The Mayan ruins of Caracol in Belize are the most extensive Mayan ruins found in the country. The highlight of Caracol is Caana, which is the tallest man-made structure in Belize. Rio Frio Cave is also amazing with a 65 foot arched entrance.
I visited the Mayan ruins at Caracol on my recent adventure trip to Belize. Caracol is the most extensive Mayan ruins site in Belize and promises to provide you with great views of the surrounding jungle and an interesting perspective on Mayan life.
As with most of the Mayan sites, my suggestion is to definitely have a tour guide. Navigating the area would be a challenge to begin with and you could really miss out on some enlightening facts about the Mayans, the Caracol site, and Belizean history in general. Our tour guide, provided by S & L Tours of Belize, was wonderful!
Being a native and having given the tour of Caracol many, many times, he was a pro and did a great job sharing Mayan cultural information and highlighting certain beautiful points of interest along the way, while making sure the tour was done at the right pace for our family.
The drive to Caracol, situated in the Cayo District of Belize, runs through the Mountain Pine Ridge area to the Chiquibul Forest Reserve. As I understand it, from San Ignacio where we stayed, getting to Caracol is only about 30 miles or so, if it were a straight shot. Of course this is not the case so expect to the drive to be about an hour and half to two hours depending on your stops.
And, while an extremely bumpy drive, the scenic backdrop serves to grab your attention perhaps long enough to make the bumpy ride a little more tolerable. Still, be prepared as "bumpy" is putting it mildly. Of course, it's really about par for the course for Belize so it will come to be expected throughout the country.
Part of the way through our drive, we took a break to check out Rio Frio cave. This was our first glimpse at one of the many caves we would have the pleasure of visiting during our stay in Belize. Rio Frio Cave was very simply put: so cool! The entrance to the cave is a 65 foot arch and once inside, this large arch, in conjunction with the entrance/exit from the opposite side, provides plenty of natural light in the mid-morning.
We did not have to use flashlights but I would imagine they might be useful as the sun sets. Get out of the vehicle; take a walk down to the river and into the cave. You'll be impressed with the size. The stalactites are impressive and the water running through the cave is quite cool. It was a really nice pit stop, providing us an opportunity to stretch our legs, cool off a bit (I said the cave was "cool"), and scope out what can be considered a grand, but not particularly challenging cave for those of us who are not cave explorer aficionadosyet.
As we left Rio Frio Cave and continued on our journey through Mountain Pine Ridge, probably half way through the ride, looking down to our right, we saw a beautiful waterfall called Rio on Pools. What a breathtaking sight! When our tour guide, Phillip informed us that we'd be stopping there after our tour of Caracol, we were so excited and knew we had a treat awaiting us on the ride back to the resort.
So don't be concerned if you don't have an opportunity to take pictures on the way to Caracol because you'll have great opportunities on the way back assuming your tour guide plans to stop at Rio On Pools. Do not opt out of that stop because you will have missed out on a relaxing and refreshing end to a very active day at Caracol.
Finally we reached the Caracol Mayan ruins, very ready to do some hiking, climbing, and sightseeing! There is a nice visitor's center with restroom facilities, picnic tables, and a small gift shop as well. Make sure to grab a map of the site if available. This will be a great reference tool for you during your tour as well as afterwards when you want to put together your scrapbook or photo album!
Another good tip is to take a picture of the signs that label the various structures throughout the site. Many of the structures do not have actual names but are instead tagged with a combination of letter(s) and/or number(s) such as A37, A38, and A39, which are all structures within Caracol.
At Caracol, we had the opportunity to climb several temples and walk around the massive plazas. The highlight of the trip was the climb up Caana, also referred to as "Sky Palace". Caana is the highest man-made structure in Belize, offering terrific views from its 143 foot elevation!
While there are other more difficult climbs up Mayan temples such as the High Temple at Lamanai, Caana at Caracol is strenuous based simply on the height and number of steps to get to the top. Oh how worth it was the investment! Hold on to your kids because if they are adventurous like mine, they will want to practically run up the steps and leave you trailing far behind!
Looking at Caana from an aerial perspective, it sort of looks like two main levels with three additional small pyramids on top! So you climb up a set of stairs to the first level. On this level you really can only walk around a bit. The level is essentially a series of rooms from the looks of it.
The tour guide offered us facts on the significance of Mayan architecture and how the numbers of rooms and levels of the pyramids related to their spiritual beliefs. Be sure you pay attention because there is lots of information about the levels of the underworld and what the Mayans had to do to make it to the various levels of heaven.
Heading up to the 2nd level, you see a central area of grass and a smaller temple on each of three sides. Head on up to the very top of the structure B19, directly in front as you step to the top level, for a great view but don't forget to climb the other two on either side!
Remember that I recommended having a local guide. Without Phillip we would have had to carry around a tour book and likely would have not learned nearly as much as we did. There is so much more than meets the eye when visiting these Mayan Ruin sites.
When exploring Caracol, you're sure to hear tales of a battle between Caracol and Tikal, a Mayan ruin site in Guatemala that rivals the size of Caracol based on the current state of excavation. I found it very interesting as these two sites are quite far from each other and it made for good baseline information since Tikal was also on the agenda during our vacation.
While obviously large, it is clear there is still so much to uncover as Caracol remained hidden under jungle vegetation until the late 1930s, when it was discovered quite by accident. To the visitor today, you have to wonder how on earth it went undiscovered for as long as it did! There are structures that are still covered today and, while nicely camouflaged, spring out of the ground in unexpected locations making it very obvious to the onlooker that there is something yet to be found.
It was as if we developed an eye for spotting the hidden treasures after exploring the site that day. I could go on and on about Caracol because it was incredibly interesting and exciting. Sadly, I wish I had more time there to soak it all in but I guess that could be said for any of my stops in Belize! Make sure you take the time to stop, look around, and enjoy all that Caracol has to offer!