The Maya civilization flourished from 2000 B.C. to about 900 A.D. During the classic period from 250 to 900 A.D., the Maya built impressive temples, created beautiful art from stone and jade, made astonishing discoveries in mathematics and astronomy, and devised the most sophisticated writing system in the Western Hemisphere.
They also established a 1500-mile-long trade route running the length of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, and continuing through Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador.
Speculation varies on what led to the eventual decline of this great civilization, but at the height of Maya civilization the population of what is now Belize may have reached one million - four times what it is today. Although their population is greatly reduced, the Maya continue to live in Belize, still speaking Mayan dialects, and practicing traditional, ancient crafts and healing techniques.
Regarded as the heartland of the Maya civilisation, Belize contains a number of significant Maya archaeological sites, ancient cities, temples and sacred cave complexes. The lovely ceremonial centre ofXunantunich, with its impressive stone pyramid and stunning views of Belize and Guatemala reveals the beauty of Maya architecture, while Carcol, a sprawling city covering some 55 sq mi, gives a first-hand feel for the sheer size of ancient Maya cities. And the majestic temples of Tikal dramatically rising out of dense jungle have enthralled visitors since they were first discovered.
Xunantunich or Maiden of the Rock is situated on the Western Highway across the river from the village of San Jose Succotz. This major ceremonial center can be reached by ferry daily and it is only 1.5 Kilometer (one mile) from some lovely rapids of the Mopan River.
Located deep within the Chiquibul Forest Reserve, Caracol is the largest known Maya site in Belize and one of the biggest in the Maya world.
Today, Tikal is an UNESCO world heritage area and national park, with 222 sq mi (576 sq km) area of unspoiled natural beauty and home to many exotic animals, including tapir, jaguar, crocodile, cougars, monkeys, coati mundi and other species as well as a colourful assortment of birds.