Of all the awesome Belize Maya sites, Caracol would have to be one of the top in terms of importance and grandeur. This once great Mayan city-state from the Maya Classic era is one of the countrys largest archaeological sites, and it also boasts the tallest manmade structure in the land. Caracol, or El Caracol as it is locally known, rests in the foothills of Belizes Maya Mountains at an elevation of around 1,500 feet. In Spanish, El Caracol means "the snail", and its not entirely clear as to this why this appellation was applied. This largest of Belize Maya sites is just 25 miles south of San Ignacio, which is the capital of the tourist-friendly Cayo District, and you can easily organize tours to this, and other ancient Maya sites in the region. There is a nice picnic area at the entrance site for the Caracol Belize ruins, so you might pack a lunch for the trip. If you want to drive here yourself, its a good idea to rent a 4x4 vehicle, especially during the June-December wet season.
Like other ancient Maya sites in Belize, El Caracol was long- inhabited before large-scale construction began. Its believed that the first Maya settlers here arrived as early as 1200 BC. It wasnt until the Maya Classic era (300-800 AD) that the bulk of the significant building went on here. The sequence of past El Caracol rulers is traced through evidence linked to more than 40 structures that were built between the years 485-889 AD. El Caracol was without question one of the largest cities in the ancient Mayan world, and its estimated that at its peak, some 180,000 people may have lived in or near town. There is evidence to believe that Caracol may have conquered Tikal in 562 AD, and this year certainly coincides with the beginning of what is known as the Tikal Mid-Classic Hiatus. While Caracols population and consistent sprawl increased at this time, Tikal saw a significant decline in its population and monument construction. Visiting both El Caracol and Tikal today lends so much insight into how the ancient Maya lived. It also reveals just how advanced their building and artistry skills were.
Youll certainly want to consider dropping in
on Caracol when thinking about which Belize Maya sites
to visit, if not for the Caana alone. At just under 140
feet tall, the Caana is Caracols main temple-pyramid,
and atop it you will find 3 smaller temples. Numerous
small structures can be observed on a Caracol tour, and
youll enjoy wandering about the three main plazas.
There are two separate ball courts that youll want
to take notice of, and its always a good idea to
drop in on the Visitors Center. Besides getting pertinent
information on the site at the VC, you can check out the
collection of Maya artifacts, among which is an intriguing
ceremonial altar. Unlike other significant ancient Maya
sites like Tikal and Xunantunich, Caracol still remains
largely un-excavated. In recent years, however, the focus
has been to make Caracol one of the top Maya attractions
in the country. Dry season excavations are aimed at recovering
more of El Caracol from the jungle bit by bit, and increased
trails and information signs are in the works for the
area. Interestingly enough, Caracol is found within the
Chiquibul Forest Reserve, which is a joy for Nature-lovers
to explore. The gigantic Ceiba trees here are certainly
bound to mesmerize.
Should you plan a visit to the Caracol Belize ruins, you might also consider a few side trips to some of the other interesting destinations in the area. Western Belize, and namely the Cayo District, is known for having the best Belize caves to explore. Close to Caracol, the Rio Frio Cave is one of the easiest ones to reach and explore, and you dont even need a flashlight during the day. Swimming, hiking, picnicking, and just having a good time is usually part of the deal at Rio on Pools, which is close enough to El Caracol to toss into the plans. The natural, granite-boulder pools here are certainly refreshing, and sliding down the smoothed rock waterfalls is a blast. Caracol is open seven days a week, and there is a small fee to enter. Admission is reportedly free on Sundays, and overall, it doesnt seem to get too crowded here very often, which is a nice bonus. This might begin to change, however, as word gets out about how great of a destination El Caracol is.