El Pilar is an ancient Maya city center on the Belize-Guatemala border. The site is located 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) north of San Ignacio. The name “El Pilar” is Spanish for “watering basin”, reflecting the abundance of streams around the site and below its escarpment, which is rare in the Maya area.
The monuments of El Pilar are at the center of a 5,000 acres (2,000 hectar) protected area known as El Pilar Archeological Reserve for Maya Flora and Fauna. El Pilar is the largest Maya site in the Belize River area with over 25 plazas and hundreds of other major buildings. At its height in the Late Classic period, El Pilar housed more than 20,000 people.
The El Pilar Archeological Reserve is open to the public and has a series of trails providing access throughout the site. There is an active initiative to make El Pilar of Belize and Guatemala the first archaeological peace park in the world. While El Pilar is protected in Belize and Guatemala and rangers are on site, it remains under threat by looters and was placed on the World Monument Fund’s 1996 list of 100 Most Endangered Sites in the World. Sheltered under the forest canopy after 1000 years of neglect, El Pilar and all the Maya monuments are maintained in the shade to preserve its Maya cultural heritage along with the forest gardens the Maya created.