First discovered in 1938 by J. Eric Thompson, the site was originally named Kaxil Uinic, before being renamed by Barry Bowen in 1987. Bowen, owner of the Belikin Beer company and exclusive distributor for Coca-Cola in Belize, had bought over 303,514 hectares (750,000 acres) of land (about one-sixth of the country) in western Orange Walk District in 1984. When Bowen and his workers rediscovered Chan Chich, the site had been severely looted, and many of the mounds and temples showed signs of active looting trenches.

Chan Chich sits on some 101,171 hectares (250,000 acres) of private reserve, and is bordered to the north by the 106,028 hectares (262,000 acres) of the Río Bravo Conservation Area. Since Bowen bought the land, a total hunting ban has been enacted, and if these protected lands are connected to the Kalakmul Reserve in Mexico and the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala, they may one day form a major Mesoamerican environmental and archaeological mega-reserve spanning three countries.

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