๐Ÿด Horseback to Xunantunich: Firsthand Review & Tips

A blue sky with a partial view of ancient ruin with carvings on it.
๐Ÿ€ Lukiih’s Overall Rating6.2
๐Ÿฆ„ UniquenessAverage
๐Ÿ˜Š EnjoymentModerate
๐Ÿ’ฐ ValueExpensive
๐ŸŽ’ PreparationVery Minimal
Overall Rating is based on a weighted average of factors (learn more).

Xunantunich is one of Belizeโ€™sย most famous Maya ruins, and the most unique way to get there is by horseback.ย Here’s my honest review and firsthand tips.

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๐Ÿ€ Lukiih’s Overall Rating

6.2
I recommend horseback riding to Xunantunich โ€“ do it if you’re interested.

My overall rating is based on a weighted average of four factors travelers consider important when assessing an experience. I break down the factors in my review below.

Verdict

I recommend horseback riding to Xunantunich if you want to reach the ruin in a more unique way than by vehicle. The Maya ruin is known for El Castillo, the siteโ€™s primary and tallest structure, which offers a panoramic view of the surrounding area. 

Horseback riding is a leisurely way to get there as you pass through a local farm and the jungle, but the tour is relatively expensive.

Very minimal preparation is required, as you don’t need horseback riding experience. However, you need to book a riding guide in advance and wear appropriate clothes and shoes.

A woman jumping in front of a big Maya ruin made of stone with stairs.
Xunantunich

Planning a trip? Here’s what to know about Belize.

๐Ÿ† Where Does It Rank?

Horseback riding to Xunantunich ranks as my #4 thing to do in Belize. Here’s how it compares to other experiences on my trip:

#ExperienceLocationOverall Rating
1๐Ÿ”ฆ ATM CaveSan Ignacio8.5
2๐Ÿคฟ Hol Chan Marine Reserve SnorkelingAmbergris Caye7.5
3๐ŸฆŽ Green Iguana TourSan Ignacio6.4
4๐Ÿด Xunantunich Horseback RideSan Ignacio6.2
5๐Ÿ’ง Swimming DockAmbergris Caye6.1
6๐ŸŒŠ Caye Caulker Day TripCaye Caulker5.7
7๐Ÿ‘Ÿ Explore San PedroAmbergris Caye5.6
8๐ŸŒฎ The Truck StopAmbergris Caye5.5
9๐Ÿ–๏ธ Secret BeachAmbergris Caye5.0
Overall Rating is calculated using Lukiih’s rating system.

See myย Belize itineraryย featuring the experiences above.

โœˆ๏ธ About My Trip

For context on my review, here’s what to know about my trip:

  • ๐Ÿ€ย Self-fundedย โ€“ I finance my trips and don’t receive sponsorship, so this review reflects my honest opinions.
  • ๐Ÿ—“๏ธ 2022 โ€“ This post has updated 2024 information, but I visited Xunantunich in 2022.
  • โ˜€๏ธ Low season โ€“ My Belize trip was in July when it was less crowded and expensive.

๐Ÿฆ„ Uniqueness: Average

The Uniqueness Score is based on how rare and memorable an experience is.

Rarity: Uncommon

Horseback riding to Xunantunich is an uncommon experience, as there are only about 50 ruins where tourists can horseback ride to or near it worldwide.

๐Ÿ’Ž What Makes It Rare?

  • The ruin is an ancient Maya archaeological site considered a national treasure.
  • Reaching it by horseback through the Belizean jungle is a more unique way to get there than by vehicle.

See the different ways to get to Xunantunich below.

๐ŸŒ What Makes It Less Rare?

  • There are several ruins around the world where you can horseback ride to or around them. This includes Guetemala’s Tikal, Mexico’s Chichen Itza, Jordan’s Petra, Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, and Italy’s Pompeii.

Memorability: Moderate

The Xunantunich horseback ride tour is a somewhat memorable experience in Belize.

๐Ÿ“ธ What Makes It Memorable?

  • You can climb El Castillo, the ruin’s most famous structure, to get a scenic view of the lush rainforest and the Guatemalan border.
  • The horseback route passes through different scenery (e.g., jungle, farm, river), making the ride more interesting.
A woman holding her horse's reins while standing on a wooden floor.
Mopan River ferry

๐Ÿ’ค What Makes It Forgettable?

  • Xunantunich is not the most impressive Maya ruin. Caracol in Belize is the largest and Tikal in Guatemala is the most iconic.
  • Although diverse, the scenery you pass on horseback isn’t stunning or epic.

Without a knowledgeable guide providing context and history, the ruin can be underwhelming, as you may not appreciate the carvings and engineering as much.

๐Ÿ˜Š Enjoyment: Moderate

The Enjoyment Score is based on how much happiness and reward an experience provides.

Happiness: Moderate

I found riding a horse to Xunantunich decently fun and delightful.

๐Ÿ˜ƒ What Makes It Enjoyable?

  • While it’s not unsafe or challenging, climbing El Castillo is thrilling because there are no railings.
  • Riding a horse through different scenery is interesting because you have to adjust accordingly (e.g., when you’re in the jungle, you want to avoid branches; when you’re near the road, you want to maintain calm so the horse isn’t spooked by a vehicle).
A woman standing at the ledge of a structure overlooking a lush rainforest.
Top of El Castillo

๐Ÿ˜ฅ What Makes It Less Enjoyable?

  • El Castillo is the main notable structure; the other structures seem underwhelming.
  • The ruin is located in an open area with no shade, so a common complaint is that it can get sweltering and uncomfortable.

Reward: Low

Horseback riding to Xunantunich is not particularly rewarding.

๐ŸŒŸ What Makes It Rewarding?

  • Learning about the ruin’s history is educational.

๐Ÿคท๐Ÿปโ€โ™€๏ธ What Makes It Less Rewarding?

  • Compared to more impressive ruins in other parts of Central America and even Belize, Xunantunich’s history is not as enlightening.
A view from high-above looking down at a green, lush jungle with stone ruins in the open area.
Xunantunich view

๐Ÿ’ฐ Value: Expensive

The Value Score is determined by the price divided by the duration of an experience. All prices mentioned here are in USD.

Price: $100 PP

A riding guide with Xunantunich costs between $95 and $115. The tour lasts about five hours and includes transportation and the $5 entrance fee. At over $100 for a half-day tour, I consider this tour expensive.

Tipping is customary for tourists in Belize, so expect to add another $10 to the total.

I booked my tour with the highly-rated MayaWalk and paid $95 during the low season.

A woman riding and petting a horse.
Xunantunich horseback riding tour

Seeย my Belize trip expenses.

๐ŸŽ’ Preparation: Very Minimal

The Preparation Score is based on the required skills & fitness, transportation, and bookings & packing. The higher the score, the less preparation is needed.

Skills & Fitness: None

You don’t need any skills or fitness to do the horseback riding tour to Xunantunich. No prior experience is necessary, and walking up the 130-foot El Castillo is very doable for most visitors.

Transportation: Very Easy & Short

Pickup for Xunantunich is in the town of San Ignacio in the Cayo district.

  • ๐Ÿš™ Method โ€“ The journey to the ruin is straightforward. The guide will drive to a nearby horse farm to pair you with a horse.
  • โฐ Duration โ€“ The horse farm is less than 15 minutes away from San Ignacio.

Booking & Packing: Minimal

To ride a horse to Xunantunich, youโ€™ll need minimal booking and packing:

How To Guide & Tips

Interested in doing a horseback riding tour to Xunantunich after reading my review? Below is a practical how-to guide and firsthand tips.

How To Get There

There are five ways to get to Xunantunich from San Ignacio:

  • ๐Ÿš™ Rental car โ€“ You can rent a car and drive yourself without a guide. A mile before reaching the ruins, youโ€™ll need to cross the Mopan River by ferry, which takes about five minutes. Your car will be safe in a parking lot at the ruin’s entrance.

You donโ€™t need to pay the ferry operator since the Belize government pays them, but you can leave a small tip if you like.

  • ๐Ÿš• Taxi โ€“ You can call a taxi to the ruin. Shared taxis also usually wait around Xunantunich to take visitors back to San Ignacio.
  • ๐Ÿš Standard tour โ€“ Tour operators provide transportation to Xunantunich from San Ignacio. You can book these tours in advance or at the entrance of the ruins.
  • ๐Ÿด Horseback โ€“ As mentioned above, horseback riding is a unique way to get to the ruin.
  • ๐ŸšŒ Local bus โ€“ A local bus runs to Xunantunich hourly. The bus doesnโ€™t cross the ferry, so youโ€™ll have to walk a mile on a well-maintained trail to the ruin. This is the most affordable option, as the bus ride only costs $1 USD.

Top of guide โ†‘

What To Pack

Hereโ€™s a packing list for Xunantunich if you plan to get there by horseback:

  • Sunglasses โ€“ Most of the horse-riding routes do not have shade. Only one person in our tour group didnโ€™t bring sunglasses, and she regretted it.
  • Insect repellent โ€“ Youโ€™ll see mosquitos as you ride through the jungle.  Iโ€™m a mosquito magnet and find that this bug-repellent lotion works better than the spray alternatives.
  • Sunscreen โ€“ Due to the lack of shade, apply ample sunscreen. I brought my sweat-resistant sunscreen and had to reapply before the ride back.
  • Closed-toe shoes โ€“ Wear closed-toe shoes as your horse can walk close to a bush or tree trunk. These shoes should also have decent traction for climbing El Castillo’s uneven steps. I wore my running shoes and was fine in them.
  • Long pants (not shorts) โ€“ Wear comfortable long pants for protection in case your horse walks near a bush or tree trunk.
  • Athletic top โ€“ Wear something comfortable and breathable, as youโ€™ll sweat while riding in humid weather with little shade.
  • Water โ€“ The guide will provide some water, but I also carried my insulated water bottle, which kept my water cold for the entire ride.
  • Small daypack โ€“ Youโ€™ll need a small daypack to carry your items. I brought my mini bag, which had a handle that could easily be tied to the saddle.
  • Rain jacket or poncho โ€“ Belize is a tropical country, so rain can fall at any time of the year. I tied my light rain jacket around my waist and put it on briefly when it rained.
  • Cash โ€“ Bring some cash to tip your guide, as tipping is customary.
  • Toilet paper โ€“ The ruin is a popular attraction. When I visited during the low season, the bathrooms ran out of TP.

Xunantunichโ€™s visitor center will have bathroomswater, and local souvenirs for sale.

Top of guide โ†‘

Belize Trip Planner 2024

To make your travel preparation easier, download the trip planner below. It has destination-specific travel information, itinerary, map, and packing list.

My trip planners are built on Notion, which I use for all my travel planning. I genuinely love this tool and creating an account is free.

Three Notion template screenshots are shown: travel information, itinerary, and map + packing list templates.
Preview of Belize trip planner.

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