The next port of call was Belize City. From there, we joined a shore excursion to the impressive ancient ruins of Altun Ha to catch an enriching glimpse into Mayan history and culture.
The ruins contain several temples and plazas central to Mayan religious and civic life dating back to 200-900 AD. Our guide explained that Altun Ha was a vital trading outpost and agricultural hub in its era. We learned that the site gets its name from the Mayan words for “water” and “stone,” likely referring to the stone water reservoirs enabling life in this area.
Wandering through the sprawling ruins, we spotted many of the tropical trees thriving in Belize’s humid climate. Our guide pointed out plants like avocado, and allspice trees that would have sustained the Mayan people centuries ago. I got to sniff a fragrant allspice leaf, though the guide told us not to chew it since it’d cause irritation in the mouth. It made me chew it even more, but I didn’t dare chew it until I got back on the cruise ship, but by then, the leaf had lost its potency.
We also learned more about Mayan concepts of beauty and status. The guide explained that elongated skulls, flattening forehead bones, filing teeth, and inlaid jade flakes signified nobility and were considered highly attractive. The famous Jade Head sculpture found at Altun Ha in the 1960s would have adorned a spiritual leader. Its craftsmanship and 15 pounds of precious greenstone underscored the power and status of its owner in ancient times.
Wandering through the stone temples and plazas of Altun Ha gave us a glimpse into daily and ceremonial life centuries ago. It was eye-opening to visualize the rituals, agriculture, and artifacts underscoring this vital Mayan trade hub. The allspice, and avocado trees surrounding us emphasized the continuity between past and present in this region.
See more of Altun Ha here