Lubaantun resides on a ridge between two creeks in southern Belize. Lubaantun (“Place of the Fallen Stones”) consists of five layers of construction, unique from other sites because of the absence of engraved stelae. The site was first reported in 1875, by American Civil War refugees from the southern United States (who had fled here fearing vengeful Yankees), and first studied in 1915. It is believed that as many as 20,000 people lived in this trading center.
Lubaantun was built and occupied during the Late Classic Period (A.D. 730–890). Eleven major structures are grouped around five main plazas—in total the site has 18 plazas and three ball courts. The tallest structure rises 50 feet above the plaza, and from it you can see the Caribbean Sea, 20 miles distant. Lubaantun’s disparate architecture is completely different from Maya construction in other parts of Latin America.
Most of the structures are terraced, and you’ll notice that some corners are rounded—an uncommon feature throughout the Mundo Maya. Lubaantun has been studied and surveyed several times by Thomas Gann and, more recently, in 1970, by Norman Hammond. Distinctive clay whistle figurines (similar to those found in Mexico’s Isla Jaina) illustrate lifestyles and occupations of the era.
Other artifacts include the mysterious crystal skull, obsidian blades, grinding stones (much like those still used today to grind corn), beads, shells, turquoise, and shards of pottery. From all of this, archaeologists have determined that the city flourished until the 8th century A.D. It was a farming community that traded with the highland areas of today’s Guatemala, and the people worked the sea and maybe the cayes just offshore.
Lubaantun is open 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily. Entrance is US$10, payable at the visitors center located atop a hill a little more than a mile outside the village of San Pedro de Columbia. Ask the caretakers there about a guided tour, or just wander the ruins yourself and enjoy.
In March 2012, Tumul K’in Maya Day will highlight the work of Tumul K’in Learning Center (www.tumulkinbelize.org ), a nonprofit organization that promotes Maya values, knowledge, and philosophy. Also, look for a festival event here on December 21, 2012.
Lubaantun is about 26 miles from Punta Gorda . Drive to the Southern Highway, then follow signs toward the village of San Pedro de Columbia  and Lubaantun. Tour guides in Punta Gorda can also take you there. To reach the site by bus from Punta Gorda, take the San Miguel bus (departs 11 a.m. daily) and ask the driver to drop you at the entrance road to Lubaantun. It’s a 20-minute uphill walk from there.
For more travel information on things to see and do at Lubaantun and in the surrounding area, please visit the Cerro Maya section of our Moon Belize travel guide .