Caracol Maya Site

Caracol Maya site Belize

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Caracol is an important Mayan city that flourished in the 6th century AD and now lies in ruins in west-central Belize, near the border with Guatemala. The city, which lay hidden in the jungle until its discovery in 1938, contains numerous pyramids, royal tombs, dwellings and other structures, as well as a large collection of Mayan art. Caracol is situated approximately 40 kilometres (25 mi) south of Xunantunich, and the town of San Ignacio, and 15 km (9.3 mi) from the Macal River. It rests on the Vaca Plateau in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve, at an elevation of 500 m (1,600 ft) above sea-level, in the foothills of the Maya Mountains. In its heyday Caracol covered approximately 200 square kilometres (77 sq mi).

Caracol is amongst the most influential sites on the Maya world and the largest archaeological Maya centre in Belize. The main temple structure is the tallest in the region, even taller than nearby Xunantunich, and Tikal in neighbouring Guatemala

This Classic site is noted for its rare use of giant date glyphs on circular stone alters. Evidence of Maya engineering skills is visible in the extensive reservoirs and irrigation systems. Carvings on the site indicate that Caracol and Tikal engaged in ongoing conflict with each defeating the other on various occasions. After a war in A.D. 562 however Caracol dominated the area for a century.

“The ancient Mayans were a remarkable people. Without the wheel, or advanced tools of any kind, they managed to build vast stone cities in the middle of one of the densest jungles on Earth. Chichen Itza and Tulum, in Mexico, are perhaps the most famous sites, but today they are a crush of souvenir stalls and mass-market tourism. Caracol is different. Located in the rainforests of western Belize, this enormous 30 square mile site is relatively undeveloped, free of crowds (less than a few dozen people visit per day) and, because of that, perhaps, the most authentic way to experience the mystery and magic of the ancient Mayans today. There are thousands of individual ruins to explore, but the most impressive is Caana, the Sky Palace, a 143-foot pyramid where the king of this Tollan, or great city, once lived. Climb to the top and the view is the same as it would have been more than 1,500-years ago: no tourists, no souvenir stalls, just jungle and stone pyramids as far as the eye can see.” – Aaron Millar


Maya Ballgame court Caracol
The Maya Ballgame court at Caracol

The largest Mayan site in Belize, Caracol once occupied a large area (200 sq km) and supported a population of about 100,000 people. Its Mayan name was Oxwitzá, (“three hill water”). The name Caracol means “snail” in Spanish and refers to the large number of snails found here during early explorations.

The earliest known habitation of Caracol occurred as early as 900 BC, but the first known Mayan ritual complexes date from about 70 AD, when the Temple of the Wooden Lintel and locus B34 burial were built. Another elaborate burial was added to the same site around 150 AD.

The Caracol royal dynasty was founded in 331, and the city rose in power over the next two centuries. Caracol flourished from the 6th to 8th centuries, after which it rapidly declined. In 562, Caracol defeated the Mayan city of Tikal and assumed leadership of the region. It went on to defeat another rival city, Naranjo, in 631.

The last date recorded on a stele at Caracol is in 859 and the city was totally abandoned by 1050. The ancient Mayan city was overtaken by the jungle and forgotten until its rediscovery by a woodcutter in 1937.

Archaeologists first arrived in 1952–53 and began preliminary studies, but extensive clearing of the jungle and dedicated archaeological work did not begin until 1985, under the leadership of archaeologists Diane Chase and Arlen Chase of the University of Central Florida. An on-site museum was opened in 1998 and excavations continue today.

How To Get To Carcol

Caracol is an incredible destination that can be reached by road, offering one of the most unforgettable road trips in the country. Exploring the long-lost Maya city hidden deep in the Belize jungle is a unique and exciting experience that is sure to leave visitors in awe. Although the road to get to Caracol is challenging, it’s well worth the effort. Being remote and less visited means that Caracol is a peaceful and serene destination, perfect for those seeking a quiet escape. Additionally, Caracol is located near the border with Guatemala, and visitors can enjoy stunning views across the border from the top of the ruins. While the road to Caracol was previously a dirt road, it has since been upgraded, with the majority of the route now paved. The construction work on the road started in 2019 and is still ongoing, but the improvements being made will ensure a smoother and safer journey for visitors to Caracol.

If you’re planning to visit Caracol, you’ve got a couple of options. You can either go for a self-driving tour or a guided tour. Unfortunately, there aren’t any public transport buses that go directly to Caracol, and taxis aren’t known to offer that service either unless it is a charter and you have hired a tour guide.

Taking a guided tour is an excellent way to experience all that Caracol has to offer. For about $125 per person, you’ll get to enjoy a round-trip drive that takes about 4 hours and includes a guided tour. Just keep in mind that most tour providers require a minimum of two people to join.

What to See

Caracol is located in the Chiquibil Forest Reserve of west-central Belize, just 47 miles from the Mayan city of Tikal (in Guatemala). The site is accessible by road about a two hour drive from San Ignacio western Belize on the Mountain Pine Ridge road currently undergoing paving to facilitate tourists access. Designated the Caracol Archaeological Reserve, the site is not as extensively cleared as others in the region, but this allows for more atmosphere and wildlife spotting.

So far Caracol archaeologists have uncovered two ball courts and three main plazas surrounded by pyramid temples and other structures. Over 100 tombs have also been found, as well as a rich array of hieroglyphic inscriptions, which reveal the history of this lost Mayan city.

The most impressive sight at Caracol is a hillside complex known as Caana, which is Maya for “Sky Place.” Rising 43.5 meters above the plaza below, Caana contains four palaces and three temples. It is one of the most elaborate complexes found so far in the Southern Maya region. The palace rooms were originally coated with white stucco and decorated with red paint