Although Belize is home to more ancient Maya ruins than anywhere else, the site of Lamanai is truly special. Unlike other colossal cities that were abandoned for unknown reasons around the year 900 A.D., Lamanai was continuously inhabited right through the early part of the European colonial period.
Because the ancient Maya in Lamanai survived first contact with Europeans, the city is one of the few places where the original name for the site is known. Originally, Spanish monks had identified the site as Lamayin, which means “submerged insect,” but archeologists can now read the Maya script and know that the true name is Lamanai, which means “submerged crocodile.” Calling the city “submerged crocodile” is apt because of the large number of crocodile images and figurines found at the site.
With a core district of 12 square miles, Lamanai is one of the largest cities ever built by the ancient Maya. Today, only a fraction of the site has been excavated, but visitors can explore more than 100 different buildings. Lamanai is home to 12 major buildings, including the High Temple and the Temple of the Jaguar Masks. There is also a large ball court in the center of the city that was home to the religious ritual/sporting event central to ancient Maya culture.
The way that Lamanai was built is also a lot different than other cities from the same era. Unlike a typical Maya city which was built around a central square, Lamanai has its principal buildings arranged along the banks of the river and lagoon with residential buildings placed farther inland.
Another unique aspect of Lamanai is that the site is also home to ruins of colonial-era buildings, including a British-built sugar mill and two Catholic churches. The Spanish built two churches on top of existing Maya temples in the 17th century, but the churches were burned down by Maya rebels. Archeologists now believe that Lamanai survived the civilizational collapse in 900 A.D. because the city specialized in metalworking, particularly copper. Several thousand copper artifacts, instruments, tools, and pieces of jewelry have been found at the site.
If you’d like to visit Lamanai, book your tour with the Belize Boutique Resort and Spa. Located in a pristine and charming, 1000-acre property in the heart of the jungle, this Belize Resort is also a great setting for guests wanting a wedding celebration in an authentic ancient Maya location.