Nim Li Punit is a small but architecturally unique ancient Maya site in southern Belize. In the Que’chi dialect of the Mayan language, Nim Li Punit means “Big Hat”, so chosen because the site features a large, carved stela (stone column) featuring a ruler wearing a large headdress or “hat.”
Today, Nim Li Punit is located near the village of Indian Creek in Belize’s southern Toledo District at the foothills of the Maya Mountains. Although smaller than some other ancient Maya sites in Belize, Nim Li Punit has an impressive central area with three clusters of large-scale architecture, including a 39-foot high (12-meter) pyramid, several palaces, and a large ball court where the ancient Maya would sacrifice the losing team to the gods.
The principal attraction, however, is Nim Li Punit’s impressive collection of 26 carved stelae that tell the story of the ancient rulers of the city-state in the ancient Maya hieroglyphic script. The largest of them, featuring the eponymous “Big Hat” figure, is more than 30 feet (nine meters) long, making it one of the biggest Maya stelae ever discovered. Seven of the buildings in Nim Li Punit include calendar dates, allowing archeologists to date the site to the late Classic Period (approximately 800-900 AD).
Excavations in Nim Li Punit have revealed more than 40 ceramic vessels as well as five tombs of what is believed to be high-ranking individuals. Nim Li Punit also includes 14 large earthen mounds that were built on top of two long terraces. Many of the artifacts recovered from the site are now on display at the visitor center at the entrance to Nim Li Punit. The visitor center also includes an exhibition of traditional clothes, dance, food, and the history of the Maya people who built Nim Li Punit some 1,500 years ago. It is believed that up to 7,000 people once lived in Nim Li Punit, but a number of unfinished buildings suggest that the site was hurriedly abandoned around the year 900 AD when the region suffered a lengthy drought.
If you’re interested in visiting the ruins of Nim Li Punit, one of the best places to stay is the beautiful Laru Beya beach resort on the Placencia Peninsula. Laru Beya offers guided tours of Nim Li Punit which is just a short distance away as well as other exciting activities like scuba diving, snorkeling, and adventures on the mainland.