LOST ANCIENT MAYAN CITY
The La Milpa Mayan Ruins
Deep in the sub-tropical jungle of northwestern Belize are the largely unexcavated ruins of this large ancient Mayan city. La Milpa, spread over 30 square miles, was the third largest city in Belize, after Caracol and Lamanai. The site contains the tomb of a Mayan king, probably “Bird Jaguar,” or his successor, who lived around 450 AD. The king was buried with a magnificent jade necklace draped across his lap.
Your trip to La Milpa will be unique, to say the least. The mysterious ruins shrouded in the quiet jungle will have you wondering if ancient spirits are watching over it. After you park, a short climb will take you to the 20,000 square meter Great Plaza, one of the largest in the Classic period. It is enclosed by four pyramids, rising up to 80 feet in height, and long residences and administrative offices. It has two ballcourts. The plaza, remains covered by the ever encroaching jungle. Everywhere you look, you’ll see huge mounds of stone structures, overgrown with lush vegetation.
La Milpa, founded around 400 BC, prospered until 500 AD, when it declined before flourishing again a century later. The city reached its peak somwtime between 750 and 850 AD, with an estimated maximum population of 50,000. The site was inhabited during later periods; not long after 900 AD, and again in 1600 to 1700 AD.
La Milpa was discovered in 1938, when a chiclero led Sir Eric Thompson to the site. Thompson deciphered some of the Mayan hieroglyphics found there, and uncovered enough information to warrant further excavations under a permit from the Belize Department of Archaeology. The current work began in 1992, led by Dr. Norman Hammond of Boston University.
La Milpa is in the 260,000 acre Rio Bravo Conservation Management Area, operated by the Programme for Belize, a private, non-profit Belizean conservation organization which was originally funded in part by the Massachusetts Audubon Society to preserve the Rio Bravo wintering site for North American migrant birds.
Birding at La Milpa
Birding at La Milpa is excellent as La Milpa is home to over 390 species of birds, many not found in the lowlands as the rain forest is their natural habitat. Plan to take both evening and morning bird walks, it will be more than worth the effort. Look for Ocellated turkeys, Great Curassows, and Guans. Hawks and other raptors are abundant along the forest edges and escarpments.