El Pilar

Mayan Archeological Site in Cayo District, Belize

Departure: Anytime from 8:00 - 9:00am
Drive time: 45 minutes each way

Located outside of the village of Bullet Tree a few miles from San Ignacio Town, El Pilar is not a ruin for the average visitor, as the site is not very well excavated, focusing rather on the vegetative areas that would have served the Maya. For Birding though, El Pilar is a must see attraction for birders visiting Cayo.

El Pilar trail to South Group

Gateway to Guatemala

Since El Pilar has not yet been extensively excavated, its historical context is still in question, but there are some initial indicators. On the basis of size alone, the site was unquestionably an important one. At least 15 courtyards or plaza groups cover an area of 20 hectares (50 acres). The centre of Pilar consists of temples, palaces and elite structures, the tallest structure standing 70ft above the Plaza. At least one ball court has already been located.

One of the more interesting features of the site is a 3 to 5ft wall, which runs westward from the site and into Guatemala. It is not yet known what the purpose of this wall was, nor has the end of it yet been found. It's interesting to note that the largest lowland Maya site, Tikal, lies just 32 miles west of El Pilar in Guatemala.

Birds without Borders
partial excavation
partial excavation
Birders at El Pilar

Research has revealed that construction at El Pilar began in the Middle Pre classic (450 B.C.) and continued with major remodeling completed in the Terminal Classic (1000 A.D.). This long sequence spans more than 15 centuries and testifies to a continuous and methodical development in the area.

Significant structures open to the public include: An underground corbeled tunnel and a standing temple and some examples of elite architecture. There are also picnic facilities in the center of the site as well as beautiful photographic vistas of both Guatemala and Belize. Several rest stops have been constructed along the trails and the reserve also has bathroom facilities. One of the longer trails (1½ miles) ends at a small waterfall with pools, which make a refreshing stop.

The area has carried the name of El Pilar for a long while and while the origin of this name is obscure, the numerous natural sources of water speak to the old Spanish word for watering basin or "pila", whose collective name in Spanish is El Pilar.

General Tour Information

Light-weight, comfortable clothing and shoes with a good grip. Long trousers are more suitable than shorts as they give more protection from insects and weather. Hat, sunscreen, insect repellent and drinking water are advisable.  For sure you will want to bring along a good pair of binoculars and a spotting scope.

For a glimpse of how Mayan ruins look before significant excavation and restoration work has taken place and for some of the best Birding in Belize, El Pilar is definitely an archeological site worth visiting.

* See Tours & Transfers for current rates and more tour options.


Maya Ruins

Xunantunich  ·  Tikal  ·  Caracol  ·  Cahal Pech  ·  Yaxhá  ·  El Pilar

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