Even if you are not looking to get involved with the El Pilar Program, the area is an incredible getaway for the avid explorer or traveler. El Pilar Archeological Reserve for Maya Flora and Fauna is a place of imagination that welcomes adventurers, scholars, and conservationists. There is a nominal entrance fee. Tickets can be purchased from the ranger’s station at the site or at the central ticketing museum at the Cahal Pech site in San Ignacio.
El Pilar has more than twenty-five identified plazas in an area of approximately 100 acres (38 hectares), ranking it equal with major centers of the lowland Maya area. It is the largest center in the Belize River area, more than three times the size of such well-known centers as Baking Pot or Xunantunich. The site is divided into three primary sectors: Xaman (North) Pilar, Nohol (South) Pilar and Pilar Poniente (West). The eastern and western sections are connected by an offset causeway system extending between two large public plazas. Recently added to El Pilar is causeway trail that allows the visitor to walk part of the causeway which joined two parts of El Pilar. The house site of Tzunu'un is a sample of how the Maya lived long ago, with a forest garden surrounding their living areas.
When to Go
To take advantage of cooler temperatures, it is best to go early in the morning. You can spend half a day seeing the core of the monuments, a whole day seeing the nearby trails of the site, or many days exploring the reserve.
If it is the rainy season (June to January), expect rain, although some days are spectacular and clear. The Maya Forest is lush and exuberant. If you go during the dry season
(February to May), you have the benefit of no rain and can experience the beautiful blossoming Bukut Tree in March, Madre Cacao in April, or Mayflower in May. If you are very fortunate, you will experience the Uo frogs announcing the start of the rains in May or June.
How to Get There
From Cayo, Belize
El Pilar is approximately 11 kilometers northwest of the village Bullet Tree Falls, just outside the town of San Ignacio. An official Institute of Archaeology “El Pilar” sign in Bullet Tree marks the all-weather dirt road that leads north to the site. You can arrive at the site by tour, taxi, rented car, mountain bike, horse, or foot. The road is uphill and not well shaded, so bring plenty of water regardless of transport.
A taxi from Bullet Tree should cost about US$30 to and from the site. The driver will wait as you explore. By car, the trip is about 30 minutes from Bullet Tree. You can rent mountain bikes or horses from places in Bullet Tree or San Ignacio. Tour guides familiar with the site can be a wonderful experience. Tony Chuc and Luis Godoy are great examples.
From Melchor, Guatemala
Access to El Pilar is improving following increased progress on the road to Laguna Yaloch, north of El Pilar. With archaeologists now working at the site, caretakers are present, but road signs are scarce. The drive is approximately 30 kilometers on an all-weather dirt road, used in the dry season for trucking lumber (watch out!). It will be difficult to drive in the rainy season. It is best to take a guide to know the cutoff to the east in a beautiful corozo palm forest.
You do not need a local guide to explore the site. There is an excellent map and trail guide available online as well as in bookstores in Belize. However, many knowledgeable local guides, in addition to the site caretakers, can enhance the informative aspect of your visit.
Examples of organized tours at El Pilar include: