Belize’s Altun Ha through Shore Excursion Group


The Temple of the Green Tomb


A strangler fig taking over a palm tree

As was the case in Roatan, I booked my shore excursion for Belize City through the Shore Excursion Group, which offers the 100% satisfaction guarantee and a return to ship guarantee.  We had six ladies from our group on this excursion plus several others from the ship who were not in our group.   This tour was on a full size coach, with about 40 people in our total tour group.

The instructions for disembarkation stated that because of the long tendering time for the cruise ships into the port of Belize City, we should make absolutely sure that we were on one of the first tenders.   As it turned out this was no big deal.   We met at 8:00 in the centreum area of the ship, and they were filling up one of first tenders.  We got on and joined some people who had been sitting on the tender for about 20 minutes waiting for it fill, and then we headed for the port tender area.   There is a large reef surrounding Belize and only one channel for large ships.   The cruise ship must tender into the port, utilizing the large tender boats provided by the port.    There was a Celebrity ship, a Carnival ship and a Norwegian ship in the port at the same time.   Because the reef, the ships must anchor quite a ways off shore,  about a 20 minute boat ride from the actual port itself.


Faces uncovered in the one the older layers of a temple

Once we arrived a the port area there was a representative from the tour company looking for people holding the reservation tickets from his company.   He spotted us before we spotted him, and then he lead us to their kiosk inside the port building.  We were check in with the company and had wrist bands by 8:30 or 8:45, but the tour did not officially start until 9:30.   This gave us plenty of time to shop in the port area gift and souvenir shop, use the rest room, and relax before getting in out bus.   The actual arrival of the bus was a bit delayed  because  of the number of ships in port.   We didn’t actually board the bus until about 9:45.   However once on the tour bus we had no more delays.  Belize is an English speaking country, so once we got used to the local accent we had no trouble communicating with our guides and the local people at the archeology site.  Our guide even pointed out the local call center located just outside Belize City and did his imitation of an American accent that the employees there are encouraged to use.   Along the way he pointed out schools and stadiums and other local landmarks.


One of the corbeled arches common in Mayan architecture


Jester’s face on the Temple of the Masonry Alters


Suzanne in front of the Temple of the Green Tomb

The bus took us briefly through the town of Belize City and then we headed out of town on a paved highway towards the archeological site.   We had one tour guide who was an expert on the city who narrated that portion of the tour, and then as we turned off the highway on to the dirt road to the archeological site, another guide with more of an expertise in Mayan Culture.   The site we were headed towards reached it peak during he Classical Mayan period from about 400-900 A.D.  The ruling class had great knowledge of math and astronomy and they utilized this knowledge to manipulate the underclass.   They explained  Mayan society was divided in to three classes, the small ruling/educated class which consisted of priests and royalty, a small merchant class, and then large the slave class. The guides also told us that at this site they have found no evidence of human sacrifice.    They explained that human sacrifice may never have taken place here because of the city may have already declined or been abandoned by the time of the long drought during which the elite ruling class escalated the type of sacrificing from burnt offerings of food, to animals, and then to humans.   They also explained to us that the Mayans did not really vanish, but that the under class which was extremely oppressed by the ruling class most likely abandoned the serfdom for a simpler way of life as hunters and gathers.   The arrival of the Spanish and their European diseases may have accelerated this change in lifestyle.   It was just simpler to live as hunters and gatherers than as slaves to the very small elite ruling class.   The descendents of those Mayans still live in the Yucatan today.



As long as it is not slick from rain, guest can climb the Temple of the Masonry Alters



The tourists’ way up


We enjoyed the view from the top

Upon arrival at the site we had a rest stop at the clean facilities, and then  met with our tour guide to see the archeological site.   Our guide was self taught but very knowledgeable about Mayan culture.   He shared with us a brief history of the site and pointed out points of interest on a map and then took us around to see the different Pyramids and tombs.  He also shared with us information about the local trees and folk medicines that come from the plants, much like out guide in Honduras did on our Eco Walk.   After our tour of the grounds, we then got to divide up into climber and non-climbers.   The climbers were permitted to climb what I believe is known as  the Temple of the Masonry Alters.  From the top this this structure we could see the temples we had walked by earlier in our walk know as the Temple of the Green Tomb.  These two structures have been excavated and restored.  Several other structures are only partially  excavated with the trees having been cleared but they still remained covered in dirt and the stones not re-put in place.   The two restored structures were very impressive and speak the the vast amounts of labor and sacrifice that must have been required to build these enormous structures which were built with out the use of metal tools or the wheel.

After our tour we had time to use the restrooms again and purchase a snack.   Most of the folks in our group got the local snack of fried plantains, but I wanted to try the beans and rice served at the local kiosk.    I got a delicious to go box and a real coke made with  cane sugar not corn syrup.  It was a refreshing and tasty snack.   As we headed back to the cruise port this was the one time I got a little nervous about booking a tour from a company that was not the cruise line.   We had about an hour’s ride to get back to the port and that would put us in about 1 hour before the last tender.   I had some concern that if our bus had any kind of issue, it would have taken an hour to get a bus to us and an hour for us to get back to the port, which may have put us in too late.  However, the bus had no problems, our driver was very careful and we made it back to the ship with over an hour and 15 minutes to spare before the last tender.   We tipped out tour guides and thanked them for providing us with a wonderful and informative experience.  I would highly recommend this tours for those who want and interesting and informative archeological experience.


Another look at the Temple of the Green Tomb