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At the Falling Leaves Lodge in Belize, a Portal to the Maya World

belize hotel mayan world

Cahal Pech in Belize.

SAN IGNACIO — There has been some form of settlement on this site for more than 3,000 years, here on a leafy hill above the town of San Ignacio, Belize. In other words, this is no ordinary hill.

This is Cahal Pech, a stunning, imposing collection of pyramid and mound structures that form one of the oldest Maya sites in all of Belize. 

A trip to Cahal Pech is an expedition deep into the history of Belize, where you can survey different epochs of Maya construction (beginning in about 600 BC) and start to feel the gravity of the Maya footprint in the country. 

cahal peche
Settlement at Cahal Pech dates back three millennia. The Mayan history here begins in the middle of the first millennium BC.

Walking on timeless rocks and pottery fragments, you can begin to appreciate just how lasting and vast this empire truly was. 

But part of what makes Cahal Pech unique is what you find right next door: the Falling Leaves Lodge, a 15-room eco-hotel that offers a wonderfully intimate way to experience Cahal Pech and greater San Ignacio. 

Nowhere else in the country, or, for that matter, most of the Maya world, can you actually stay right in the heart of an archaeological site like this. 

“We’re right up next to it,” says Falling Leaves’ Paula Ferguson, stepping on shards of river rock and pointing to Cahal Pech, whose sprawling 22 acres come right to the hotel’s outer wall. 

Then she points to the Honeymoon Cabana. 

“There is a mound under that,” she says. Just past the cabana, you can see the pyramidal shape of a second ancient Maya structure just behind it. 

The Obsidian restaurant.

Because here at Falling Leaves, you’re not even next Cahal Pech — you’re a part of it, immersed in and surrounded by these ancient stones. 

“There’s a feel,” Paula says. And she’s right — by day or, when the sounds of San Ignacio dim and the forest’s orchestra starts playing, you can’t help but feel it. 

Inside a bungalow.

The hotel is a mix of rooms and bungalows (a pool is on the way later this year), deep under the canopy of daunting trees, teeming with flora and fauna. Walk up the path to reception and you just may see an agouti scampering by.

Falling Leaves is also the perfect jumping-off point for exploring the many layers of San Ignacio, a lovable small town about two hours from Belize City that’s the initial gateway to many of Belize’s most sought-after attractions, from historical sites to waterfalls and rushing rivers. 

It is an authentic hotel: what you’ll get here is an experience that is local and loyal, exceptionally well-run and friendly, including an on-site restaurant called Obsidian that serves up outstanding Maya dishes like snapper cooked in a banana leaf. 

At dinner, you find another special sight: the lovely, black-and-yellow-twinkled view of San Ignacio by starlight.

But you quickly realize that here, you rarely need to look beyond the hotel’s walls.

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