When it comes to Belize Mayan ruins, most people know of Xunantunich and its famous El Castillo. But not many know of Caracol. Home to Caana (“sky palace”), Caracol contains one of the largest man-made structures in Belize; it is actually taller than El Castillo. For Mayan archaeology enthusiasts, or for tourists who want to avoid the hustle and bustle of bigger groups, be sure to make Caracol a part of your visit to Belize. Read about the history and current state of Caracol below
Caracol is a large ancient Maya archaeology site. It is located 40 kilometers south of the city of San Ignacio and Xunantunich ruins. At 500 meters above sea level, Caracol rests at the foothills of the Maya Mountains on the Vaca Plateau. Covering 200 square kilometers, the site is believed to at one time have covered an area larger than Belize City, the largest metropolitan area in Belize.
During its peak, Caracol was one of the largest Maya cities. It had a population of about 15,000, and it was once more powerful than the city of Tikal. This Maya ruin was first discovered in 1937 by a native named Rosa Mai. In 1938, archaeological work began on the site by a team led by A.H. Anderson, who eventually gave the site its name, which derives from the Spanish word for “snail.”
The site of Caracol contains about 267 structures per square kilometer, which is actually more than popular Mayan ruin site Tikal in neighboring Guatemala. So far, archaeologists uncovered 53 carved stone monuments and over 250 burials and 200 caches.
Only about 177 square kilometers of the entire site have been excavated so far, but the parts that have been are very impressive. Spend a whole day climbing the pyramids, exploring the underground caches, and marveling at the friezes and stone art, some of which are being actively discovered by archaeologists on site. Caracol is San Ignacio’s little secret, full of great excavated sites and more yet to be uncovered.
Tourists are welcome to visit Caracol at any time of the year. Driving to Caracol takes a bit of time, it is best to begin your journey early in the day. The site is located within the Chiquibil Forest Reserve. There are many opportunities to stop and view nature such as the Río Frío cave and swimming hole.
There is only one road to the site, and it is only paved for the last ten miles; the miles before are very rocky and should only be attempted by experienced drivers or off-road vehicles. The drive can take up to 2-3 hours depending on the weather and conditions of the road. No fuel is available along the route, so come with a full tank of gas if you drive. At times, a military escort is available to ensure your arrival. Camping is not allowed without a permit from the Institute of Archaeology in Belmopan.