Land of the Maya
Xunantunich: Lady of Stone
Ka-at Witz: "Supernatural Mountian"
One mile north of Benque Viejois and eight miles west of San Ignacio is Xunantunich (pronounced "shoo-nahn-too-nitch" or "shah-nahn-tuhn-itch") the longest established archaeological site in Belize. Even though the ancients’ name for the site, “Ka-at Witz,” or “Supernatural Mountain, was recently discovered on a stone carving, the site retains the official name of Xunantunich or “Lady of Stone”.
The site is accessed by crossing the Mopan River on the Succotz Ferry. The hand-cranked ferry shuttles you (and your vehicle, if you have one) across the river, after which you’ll have about a mile’s hike (or drive) up a hill to the site. The ferry operates 8 a.m.–3 p.m. daily and is free. Don’t miss the 4 p.m. return ferry with the park rangers, or you’ll be swimming.
This impressive site is well worth the visit and the climb. The view from the top is a majestic panorama of Peten District of Guatemala, the Maya Mountains, and a breathtaking view of the entire Cayo District of Belize.
Xunantunich is believed to have been built sometime around 400 BC and deserted around 1000 AD. At its peak, it is believed to have had a population of 7,000–10,000. The site consists of three ceremonial plazas enclosed by house mounds, pyramids, and palaces. The largest structure, "El Castillo" (The Castle), rises 135 feet above the plaza. It was considered the tallest manmade structure in all of Belize until the discovery of 136 foot "Canaa" at the Caracol site.
Xunantunich was essentially a ceremonial centre of the Classic era, with residential structures stretching a few miles into the surrounding savannah.