You have to see it to Belize it, Part II

November 13, 2015

Unspoiled Maya ruins encrusted with tangible artifacts transport us back in time.


Flourishing in the southern Yucatan Peninsula is a deep-rooted culture steeped in the legacy and lore of the Maya. Their legends are sculpted all around us and scattered across the sky. At the same time that Egyptian pharaohs and Greco-Roman architects erected pyramids and obelisks around the Mediterranean and Cambodian kings built Angkor Wat across the Pacific to mark the sun’s advance and retreat, the Guatemalan Maya established Tikal, a ceremonial and commercial center.



Trekking through the rainforest reserve, we pulled back vines to reveal monoliths piercing the clouds. A vast city and temple complex comprised of plazas, reservoirs, ball courts, and thousands of structures, Tikal spans over 200 square miles. Approaching the city limits, we felt like explorers discovering the virgin ruins for ourselves then, walking through the complex toward those pyramid temples, awestruck worshippers beholding our god kings.



As Maya high society lived like kings, their lifetimes spanned three commoners’ generations, imbuing them with perceived immortality. The well-nourished elite towered above their subjects, so the doorways of central buildings, even now, can accommodate our contemporary western proportions. Strolling effortlessly through pyramids surrounded by deities in stone relief, we felt larger than life, descending a heavenward staircase to our own dominion.



We headed to The Family Coppola Resorts La Lancha to savor an al fresco lunch and cool off in the rejuvenating Lago Petén Itzá, Guatemala’s second largest lake, whose waters—according to locals—contain healing powers. We enjoyed our dip off of the boutique resort’s stunning dock and lounged in the cabana, hammocks, Adirondack chairs, and inner tubes, while sipping cold drinks and watching the howler monkeys play and groom each other onshore.



La Lancha is laid out with ten newly renovated casitas, adorned in artisanal décor, cascading down a mountain toward the shore, so staying in each feels like you have the lake to yourself. Served in the resort’s open-air restaurant, our hearty meal of seasoned pork and steak with a sampling of dipping sauces was most welcome between jungle excursions.



The Guatemalan-Belizean border is rife with marvelous Maya ruins. In Actun Tunichil Muknal, we encountered no distance between observer and object. Swimming into the yawning mouth of the western Belizean cave’s riverhead entrance, we were met with stelae depicting native sacrificial weapons. A chilling thrill coursed through our veins.


The cave’s interior is studded with stoneware pottery and contains preserved human sacrificial remains. Its most famous inhabitant is the Crystal Maiden, the skeleton of an adolescent—now thought to be a teenage boy—whose bones were calcified by mineral-rich stalactite deposits dripping on them for hundreds of years.


So as not to disturb the ceramic antiquities embedded in the floor, we removed our shoes in the inner chambers like acolytes on hallowed ground. Spelunking between chambers was rigorous, requiring squeezing through ancient passageways, finding footholds and grips between artifacts, and free rock climbing throughout the three-hour expedition.


We emerged to find our driver swapping cave tales with his colleagues. After some begging, he cautiously shared a few of their stories. Allegedly, visitors of all ages have visions, ranging from children claiming to see apparitions acting out rituals to adult reports of out-of-body experiences. The most recent encounter occurred just a couple weeks prior to our visit.



Driving through the jungle, the stars of the Pleiades dazzled overhead, as they have for millennia, lighting the night sky through the dense canopy. Back at Blancaneaux, we caught a cool breeze and reflected on our elegant adventure that was, simply, divine.


Looking to plan an unforgettable travel experience? Contact The Accomplished Traveler today at 212.586.2020.

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