Family Travel to Belize: Xunantunich Ancient Mayan Ruins

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Getting an insider's view during our family travel is so much better than exploring on our own as tourists. We have found that local's advice helps us ensure our vacations are both fun and educational.

Troy's parents, who are doing missionary work for our church in Belize, came through in a big way, helping us plan our family vacation.

The agenda for day 1? Visiting Xunantunich, ancient Mayan ruins about an hour and a half north of Belize City. Learning vacation? Check!

Travel Tip: For long car rides, take extra toilet paper, bug spray, activity bags for the kids, and as always, don't forget your camera. The colorful countryside is something you won't want to forget.

Also, to make this activity part of the learning vacation, research ahead of time and share information about the culture and area you are visiting, which is rich in history. Consider hiring a tour guide while you are there to explain the significance of all the sites.

Transportation to Xunantunich

While there are tourist companies that organize tours and bus people to the ruins, including cruise lines, we drove as a family. The drive north took us from dry Belize City into lush Cayo, where we enjoyed a delicious Mexican lunch. To get to Xunantunich, which is only 15 minutes outside of Cayo, you have to cross a river on a ferry manually operated by a local who turns a crank that pulls you via a cable from one side to the next. Mr. Dadventurous himself gives the crank a try below.

Travel Tip: Have back-up plans. If the river is too high, the ferry will not run and you'll be out of luck!

Floral and Animal Attractions at the Ruins

You must pay a nominal fee to enter Xunantunich. This helps with maintenance of the ruins and grounds.

The area is beautiful and green. Many varieties of trees and flowers abound.

In addition, howler monkeys swing high in the tree tops. Though they are not often visible to the public, their sound is heard by all. They are small, but have a loud roaring (and a little bit scary) voice, which sounds very similar to a tiger's.

Travel tip: Although it's groomed and well maintained, the ruins are in the jungle. Make sure and put on ample bug spray.

Xunantunich Mayan Ruins

The ruins themselves are breathtaking, literally. They are a beautiful sight. And, after climbing the equivalent of 13 stories to reach the top, you may be a bit winded.

Travel Tip: If you at all suffer from a fear of heights, you may want to climb the first set of steps, take in the view, snap some pics, and call it good. Or, hang at the bottom, check out sites like this below, and snap a pic of your party when they reach the top.

The Castillo

Here is view 1 of the largest ruins in Xunantunich called "El Castillo," which is the halfway mark (taken after climbing the first set of steps).

The craftsmanship is amazing. Check out this detail.

An Educational and Adventurous Activity for Kids

Our two boys loved both the educational and adventure aspects of visiting the ancient Mayan ruins. They learned a lot about the history of Belize and the Mayan Indians. And, they were able to get out all their energy, running around, climbing up stairs and walls, and swinging from tree branches. Score!

How do you build education into your family vacations? What activities do you like to do that are both educational and fun when you travel as a family?

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An active part of the Mom It Forward team, Jyl primarily writes about parenting, social good, and all things travel related. In a past life, Jyl was an award-winning copywriter and designer of corporate training programs for Fortune 100 companies. Offline, Jyl is married to @TroyPattee; a mom to two teen boys and a beagle named #Hashtag; loves large amounts of cheese, dancing, and traveling; and lives in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Topping her bucket list is the goal to visit 50 countries by the time she's 50.


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