We'd seen the ruins at Tikal and Copan, considered two of the most impressive Mayan cities, so we were skeptical about Lamanai, Belize. In the end, we made the trip only because you get to these ruins by ferry. We thought that, even if the ruins themselves weren't worthwhile, the ferry trip would be fun.
We took a bus from Belize City to Orange Walk. There's little to do in this small town except take the river tour to Lamanai. At our request, our hotel manager booked our trip with the recommended Reyes and Sons (US$35/person), which included an hour-plus trip up river, a guided tour of the ruins, and homemade lunch (prepared by Señora Reyes herself).
The river tour was an unexpected highlight. Traveling slowly upstream, we passed crocodiles basking on logs, birds that appeared to walk on water (known as párajos de Jesu Cristo or Jesus Christ birds), and giant green iguanas clinging to the treetops.
The site at Lamanai is significantly smaller than those at Tikal and Copan. There's a benefit to this--none of the large crowds typical of the more-popular ruins.
When our boat pulled to shore, we unloaded and enjoyed our meal under a thatched roof shelter at the entrance to the site. Our small tour group enjoyed an intimate and leisurely walk through Lamanai, stopping at our group's whim to climb a temple, listen to a howler monkey, or photograph a stele. The day concluded with another enjoyable riverboat ride, this one downstream to Orange Walk.
No, it's not Tikal, but it's definitely worth the trip.
For International Living
P.S. Can't complain about the hotel deals in this town. We stayed at the new, clean AkiHiTo. For US$17/double per night we had a fan, television, and shared bath. Ask the family that runs AkiHiTo to call Mr. Reyes to schedule your tour and a ride to the dock.