Lamanai (from Lama’anayin, “submerged crocodile” in Yucatec Maya) was once a considerably sized city of the Maya civilization, located in the north of Belize, in the Orange Walk District.
Lamanai was occupied as early as the 16th century BC. The site became a prominent centre in the Pre-Classic Period, from the 4th century BC through the 1st century CE. Lamanai continued to be occupied up to the 17th century AD. During the Spanish conquest of Yucatán Spanish friars established two Roman Catholic churches here, but a Maya revolt drove the Spanish out. The site was subsequently incorporated by the British in British Honduras.
The vast majority of the site remained unexcavated until the mid-1970s. Archaeological work has concentrated on the investigation and restoration of the larger structures, most notably the Mask Temple, Jaguar Temple, and High Temple. The summit of this latter structure affords a view across the surrounding jungle to a nearby lagoon, part of New River.
A significant portion of the Temple of the Jaguar Masks remains under grassy earth or is covered in dense jungle growth. Unexcavated, it would be significantly taller than the High Temple. In the jaguar temple there is a legend that you can find an ancient spear called the heart of the jaguar, even though the temple got its name from the jaguar masks on each side.
This is the Maya site most cruise ships do tours to. It is a spectacular site, with a wonderful half hour river boat cruise to it, during which you will see lots of wildlife, like Spider monkeys, huge Iguanas and tropical birds. The High Temple (pictured) is higher than it looks, with spectacular views from the top, but oh boy, those stairs are small and steep! An exciting challenge in itself.