One of the most picturesque Mayan ruins in Belize is Lamanai which features three large pyramids, various restored stelae, and open plazas as well as a small but unique ball court. Also, the ruins of two 16th century Spanish churches are nearby. The site enjoys an isolated location in the jungle on the banks of the New River Lagoon, a river with numerous crocodiles.
Since Lamanai was still occupied by the Maya when the Spanish arrived, it is one of the few sites in Belize to preserve its traditional name. According to the Spanish missionaries “Lamanai” means “submerged crocodile” although doubts have been expressed recently as to the accuracy of this translation. The less poetic “drowned insect” has been put forward as an alternative. Still, the large numbers of crocodile representations found in carvings and inscriptions suggest that, whatever the true meaning, the animal certainly had a very important role in the local mythology.
Walkways through the various structures that forms Lamanai Archaeological Site
Lamanai has one of the longest histories of all the Mayan sites. It was continuously occupied from around 1500 BC, for which there is ceramic evidence, until 1675 or perhaps even later. At its peak it may have supported up to 35,000 people.
It was both a ceremonial and a trade center, and many copper objects were found here that came from western and central Mexico and lower Central America. Less is known about what Lamanai exported. It is also uncertain why Lamanai continued as an important center while other Maya sites in the region collapsed during the Postclassic period.
Spanish attempts to convert the Maya to Christianity resulted in the construction of two Roman Catholic churches around 1570 AD. They were met at first with indifference and later with outright hostility. In 1640, the Maya launched a revolt, burning the churches down. The site was abandoned shortly after the city was gradually swallowed by the jungle.
TRAVELING TO LAMANAI
In 2002, there was a lot of work taking place to restore the main temple structures, but the site was still hugely inspiring. A lot of that work has been completed, which means once again the temples can be enjoyed as they were over 1000 years ago. What is also very enjoyable is the journey there, for although Lamanai can be reached by road, it is best reached by boat. The trip along through the New River from the site of Lamanai Eco Tours Ltd. on the Phillip Goldson Highway takes an hour, during which you will undoubtedly see the aquatic reptiles that give Lamanai its name – the Place of Submerged Crocodiles