Last week, I was lucky enough to visit the Caracol Mayan Ruins, an ancient ruin of a huge Mayan city in Belize. Caracol is inland, near the Guatemalan border and deep within the jungle in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve in Belize. We had an expert guide who took us around the site, which I would highly recommend and it was amazing to learn everything about this incredible ancient city and culture. Visiting Mayan ruins is one of my favourite activities in Belize as you get such a sense of history and really feel how tiny your own tiny place in the human timeline is. It gives you a lot of perspective!
Caracol was the largest Mayan city in Belize. Its palaces and temples are still the tallest human-made construction in the country. It was occupied as early as 1200 BC but its greatest period of construction was between 600 and 900 AD. At the height of its power, it had a population of 120,000 people!
The Maya royalty very rarely ever came down to the ground, they lived their whole lives up there strengthening the belief that they were closer to the gods than other people. The steps are very steep, anyone lucky enough to go up had to climb on their hands and feet to be able to get up there.
This is me on top of the main pyramid, called Caana or “Sky Palace.”
The dynasty began to fall in A.D. 810-1000 during the Terminal Classic period. It was eventually abandoned closer to 1050AD and then lay undisturbed for hundreds of years until a native logger discovered its remains in 1937. They were completely overgrown and covered by the forest. The entire area was mapped and found to be extensive, one of the most important Mayan centres of the classic period.
The site covers 30-square miles of thick jungle and only 10% of it has been fully excavated. To think that there is so much still buried under the jungle! It gave me such a huge sense of ancient history standing there.
Even on peak days pre-Covid, there were only around 200 people visiting the Caracol each day. When we went, there was only a handful. It was an enormous privilege to practically have it to ourselves, and the sense of awe I had climbing these structures was something I'll never forget. At many of the busier sites in Guatemala and Mexico, you are not allowed to anymore. In the heat, it was pretty intense but so worth it for the experience and the view!
This photo shows the sheer scale of the structures at Caracol Mayan ruins, I look like an ant!
The name 'Caracol' means snail in Spanish and came about because the people who discovered the site found snail shells everywhere. And it stuck!
If you're in Belize you should definitely go to the Mayan ruins at Caracol. Learning about the ancient history of this country is fascinating and it really is breathtaking to see. Several operators offer tours, and it is well worth having someone to take you around and explain the history. Find some options here and let me know if you make it!