Lamanai is one of the largest Mayan sites in Belize and one of Latin America’s longest continually inhabited cities. The site was occupied for over 2,500 years, from the Classic period until the 1700s. At its height, the ancient Maya city was home to around 35,000 people. The ancient city’s name was first recorded in the 1500s by Spanish missionaries and means “submerged crocodile” in the local Mayan language.
As of 2023, Lamanai is home to some of the few Mayan temples you can still climb by foot. From the top of Jaguar Temple, you can gaze out on the dense jungle while standing in the same spot where Mayan priests and rulers stood thousands of years ago. After climbing the temple, you can walk through the remnants of the ancient city of Lamanai and discover more structures and temples uncovered by archaeologists, visit Lamanai’s archaeological museum, spot howler monkeys, and eat lunch by the idyllic New River Lagoon.
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Visiting the Lamanai Archaeological Reserve
The Lamanai Archeological Reserve is a Mesoamerican archeological site that is partially excavated with several large temples still standing. As you walk through the rugged jungle and climb ancient pyramids, you get a glimpse into Belize’s Mayan past.
Where is Lamanai?
Lamanai is located in the northern part of Belize, in Central America. The Lamanai Mayan ruins are along the western shore of the New River Lagoon, which is in the Orange Walk District. Lamanai is two hours away from Belize City (but challenging to reach by car), one hour from Orange Walk, and just over two hours from the Belize/Mexico border crossing at Chetumal. Regardless of where you stay, I recommend reserving some time in your Belize itinerary for a boat tour to Lamanai.
How do you get to Lamanai?
Driving to Lamanai vs. Taking a Boat Tour
You can drive to Lamanai, but it’s not recommended. The road is rough, bumpy, and unsuitable for a regular rental car. For a more comfortable (and scenic) trip to Lamanai, take a boat tour to Lamanai along the New River.
When I visited Lamanai, I went with some family members who live in Belize. They’d driven to Lamanai in the past and didn’t want to do it again. So we opted for a tour that took us along the river directly to the Lamanai archaeological site. Boat tours are more expensive than driving, but you can see birds and other wildlife along the way.
Best Lamanai Ruins Tours
Lamanai tour from Belize City
I recommend this highly rated tour that leaves from Belize City. It includes hotel pickup, a river cruise to the ruins, a guide through Lamanai, and a delicious Belizean lunch.
Lamanai tour from Orange Walk
You can also get a tour from Orange Walk (closer to the ruins) instead of Belize City, but none of the local tour companies have online booking. Instead, you will need to call a local tour company to make a reservation ahead of time. Contact Lamanai Belize Tours via WhatsApp call: +011-501-630-5170.
Sights to see in Lamanai
Lamanai’s Jaguar Temple is a 97-foot tall temple decorated with structures resembling the face of a jaguar. You can climb to the top of Jaguar Temple and gaze out over the lush jungle.
The High Temple is a 109-foot tall temple that likely dates back to the 5th century CE. As of 2023, you can no longer climb to the top of High Temple, but you can climb up Jaguar Temple.
Mask Temple is another interesting Mayan temple at Lamanai. The temple’s base is adorned with several faces, including the face of a man who wears a crocodile mask.
In front of the High Temple, you can visit a Mayan ball court. This ball court is significant because underneath the structure archaeologists discovered a vessel filled with liquid mercury and jewels.
Lamanai has a population of rowdy howler monkeys that you can observe throughout your visit.
Lamanai has a small archeology museum with several artifacts from Lamanai.
Boat tour to Lamanai along Belize’s New River.
What to expect on a cruise down the New River
The boat ride down Belize’s New River is one of the best parts of touring Lamanai.
During the one-hour cruise, your guide will help you spot colorful birds and other wildlife and identify tropical plants along the river’s shore. If you’re lucky, you might spot a crocodile sunbathing.
You’ll pass by Shipyard, a traditional Mennonite community. During my tour, we met Mennonite families floating in small boats along the river near Shipyard. As you near Lamanai, the river will open into the New River Lagoon.
Air plants hanging off a tree, spotted along the New River on a Lamanai river tour.
What to pack for your trip to Lamanai
Bug spray: You’ll likely encounter many mosquitos and other bugs while walking through the jungle at Lamanai. Bring some bug spray to avoid being bit.
Bug itch relief cream: Even after applying bug spray, I still got several itchy bites at Lamanai. Bring an itch relief cream if you tend to be bit by bugs (like me). I always carry this organic itch relief balm with me when traveling.
Sunscreen: Bring sunscreen, of course. If you also plan to swim in the ocean in Belize, I recommend bringing reef-safe sunscreen.
Sunglasses: My favorite cute, quality, affordable sunglasses are SOJOS sunglasses.
Hat: Protect your face (and eyes) from the strong Belizean sun with a good sunhat while exploring Lamanai.
Snacks: Even if your tour includes lunch, it’s good to bring snacks. I always bring Larabars to snack on in the airport and on tours when I travel.
Water: There is no drinking water available at Lamanai, so I recommend bringing plenty of water with you.
Is Lamanai worth visiting?
Lamanai is one of the most significant places in Belize for Mayan history, and a wonderful area to spot wild animals—hello howler monkeys! Although it’s difficult to access by road, a river cruise to Lamanai is a delightful way to immerse in nature and see a completely different side of Belize. If you’re interested in learning about the Mayan world and encountering wildlife, Lamanai is definitely worth a visit.
Essential Travel Resources
Have a trip coming up soon? There are a lot of travel companies out there, but some are better than others. After traveling to dozens of countries and living abroad on several continents, here are some of my favorite websites and resources for planning unforgettable trips.