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 1500 and 1000 BC. Less impressive than Xunantunich and Caracol, it's still a fascinating example of Preclassic Maya architecture and an easy uphill walk from town. It was a significant Maya settlement for 2000 years or more. Drop into the small visitors center, which explains some of the history of Cahal Pech.

Cahal Pech (kah-hahl pech) is Mopan and Yucatec Mayan for 'Place of Ticks,' a nickname earned in the 1950s when the site was surrounded by pastures grazed by tick-infested cattle. Today it's a pleasantly shady site with plenty of trees and few tourists. Its core area of seven interconnected plazas has been excavated and restored since the late 1980s. Plaza B is the largest and most impressive complex; Structure A-1, near Plaza A, is the site's tallest temple. Two ballcourts lie at either end of the restored area.

The earliest monumental religious architecture in Belize was built here between 600 and 400 BC, though most of what we see today dates from AD 600 to 800, when Cahal Pech and its peripheral farming settlements had an estimated population of between 10,000 and 20,000. The place was abandoned around AD 850.