Remote El Pilar, about 7 miles north of Bullet Tree Falls, was occupied for at least 15 centuries, from the middle Preclassic Period (around 500 BC) to the late Classic Period (about AD 1000). Long before present-day political borders, El Pilar stretched to modern-day Pilar Poniente in Guatemala, and the two countries are now working as partners to preserve the area.

With 25 plazas and 70 major structures, El Pilar was more than three times the size of Xunantunich. Despite excavations since 1993, not much of El Pilar has been cleared; this has been to avoid the decay that often follows the clearing of ancient buildings. While appreciating El Pilar's greatness requires some imagination, this may help to give you the feeling that you're discovering the place rather than following a well-worn tourist trail.

Six archaeological and nature trails meander among the mounds. The most impressive area is Plaza Copal, which has four pyramids from 45ft to 60ft high. A partly visible Maya causeway runs 500yd west from here to Pilar Poniente.

The rough road to El Pilar heads off to the left, 400yd past the bridge in Bullet Tree Falls. Be prepared for a bumpy ride: if it's wet, a 4WD is required. If you have your own vehicle, it's an incredible, remote and rewarding place to wander on your own – you might have the entire site to yourself. Otherwise, you can hire a taxi (BZ$50 from Bullet Tree Falls) or take a tour. Local guides can be sourced through accommodation in Bullet Tree Falls or tour operators in San Ignacio.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby attractions

1. Branch Mouth

6.15 MILES

Branch Mouth is the meeting place of the Mopan River, coming from Guatemala, and the Macal River, flowing down from Mountain Pine Ridge. The confluence of…

2. House of Culture

7.45 MILES

In the former hospital behind the town hall, the House of Culture has regular art, history and cultural exhibitions, as well as being a local meeting…

5. Green Iguana Conservation Project

7.86 MILES

On the lush Macal Valley grounds of the San Ignacio Resort Hotel, this excellent program collects and hatches iguana eggs, raising the reptiles until they…

6. Cahal Pech

8.07 MILES

High atop a hill about a mile south of San Ignacio, Cahal Pech is the oldest-known Maya site in the Belize River valley, having been first settled between…

7. Chaa Creek

9.91 MILES

Set along the banks of the Macal River, beautiful Chaa Creek is a 365-acre nature reserve offering extensive facilities to lodge guests and nonguests…