Lamanai Archaeological Reserve

It was time for our first day trip in Belize – a tour to the Lamanai Archaeological Reserve – another set of Mayan ruins. These ruins are on the banks of the New River – yes that’s the actual name of the river – and from Orange Walk where we were staying, it’s possible to take an excursion where you get picked up from your accommodation, taken to the boat jetty, driven by boat to the ruins, and then have a guided tour and lunch at the ruins before being taken back. That sounded like a nice day out to us! 🙂

Like everything else in Central America, the tour was of an ‘informal’ variety – and so one of Ricky’s (the guy who ran the hostel we were staying in) mates turned up at 8.45am in his battered ute and drove us to a place where there was a big house and a boat jetty. When we got there nothing much seemed to happen for a while and there were a couple of boats parked on the river. It was a public holiday in Belize and we were wondering if it would be busy or not – we seemed to be the only people there. This didn’t last long as suddenly lots of trucks turned up – which to our surprise were not full of tourists, but contained what looked like local farmers – except they were all fair-skinned.

It turned out that they were Mennonites! Just in case you don’t know what a mennonite is (to us, the name sounded familiar but we didn’t know what it meant really until we arrived in South America), I will explain. Mennonites are a type of Christian – more specifically, they are Anabaptists. They originated in Germany in the 16th century and migrated to various parts of the world. The most famous mennonites are the Amish, but they have splintered into many many different groups which all have slightly different customs and beliefs. The Mennonites in Belize number around 10,000 and most of them speak a kind of German called Plautdietsch.

I’m sure that you are now thinking that this is quite enough educational information, so I will move on. In the end we set off down the river with two boatloads full of people – containing us, around 30 local Mennonites, and also two other tourists who turned up at the last minute. The boat trip was very scenic and peaceful and before long we arrived at Lamanai.


The scene of our departure down the river.
Looking back at the wharf area.
One of the two boats used on our trip.
Lamanai wharf.
We’ve arrived!

Now although I mentioned that the boat trip was peaceful, I do have to add a caveat… yes, one of the tourists on board the boat – a guy from New York – hadn’t quite adjusted to the relaxed tropical Belize vibe yet… He was a bit upset because the roof of the boat didn’t cover the whole boat, and so some areas of the boat were not in the shade – including the area that he was sitting in. He asked the boat driver if he could do something about this… clearly there was nothing the boat driver could do except evict some Mennonite children from their seats and put them in the sun instead….! Obviously this was not going to happen, and so ensued a series of loud comments from Mr Rude Tourist (henceforth referred to as MRT)

‘All aboard the skin cancer express!’
‘If you’re short of cash I can pay for you to have a bigger roof.’
‘How come they get seats in the shade and I don’t?’

On arrival we were split into two groups for our tour. One group was all the Mennonites, and the other group was CC and I, plus the two other tourists. On the plus side, small groups are good! On the minus side, MRT was in our group….. It turned out to not be as bad as we thought, as MRT pretty much ignored the guide and kept quiet – as he was too interested in taking selfies with the ruins.

Off we go for our guided tour.

Lamanai was inhabited for almost 3000 years, starting from the very earliest Mayan societies in around 1500BC and continuing right up until the 17th century AD. After that the area remained buried until the 1970s when excavations began. There are three main temples at Lamanai – The Jaguar Temple, The Mask Temple, and the High Temple. All of these temples were very interesting in their own different way.

The Jaguar Temple is famous for its stone block jaguar heads. To be honest, if somebody hadn’t told us that they were jaguar heads, then we might not have worked it out ourselves… 🙂

The Jaguar Temple at Lamanai.
Close up of the ‘Jaguar’ head on the temple.
The Jaguar Temple in the distance.

The ruins are set in some very nice jungle in the middle of nowhere, and there was plenty of animal and bird life around. In our view, every visit to Mayan ruins should be accompanied by some bird and wildlife spotting! 🙂

Howler monkey in the trees.
Brown jay.

Next up was the High Temple, the highest temple in the complex – literally. It is 33 metres tall and you are allowed to ascend to the top for views over the complex and the nearby New River.

The High Temple at Lamanai.
View down from the top of the High Temple.
The New River as seen from the top of the High Temple.
Some of the Mennonites on top of the High Temple.

And finally we come to the Mask Temple – yes you guessed it – this one had masks on the front. This temple was quite a bit smaller than the other two, but the intricate design on the masks was very impressive indeed.

A mask on the Mask Temple in Lamanai.
The Mask Temple.

The guide was really excellent, and we felt like we had our own personal tour as the other two were too busy taking selfies to pay much attention to the guide – yes typical young people today… 🙂 We also liked the guide because he helped us spot birds!

Check out the beautiful trogon!
Yes, the back of the trogon is just as beautiful as the front…

Fully satisfied with both the architecture and the birdlife it was time for lunch. Lunch was included on the tour and it was delicious! 🙂

Check out this lunch of beans, rice, chicken, plantain, cabbage, pineapple, tortilla chips, and spicy salsa!
The view from our lunchtime picnic area.

Lunch marked the end of the tour and it was time to head back to the wharf for the return boat trip. There was around 30 minutes allocated for a bit of a wander around and to look at the small museum. We were told to be back at the boat for around 2:30pm.

As 2:30pm rolled around, only ourselves and the two Americans were at the boat. The Mennonites were still wandering around in the distance. I could sense trouble as MRT (Mr. Rude Tourist) started to become agitated…

‘What are they doing over there?! Why aren’t they here?’
‘Didn’t they hear that it was 2:30pm?!’
‘Well I guess Mennonites don’t know how to tell the time!’

MRT turned to the guide and said – ‘Well aren’t you going to get them?’. The guide looked a bit pained and mumbled something about them being the clients and he can’t order them to get back to the boat. At this point it was only 2.40pm. MRT continued…

‘Some of us have got a plane to catch you know.’
‘This is ridiculous!’
‘What’s the point of giving a time if nobody sticks to it!’
‘I had better be back in time for my flight!’

Finally he cracked and went storming towards the Mennonites who were slowly making their way towards the boat.

‘HURRY UP! YOUR’E LATE!’ he started shouting as he waved his arms around. The Mennonites looked slightly puzzled and continued towards the boat. Seeing that they were on their way, he ran back towards the boat and plonked himself right in the middle seat in the centre of the boat directly under the centre of the canopy. As everyone else boarded the boat he refused to move or shuffle aside, determined to claim his seat in the centre of the boat – meaning everybody else had to clamber around him to get on the boat…

The boat ride back was very peaceful and scenic, and as we were seated next to one of the guys from the Mennonite community he was asking about our travels. He said that he was from one of the more ‘modern’ Mennonite communities and that he ran a furniture business and had travelled overseas. MRT spent the whole boat ride staring down at his phone screen. It made us wonder why he bothered coming all this way in the first place…

Anyway, despite MRT it had been a great day out – beautiful scenery, impressive ruins, trogons, and a great lunch! What’s not to like! 🙂


Our boat at the wharf in Orange Walk. Back to Ricky’s for us!   

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