The Sartenejan region is rich with Mayan sites as Sarteneja was an important Mayan port, central to trade between the Beleazean and Guetmalan coastlines and the Yutacan Peninsula. There is evidence of Maya settlement throughout Sarteneja Village but most has been reduced to small mounds or individual rocks.

Within miles of Sartenea there is a network of roads, villages, and ceremonoal sites. Most of these sites are almost unexplored and and visitors are welcome to engage in exploratory walks. see Sarteneja Attractions

The name Sartenaja is derived from the Yucatec Maya “Tzaten‐a‐Ha”, which is thought to translate as “water in the rock”, referring to the numerous shallow wells dug through the limestone. Sartenaja was first established by the Maya and flourished between 600BC and 1200AD, covering the entire Classic period of Maya history. Sartenaja is the site of a large Maya settlement, and signs of the past Maya culture are readily visible. In the late 1980’s an archaeological study carried out in Sarteneja demonstrated that the area was once a prosperous, active, post‐classical seaport.

Sarteneja may have held as many as 300‐400 ancient structures, with the site core being located 0.5 to 1.0km from the shoreline. The architecture shows a strong Yucatec Maya influence, seen in rounded cornerstones, and carved limestone columns. The Maya are thought to have been attracted to the area by the salt pans and fisheries. Objects from remote regions including obsidian and flint, jade, and metates carved from volcanic rock, also uggest that Sarteneja was a centre for long distance and regional trading, being an important stop over point for merchants and travelers. Sarteneja was a cross road for people traveling between Mexico, the Belezean coral reef, and the Corozal region. 

Before hurricane Janet in 1955 the houses in Sarteneja, to house a population of about 300, were of Maya design (see houses) and of simple palm tree plaster walls and palm leaf roofs. The entire village was destroyed through the winds and the tidal surge. Nearby and much larger Corozal was also mostly destroyed. After Janet, Sarteneja village was largely rebuilt with with rocks taken from Maya ruins within the village.

Sartenaja and the surrounding Maya cities of Ceros, Corozal, Orange Walk, Chinox, and to the south a large and little unexplored city at ???, were abandoned at the time of European exploration in 1650. However, Lamanai, about 120 km from Sarteneja was still occupied and is one of the longest lasting and most enduring Maya cities with occupation from 400BC to 1650AD.

Lamania, near Sarteneja was one of the last surviving Maya cities. Lamania is located on the New River, Belize, and had an very extensive adjacent wetland. This wetland was used for farming with irrigation and could support a large population and would have provided some drought proofing. Lamania was also on a major trade route, which would have helped stabilise its economy even in difficult times.

The Maya city of Sarteneja is located in a sheltered corner of Corozal Bay. Other nearby Maya cities on the coast were Ceros (25 km - NW), Corozal (45km - NNW), Buckelo Chica (70 km - E), and Chetamal (90 km - N). Inland there were Chinox (30 km - W), Orange Walk (70 km - WSW), and Lamanai (120 km - WSW).

Although all the Maya cities surrounding Sarteneja have a long history of exploration, the Maya history of Sarteneja remains unexplored and mysterious. There are even Maya sites hidden closeby in the jungle that are rarely visited even by the locals. For the adventurous, special hiking tours to explore Maya heritage can be arranged. see list of Sartenejas Attractions

There are also many easily accessible and fascinating Maya ruins within kilometers of the outskirts of Sarteneja including pyramids and courtyards, mounds, and remains of Maya villages.

Pyramids and ball court - there is a pyramid and courtyard complex km south of Sartenaja that has been cleared but not archeologically explored. A courtyard is surrounded by several pyramids. In the adjacent area there is evidence of the surrounding village and several Maya wells.

 Mayan pyramid Sarteneja    Mayan well Sarteneja


Right, Robert Browne part way up the largest pyramid. A Mayan well showing the shallow water table. Images by Robert Browne.


 Mayan ball court Sarteneja    Mayan pyramid looted Sarteneja


Right, A view accross the ball court in the pyramid complex. The scale is shown by the tow small figures middle of image. Left. a scar in the largest pyramid as an example of the extensive looting that was rampant until recently. Images by Robert Browne.

B'alam Ja Way (Jaguar Water Spirit) - B'alam Ja Way is the home of "Sustainability for Sarteneja". B'alam Ja Way is centered in a Maya village complex surrounding a cenote. Features are a large Maya mound of pottery and sand dug from the cenote, the ruins of the village surrounding the cenote, and Maya caves. The sustainability center itself features an energy and materials efficient house, a range of local crops, and is a mecca for local wildlife, particularly butterflies and humming and other birds.

Ceros - Ceros is the closest Maya city site to Sarteneja that is open to the public.