Mayan Culture

Mayan Civilization and Culture

Great Mayan civilizations and more modest settlements ranged from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula in the north to Honduras in the south.

Mayan peoples were not ethnically homogeneous, but rather loosely related communities that were often defined by differences in ancestry, language dialects and geography. Mayan cities both cooperated and competed with one another.

Mayan Religion, Government and Society

Mayan faith and religion played a central role in organizing politics and culture in Mayan civilization. The king, or high lord, and royal family occupied the top rung of a strict political hierarchy, followed by an elite tier of priests, warriors and scribes.

Mayan Calender

Still used today in some places, the ancient Mayan system of time measurement is actually three calendars in one. The first calendar, known as the Tzolkin, refers to a period of 260 days likely based on the nine month birth period. The second calendar, called the Haab, is a solar year of 365 days. Together, the Tzolkin and Haab form the third calendar known as the Calendar Round, referring to a period of 52 solar years.


Belize includes Altun Ha, Cahal Pech and Caracol near San Ignacio, and Lamanai. Altun Ha, Caracol, Cerros, Cuello and Lamanai are all among the earliest known Mayan sites and cities.


Lamanai was a long-running, significant Mayan civilization located in northern Belize Orange Walk District. Occupied as early as the 16th century BC, the Mayans continued to inhabit Lamanai all the way to the 17th century AD.


Caracol is the largest Mayan site and ruins in Belize. Located about 25 miles south of San Ignacio in the foothills of the Maya Mountain.

Altun Ha

Altun Ha refers to the ruins of an ancient Mayan city located about 30 miles (50 km) north of Belize City. Mayan peoples first occupied Altun Ha around 200 BC, with the majority of construction occurring from 200 to 900 AD.