Video: Documentary Filmed in Belize at Lower Dover, Cahal Pech, and Caracol about Maya Equinox Celebration

Last September we went to the Maya city of Caracol for the Fall Equinox celebration that was being preformed by a Maya Itza Leader from Peten Guatemala. It was a very special event that we were extremely fortunate to witness and document on film. Hopefully the Belize Film Festival will accept the picture so we have an excuse to visit Belize City for the party.

The Maya leaders told us we must stay up all night if we were to experience the ritual the proper way.  Pretty plainly this was the most trying part of the trip because we were not planning on staying up, but camping and waking up before dawn for the fire ceremony. Special thanks to the park ranger Mike for sharing his coffee and making it possible.

Also we would like to thank John Chuc of Kin Winik Tours, Dr. Jamie Awe from Belize Archaeology, Maria Garcia from San Antonio Village, and especially the Marimba players from Succotz who got up at 3:30am to start jamming until the ceremony was finished after sunrise and the fire was out. Finally our condolences to the family and friends of Don Beto Cocom who was supposed to be there holding hands with us.

Outside of the trip to Caracol, the documentary contains some interviews with our family and a bit of archaeology talk about the possible correlation between Lower Dover and the Maya city of Cahal Pech located in San Ignacio.



Photo Tour from Western Belize – El Pilar Maya Monuments

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Known timeline at El Pilar:

1000 B.C. – First Established occupation across the Maya forest

700 B.C. (Early  Pre-Classic) – First public monuments established at El Pilar

  • First constructions at Xikna
  • Earliest occupation of Tzunu’un household
  • First occupation of Tikal – 30 miles west

250 B.C. (Pre-Classic) – Public monuments at  Tikal constructed

  • Plaza Copal designed and completed at El Pilar
  • Xikna expanded at El Pilar
  • Development of Plaza Axcanan at El Pilar
  • Major occupation of the El Pillar area

250 A.D. (Early Classic) – Tikal emerges as regional power center in Maya forest

  • Maintenance and stability at El Pilar
  • Construction at Plaza Jobo at El Pilar

600 A.D. (Late-Classic)

  • Major construction on Xikna at El Pilar
  • Tikal re-assumes regional power in Maya forest

800 A.D. (Terminal Classic)

  • 869 A.D. – Last dated construction at Tikal
  • Continued construction at El Pilar until 1000 A.D.

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One of the defining features of El Pilar is how the site blends the archaeological monuments of yesterday with the Maya forest of today. This philosophy is easily visible in the main plazas where you can walk beneath the canopy.

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Plaza Copal was established in a major phase of development during the Late Pre-Classic period (250 BC – 250 AD). This represents an incredible focus of work and effort, demonstrating the power and importance of El Pilar as a regional center.The buildings around the plaza were repeatedly remodeled over nearly 2 millenia and reached their final appearance in the Late Classic Maya period (600 – 900 AD)

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Plazas are an integral part of sites throughout Mesoamerica. These open, easily accessible plazas were important public areas, and served as ceremonial centers and meeting places. Other more enclosed plazas, such as Axcanan, represent exclusive areas within centers of power. Plazas have often been cleared to provide a full view of the monuments.

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The majestic temples of the Maya still rule over the forest, a thousand years after they were abandoned. Archaeological research has focused on these ceremonial centers, but where were the living places of the Maya populace? At El Pilar, there is an example of both the power elite and the domestic household. Maya temples were designed and built, they redesigned and rebuilt, over and over again in many phases of construction, creating layers, much like an onion. For example, Xikna was remodeled over 1700 years. Temples are grouped around plazas and usually face the cardinal directions: North, East, South, and West.

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Wooden staircase to Maya temple view

Although many of the monuments at El Pilar have been excavated, most of them remain covered by the forest. When archaeologists expose monuments at El Pilar, they use selective restoration  a method that requires less maintenance that complete reconstruction. All exposed monuments must endure the heat and moisture of the tropics, which deteriorate the limestone once it has been exposed. When the Maya inhabited the site, the monuments were plastered and maintained by a fleet of civil servants who would repair the stucco, paint the surfaces, and clean the grounds. Today, El Pilar must rely on the work of a few park rangers to care for all of the structures.

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Grave wall at Xikna – El Pilar

In 1983 before restoration a Maya milpa (or farm) existed in Plaza Copal, which was full of corn and clear of trees. Today stands 30 years of jungle rejuvenation.

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Plaza Copal at El Pilar

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Old School Railing design circa 1000 B.C. Maya

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Basket Tie-Tie Rope lashing securing the natural wood railings

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Don’t be another Maya sacrifice, watch your step down!

The trees of Plaza Copal range from 8-20 meters and provide an excellent habitat for the many diverse species of birds who live here. Furthermore  as you can feel, the shade provided by these trees makes El Pilar a cool respite in the hot, humid tropics. Encouraging the forest canopy at El Pilar makes the reserve more enjoyable for tourists and inviting for wildlife.

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Basket Tie Tie Maya designed bench – natural fibers straight from the jungle vine!

Approximately 800 meters to the west of Plaza Copal is the plaza complex of Pilar Poniente.The western area of El Pilar lies in what is now Guatemala. The two sides of El Pilar were joined by a causeway that runs almost due west and was plastered over in much in the same way of the plazas. The causeway is still visible but covered by thick jungle and and unguarded border crossing!

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Wildlife Photos of El Pilar – Lizard on a tree

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Orchids in the Canopy

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Young Strangler Fig Tree / Vine

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Looters Trench in Maya Monument

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Looters trench and tree vines – El Pilar

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Sotzna Tunnel – El Pilar Archaeological Reserve

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Enterance to Maya tunnel at El Pilar Maya Settlement in Cayo District, Belize

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Stepping inside a dark Maya tunnel without a torch!

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Excavated and reconstructed Maya tunnel between temples

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Plaza Jobo – El Pilar Maya Tour in Western Belize

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Royal Residence – El Pilar Maya Site

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Reconstructed Maya limestone wall

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Arched doorway unique to Maya elite residence

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Stone bench inside Maya elite room

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View from the top of Kin structure, looking down into elite structure

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Arched doorway from inside the Maya room


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Kin Maya Temple – El Pilar, Belize

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Lookout view of Guatemala from Kin Structure at El Pilar Belize Maya Monument

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Birds Without Borders Birding hike at El Pilar, Belize

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Maya tour signs are available for self-guided tours

The Maya houses were grouped around plazas or patios where daytime events took place.  Each structure faced onto the patio, was built to suit specific needs of the family, and serve domestic purposes. The family compound had an eastern shrine that served their local spiritual needs. The large southern building was suited for receptions. The northern spacious structure would be comfortable for privacy, relaxation, and sleeping. Other buildings are imagined to be fore other household needs like kitchen and storage.

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Tzunu’un Maya thatch house with choune tree leaf and tie tie rope


Tzunu’un Maya stone house structure at El Pilar


The Maya Forest Garden at El Pilar

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Diagram of the Maya Forest Garden Polyculture Theory by Dr. Anabel Ford

The Maya lived on the same land for thousands of years supporting a population far greater than current density. The Maya Garden at El Pilar demonstrates how the ancient Maya may have worked the land.

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Maya Garden Flower

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Maya tree identification signs

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Maya tree in the forest garden – “Pacaya”

For more information on El Pilar and the archaeology seen there visit the BRASS website.






Cheap Vacation in Belize – AdventureTravel by Bus from Caye Caulker to Western Belize

Belize Local Bus to Belize City

Belize Local Bus to Belize City

For tourists looking to travel affordable in Central America, Belize is often surprisingly expensive. Occasionally there are vacation deals from Canada or the U.S. offered through Delta, United, or American Airlines into Belize City International Airport. Most often European travelers will find Cancun to be the cheapest and most direct option. The “Mundo Maya” travel route also helps to avoid visa conflicts with America. Regional airfare is quite expensive to Belize. Connections from Flores, Guatemala (Tropic Air) and San Salvador, El Salvador (Taca) often run in the hundreds of dollars.

Tropic Air in Belize

Tropic Air in Belize

Therefore if you plan on a cheap tropical vacation, its best to first try flying into Cancun. Also, Chetumal on the Mexico/Belize border, has airport that occasionally runs airfare deals from Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Montreal, and Ottawa, Canada. From Cancun, Playa, and Tulum, Mexico it is possible to travel to Belize City directly by overnight bus.

ADO Ticket Stand at Cancun Airport

ADO Ticket Stand at Cancun Airport

The ADO bus service from downtown Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum has become very popular and occasionally sells out. It is possible to travel to Chetumal regularly from Playa or Cancun if you do not catch the late night bus (10pm Cancun first stop). Buy your overnight bus ticket at the Cancun airport up to 3 days in advance to secure your seat. ADO does not offer refunds on tickets for missed buses so make sure you plan enough time to board.

ADO Bus from Cancun Terminal direct to Belize City

ADO Bus from Cancun Terminal direct to Belize City

We have a story bout the overnight ADO bus ride to Belize City from Cancun here.

Cancun Bus Terminal

Cancun Bus Terminal

If you are traveling straight to the Belizean cayes from Mexico it is possible to connect to a water taxi from Chetumal. Here is a link to how this is done. It is also possible to by pass mainland Belize entirely by catching the San Juan or The Línea Dorada / Mundo Maya bus from the Swing bridge water taxi terminal in Belize City. This bus goes right to Flores, but then you end up missing the wild nature of Western Belize. NOT SUGGESTED !

Baby toucan at Lower Dover Belize Jungle Hostel

Baby toucan at Lower Dover Belize Jungle Hostel

Wild Tapir at Lower Dover!

Wild Tapir at Lower Dover Belize Jungle Lodge in Little Barton Creek!

It is really a shame many tourists only see San Pedro or Caye Caulker when visiting Belize. The country has much to offer beyond the constant party on the cayes. There is something for everyone, and taking public transportation is easy enough in Belize.

Bus back to Belize from the Benque Border Crossing in Belize.

Bus back to Belize from the Benque Border Crossing in Belize.

Renting a car makes sense 75% of the time if traveling to Belize on a family vacation. Remember that Crystal Auto Rentals at the Belize International Airport is the only company that will rent a car traveling across the western border into Guatemala to visit Tikal.

Crystal Auto Rental- Belize

Crystal Auto Rental- Belize

Backpacking is easy in Belize because of the public transportation, but also because many pickup trucks make hitchhiking possible, especially if traveling alone or with one other person. It is not uncommon to see locals standing at speed bumps hoping to catch a ride before they pay the already cheap bus fare. Rides from Belize City to Belmopan on the express bus (to Dangriga, Belmopan, or Benque) cost $5BZE per person and take about an hour. Express service to Belmopan happens at least every hour, often every half hour or even less during the early morning “rush” hour.

Road map of Belize

Road map of Belize

Once in Belmopan it is possible to find multiple banks with international ATM machines. It is also possible to eat cheap and good local Belizean food at the market. The market happens on Friday and is worth visiting if traveling through. Internet cafes and photo services are all readily available, along with passport services at many countries foreign embassies.

Belize immigration is located on the road immediately across from the Department of Archaeology if you are trying to extend your tourist visa for another 30 days. The cost for a visa extension is $50BZE for the first 6 months and $100 BZE after, should you decide to stay!

Lower Dover is Located only 1/2 Mile from Mile 59 on the Western Highway

Lower Dover is Located only 1/2 Mile from Mile 59 on the Western Highway

When looking for a place to stay, Lower Dover Field Station and Jungle Lodge in Unitedville offers affordable private cabanas and hostel bunks on 100 acres of jungle, farm, and unexcavated Maya monuments. It is possible to reach us by local bus because we are only a 5 minute walk to the highway. Make sure you are not on an express bus to Benque and let the bus porter know you want to get off at Lower Dover sign in Unitedville.


Guests looking to experience the top tour in western Belize, ATM Cave, would be advised to stay at Lower Dover because tours depart a full hour later from here than many lodges near San Ignacio, the drop off is also an hour earlier…less time in the tour van and more time in the jungle.

Mayan Skull in ATM Cave - Cayo, District - Belize

Mayan Skull in ATM Cave – Cayo, District – Belize


Swimming into ATM CAVE Belize Adventure

Swimming into ATM CAVE Belize Adventure

ATM Cave Entrance in Western Belize

ATM Cave Entrance in Western Belize

Guests looking to just relax and enjoy nature will enjoy our multiple hiking trails linking the Maya ruins to the Belize River and our medicinal plant loop.  Every paid guest to Lower Dover gets a free 2 hour guided tour of the plants and known Maya history at the site and surrounding area.  Bring your camera because you never know what you will see! Or sit back on a hammock with a Belikin and let the birds come to you!

Iguana seen hiking on jungle trails at Lower Dover Jungle Lodge

Iguana seen hiking on jungle trails at Lower Dover Jungle Lodge


Jungle pictures from Belize nature hike - Christy Brinnehl

Jungle pictures from Belize nature hike – Christy Brinnehl


Male and Female Collared Aracari

Male and Female Collared Aracari on Papaya at Lower Dover Belize Jungle Lodge


Taste Of Belize BBQ & Food Festival 2012

2012 Taste of Belize

2012 Taste of Belize

On December 2, 2012 Belize officially opened a new Welcome and Town Center in San Ignacio, Western Belize. It is easily accessible by public transportation and only 9 miles from Lower Dover.

Belize BBQ Competition

Belize BBQ Competition

The Belize Tourist Board ushered in the new center with the Taste of Belize BBQ & Food Festival. Early in the day there was a BBQ competition where locals showed off their grilling skills. There was live music in the amphitheater, and plenty of Belizean food to sample.

2012 Belize BBQ competition.

2012 Belize BBQ competition.

Belize BBQ Compeition

Belize BBQ Competition

The Sun was shining, and smiles were aplenty. It was a great way to kick off the new welcome center, and everyone is looking forward to the next event.

San Ignacio Welcome Center

San Ignacio Welcome Center

Local Band playing in the new Amphitheater.

Local band playing in the new amphitheater.

Cooling off at the Belikin Beer Tent.

Cooling off at the Belikin Beer Tent.

Cayo Welcome Center in San Ignacio Belize

Cayo Welcome Center in San Ignacio Belize

Belizean Rum

There was no shortage of Belizean Rum

The party continued into the night where DJ's entertained the crowd.

 DJ’s entertained the crowd into the night.

Bamboo Bar and Thai Restaurant.

Bamboo Bar and Thai Restaurant.

There was plenty of local Belizean cuisine, including Stew Chicken, Rice and Beans, and lots of delicious BBQ. It was a nice to see a good diversity of food, we even found Thai Food! Pictured above is the Bamboo Bar and Thai Restaurant, which is located in the new town center. It is the only Thai Restaurant in Belize and the most authentic we’ve tried outside of Thailand.






Nohoch Che’en Cave Tubing Adventure Photos of Belize

Getting our tubes ready for the cave

Cave tubing is a very popular day trip for Belize cruise ship passengers. For guests of Lower Dover Belize Jungle Lodge wanting to go cave tubing, the trip is best if you miss this midday gringo herd. Early morning or late afternoon trips are best. Don’t worry about getting a guide at the highway, ask for Deion at the park entrance 7 miles in. He will give you a great tour for $35 USD each. It’s not possible to do this trip by bus so guests must have a taxi lined up or provide their own transportation. We recommend guests of Lower Dover to stop at the Belize Zoo or Cave Tubing on the way to our jungle lodge form the airport if they are being picked up by taxi.

Caves Branch River Cave Tubing Cruise Ship "cattle pen"

It is a 30 minute scenic jungle hike to the cave entrance, requiring walking up steps and carrying your tube. Guests with physical limitations should be cautioned. Although this is a much easier trip physically than ATM Cave, it’s still fun, especially for a family with kids. However, there are better adventures in Belize for thrill seekers, so plan accordingly based on budget, time, and desire. Also, zip line tours are optional here, but it is not worth it. We have better options locally at Calico Jack’s if you are interested.

Nohoch Che'en NICH Belize Reserve Entrance Sign

Even after agreeing with a guide for $35 USD, a $5 USD park entrance fee is still necessary.

One of the limestone outcroppings along the walk to the cave

The river you cross on the jungle hike is also the one cave tubed.

The river you cross on the jungle hike is also the one cave tubed.

It's about a 30 minute, slightly difficult, jungle hike to reach the cave.

Along the way you will see some dry caves

Another dry cave on the cave tubing hike, headlamps provided.

River entrance to cave tubing adventure in Belize

Cave entrance - cave tubing day tour in Belize

Looking back at the last bit of natural light when entering the cave adventure

Dad's tube sizes available. (Dad - Fat abbreviation)

The lights provided are not great, but they still give off enough light to avoid crashing into walls

There is an awesome cave waterfall that provides a nice photo opportunity

Cave waterfall at alternative cave exploring entrance - Belize day tours

People ask, won't your camera get wet?? Well not with Deion safely guiding our cave tubing trip!

Leaving the waterfall while cave tubing in Belize

Only about 30 minutes total in the cave until you exit! It goes by quick!

If you are not on a cruise ship there is time to relax as you continue floating down the river.

Leaving the cave while tubing in Belize

A rough 7 mile trip to the western highway awaits your trip back to Lower Dover Belize Jungle Lodge