tour guide. From San Pedro the day trip starts with a 1 hour boat trip to the mainland, a short cruise on the Northern River to Bomba. A private bus will then take you to Tower Hill or Shipyard where you begin the journey down the New River to Lamanai.

Bring along: Good shoes, sunglasses, sun shade, sun bloc, bug spray, camera and if you like birds binoculars are a must.

Guide to Belize,  July 2021



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