Travel Destinations

Monday, July 29, 2013

Caracol: Belize’s Largest Mayan Site

Caana, Caracol, Belize
Caana, the tallest manmade structure in Belize.

When traveling to Belize, it is imperative to visit Caracol.  Caracol is Belize’s largest Mayan site.  When we were planning our trip to Belize, I read about all of the Mayan ruins we would see, but nothing I read prepared me for the sheer magnitude of these ancient structures.

Caracol was discovered by a logger, Rosa Mai, while looking for mahogany in 1938.  Archaeologists began working on the site, and it still is an active archaeological project.  It is believed Caracol was first occupied around 600 B.C., and the construction of monumental architecture began somewhere around A.D. 300-550.  Caracol reached the peak of its political power in A.D. 650, when the city had a huge population and covered over 100 square kilometers. 

Mayan Ruin Mound, Caracol, Belize
This is what the Mayan ruins look like before being completely excavated.
When driving around Belize, any large mound has a Mayan ruin hidden underneath.
There are a few different groups of monuments that can be visited.  The B Group has the most impressive structures, including Caana, which is the tallest manmade structure in Belize.  There are also plazas, reservoirs, and ball courts.  One interesting structure was found to have a pool of 685 grams of liquid mercury below the floor. 

Mayan Ruins, Caracol, Belize
Romeo playing the part of a human sacrifice.

Engravings on Mayan Ruins, Caracol, Belize
Engravings on Mayan Ruins, Caracol, Belize

Engravings on Mayan Ruins, Caracol, Belize

We climbed all of the open structures in Caracol, including Caana.  The steps were tall and narrow and very nerve-racking, but the view was gorgeous.  Not only are the structures beautiful, but the jungle setting with its system of trails also adds to the beauty.

Steps up the Caracol Mayan Ruins, Belize
Did I mention the crazy tall steep steps?

View from the top of Caana, Caracol, Belize
View from the top of Caana
To visit Caracol, you can either join a tour group or drive yourself.  We chose to drive ourselves.  However, even when visiting Caracol independently, you will need to join a convoy.  The convoy departs Douglas D’Silva (Augustine) ranger station at 9:30 a.m.  It took us an hour and a half to drive on an extremely bumpy, unpaved road from our hotel in San Ignacio to the ranger station.  The ride with the caravan takes another hour, again along extremely rough terrain.  The convoy departs Caracol at 2:00 p.m.  Because of the isolated nature of the route to the site and its proximity to the Guatemalan border, there were a number of armed robberies of tour buses on the road to Caracol in 2006.  The convoy system, accompanied by armed guards, was started by the national park service as a precautionary measure and has been successful.

Caracol Armed Escort, Belize
One of the friendly armed escorts happy to smile for a photo.
And remember our annoying friend from our Actun Tunichil Muknal adventure?  Well guess what, he showed up again!  While we were waiting for the caravan to depart, we spotted him and tried to stay incognito in our rental vehicle (yes, I may have even slid down in my seat a little and buried my head in my guidebook).  Unfortunately he saw us, waved, and came striding over and proceeded to strike up a conversation (about himself of course).  Luckily we were able to avoid him for the rest of the day.

Rio On Pools, Belize
Rio On Pools
A fun side trip that can be made after visiting Caracol is to the Rio On Pools.  The Rio On Pools are a series of pools connected by waterfalls a few miles north of Douglas D’Silva.  They are beautiful to look at as well as a great place to cool off and relax.

Travel the World: Spend a day visiting Caracol, Belize’s largest Mayan site, with a side trip to the Rio On Pools.

Katherine Belarmino and Romeo Belarmino are the authors of Travel the World, a travel blog for the everyday working stiff. They work full-time in non-travel related jobs, but take every opportunity they can to travel the world during their limited vacation time.