Ruins in Orange Walk Town

For a taste of how Belize's many majestic ruins may have looked to early explorers before being excavated and landscaped, head to this vast jungle-covered Maya site just off the Philip Goldson Hwy. Meaning 'Great Mound' in Maya, Nohmul (noh-mool) was a town of 3000 people during the late Classic Period. The ruins – and Belize – made headlines in 2013 when a construction company bulldozed one of the site's main temples in order to obtain material for road construction.

Though the site is on private land, all pre-Colombian sites are protected under Belizean law. The construction company was convicted and fined BZ$24,000 in 2016. While the temple was damaged beyond repair, many other structures remain buried, forming jungle-covered outcrops surrounded by a sea of sugar cane. The ruins themselves aren't spectacular – at first glance they look just like a series of hills – but with some imagination and a sense of adventure it is a rewarding place to visit as you scramble up mounds sheltering untold archaeological riches below.

You'll almost certainly have the place to yourself, which adds to the sense of discovery. Scramble to the top of the lofty main tower from where, through the thick jungle, you'll catch glimpses over the endless sugar fields of Orange Walk District. Keep your eye out for exposed steps on the peaks of the mounds and a hidden, partially excavated section of walls that form a deep stone nook shaded by thick jungle.

From the northern edge of Orange Walk, drive 9.6 miles north on the Philip Goldson Hwy to the village of San Jose. Turn west at the north end of the village and drive 1.3 miles west to Nohmul. The site is not well marked so you'll probably have to ask for directions through the maze of sugar roads. A taxi from Orange Walk is about BZ$60, round trip.