River Tour to Lamanai Mayan Ruins

Belize     Destinations, Unexpected Gems
Being a budget traveler, I don't normally care for organized tours. But even on this rainy day, the trip up the river to Lamanai was absolutely worth it.
We wanted to break up our bus journey when coming in from Mexico, so we decided to stop in Orange Walk town. Since the Lamanai ruins tour is "what you do" in Orange Walk, we signed up. Ricky (of Casa Ricky's - great budget place to stay!) booked the tour for us with Reyes & Sons for $45 US each, our first of many pricey tours in Belize.

The actual tour ended up being with another company because apparently the various tour companies get together and combine people on boats when it's slow, but booking through Reyes & Sons cost less than booking with, say, Lamanai River Tours whose tour boat we were on.
I'm not really even into birds but it got so exciting every time he slowed the boat because you knew he spotted something
We were picked up at our hotel and drove about 20 minutes to a nice hotel on the river where we waited until all 11 guests had arrived. We boarded our boat and off we went up the New River. The boat was not large but it did have a cover on it to somewhat shield you from sun and rain.
Our boat was the one in the back that you can't see but it was just like the red one in the front.
Our boat was the one in the back that you can't see but it was just like the red one in the front.
Our guide had a keen eye for wildlife on the river!
Our guide had a keen eye for wildlife on the river!
The combination of being out in nature and on the water, seeing all the birds and wildlife, and our great guide, Hilberto made the hour and a half we spent on the river on the way to the ruins just amazing. He was so into it and the amount of knowledge he had about every type of bird, reptile and mammal on the river was fascinating. I'm not really even into birds but it got so exciting every time he slowed the boat because you knew he spotted something at the river's edge and was taking us over to see it. We saw so many types of birds (from herons to kites to small owls), baby crocs, 2 1/2" proboscis bats(!!), and even the oldest and largest Mennonite community in Belize. "Everyone please look to your left, you will see a snake .......... cactus. A snake cactus." He was quite pleased with himself with that one.
One of a few baby crocodiles we saw. Yep, the biggies are in the river too!
One of a few baby crocodiles we saw. Yep, the biggies are in the river too!
We saw so many different kinds of migratory and native birds.
We saw so many different kinds of migratory and native birds.
During our entire trip I saw only a single piece of litter. Amazing!
In a torrential downpour, we pulled up to a barely-marked dock with a small sign saying "Welcome to Lamanai Archaeological Reserve". We had a few minutes for the restrooms and the modest museum that has artifacts dating all the way back to 600BC before our lunch under one of the large gazebos. Guess what? It was the typical meal (buffet style) of coconut rice & beans, chicken (land bird LOL), coleslaw, potato salad, fried plantains, and (rum-less?) rum punch. Easy to be vegetarian with this meal! It was really quite good though and supposedly made by our guide's assistant Lorenzo.

As we finished our meal, Hilberto gave us a wealth of information including the original habitation of this area and up to the most recent history just a couple of months earlier when a professor from the University of Utah discovered thousands more unearthed structures at Lamanai with the use of LiDAR technology!
Fortunately the tropical rain didn't stick around for long.
Fortunately the tropical rain didn't stick around for long.
Pulling up to the Lamanai Reserve dock.
Pulling up to the Lamanai Reserve dock.
Typical Belizean meal catered for our tour in the park.
Typical Belizean meal catered for our tour in the park.
We walked up the gravel paths amidst the largest palm fronds I have ever seen and the sound of dinosaurs (AKA howler monkeys) in the near distance. It was only a few minutes to walk in between each of the locations we were visiting. The rain kept it cool but we had to be a little careful on the slippery pyramid steps. With more passionate information given to us by Hilberto, we learned about each structure and even got to climb to the top of the largest pyramid. The High Temple "El Castillo" is the largest Pre-Classic structure in Belize. 108' tall and built in 100AD. There, there's your bit of history. ;)
That palm tree doesn't look too big until you see the person next to it!
That palm tree doesn't look too big until you see the person next to it!
Hilberto giving us the history of the El Castillo pyramid.
Hilberto giving us the history of the El Castillo pyramid.
A section of the front steps of the pyramid are closed so they built normal stairs in the back. The climb still requires quite a few of the steep narrow Mayan steps too though.
A section of the front steps of the pyramid are closed so they built normal stairs in the back. The climb still requires quite a few of the steep narrow Mayan steps too though.
It was pretty much a constant effort to make sure you weren't stepping on any ant mounds and also weren't standing under any monkeys (lest you get something awful thrown on you). I was the only one in our group wearing sport sandals and did get bit a few times by the ants. Socks would have helped and would have been super fashionable LOL. One girl had to throw off her tennis shoe and sock to get all the ants off after she stepped on some!

I really liked these ruins. With all the jungle, it was much more intimate than larger places like Chichen Itza or Caracol.
I made it to the top of the High Temple for a great view above the canopy. I have to admit, my legs were a little shaky after those steep steps.
I made it to the top of the High Temple for a great view above the canopy. I have to admit, my legs were a little shaky after those steep steps.
Then it was time for the obligatory visit to the cheesy gift shops selling the same Guatemalan crap you find everywhere, and back on our boat to head home. On the way back I realized just how many twists and turns this river took and how many forks there were for our guide to navigate! I also noticed just how CLEAN it all was. During our entire trip I saw only a single piece of litter. Amazing!

Got picked up to go back to our hotel by a woman with her small children. Turns out she used to live in a village on the river's edge but in 1990 the government relocated the village 15 minutes inland when they declared the area a reserve. We also learned that sometimes there are manatees in the New River! I just love manatees and would love to have seen one. :)

Even on this gloomy, rainy day, the tour was super cool. I rarely think that organized tours are "worth it" but this one I did.

Schedule: We got picked up at our hotel at 8:45am, we spent 1 1/2 hours on the river, an hour having lunch, 2 hours at the ruins, and about an hour back on the river. We were home by 4pm. We did go on a cruise ship day but we did not see too many other people. But our guide said they can get 500-1,000 people from the cruise ships so if you have a choice, try not to go on a Tues, Wed, or Thurs (at time of writing these are the cruise ship days).

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