Located in the northernmost district northwest of Corozal Town, Santa Rita has been identified as the powerful ancient Maya city known in the Late Post Classic Period as Chactemal (Chetumal). Only one structure can be seen, as the rest of the site has been built upon by present day Corozal Town.
The site dates back to around 1200BC, but was occupied until the arrival of the Spanish in the mid 1500s. Thomas Gann discovered the site in the early 1900s, but it was not until 1979 when Arlen and Diane Chase began excavations, was any substantial research done.
Santa Rita may have been only one in a series of coastal lookouts. One of the structures has similarities to murals found in Tulum, Mexico. It appears that Santa Rita’s strategic location near the two major waterways, the Rio Hondo and New River, allowed it to control trade routes. As an important trading center, Santa Rita was the major supplier of cacao, vanilla and honey.
Little of the ancient city remains today, not only because most of the old structures were covered by the existing town, but also because much of the city was built with perishable material. Most of what is known of the site was gathered from artifacts found in the area, rather than structures. The one existing structure consists of a complex series of rooms and passages. It was most likely a ceremonial center, evidenced by two burials that were uncovered here – one of a male, and one of a female. Together, both burials yielded jewelry, pottery, flint and a stingray spine, indicating the importance of those buried there.
Even though Santa Rita does not display elaborate structures like those Maya cities built in the Classic period, it is charming and interesting. If you are in the vicinity of Corozal, it is definitely worth a stop. A good guide could give you the story behind the small structure you will see. Certainly, its importance to archaeology and history cannot go unnoticed.