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by Ben the Grate
November 12, 2005
In another decade, when you ask the same historian the same question, he'll say Caracol (Belize).
The reasons are simple. Caracol is bigger than any other ancient Mayan city and probably far bigger than archaeologists presently believe it is. Caracol was stronger than the other Mayan city states. They conquered Tikal and sacrificed its king.
The reason Caracol isn't as widely recognized as Tikal or Palenque is quite simply because it's in the middle of nowhere. It's a good 2- to 3-hour drive down a terrible bumpy road from San Ignacio, and there's no town anywhere nearby. A British mahogany hunter stumbled across some of the pyramids back in the 18th century, but Caracol wasn't truly discovered until the 1930s, and excavation didn't begin until the 1980s.
Archeaologists were stunned when they discovered how massive Caracol was. It once had a population of over 150,000 (more than half of Belize's population today!). There are more than 30,000 individually documented structures, far more than in Tikal. Yet still only an estimated 10% of the site has been mapped!
The best news is that if you join a guided trip to Caracol from San Ignacio (around $40), you'll likely share the massive complex with a handful of tourists on your bus. If you have a high-clearance vehicle (4WD in the wet season) and you visit in the afternoon, you'll likely have the place ENTIRELY to yourself.
You can't experience that anywhere else on earth, people! Caracol is a site on the scale of Tikal, Chichen Itza, Macchu Picchu, the Pyramids, or Petra. And all those other sites are overrun with thousands of tourists every single day. At Caracol, you can easily be the only visitors in the entire complex.
While only a fraction of Caracol is excavated and restored, the crowning glory of the site is Caana, a massive pyramid temple that is STILL the highest building in Belize, though it's over 1,300 years old. It's so big that when you stand at the bottom and look up, you can't see the THREE OTHER PYRAMIDS that are built on top of it!
It's a tough climb, but there are levels to stop and relax, exploring chambers and walkways on your way to the top.
Once you're there, you will be treated to one of the best views in all of Central America. Miles of jungle-shrouded ridges roll off in either direction. Flocks of green parrots will scream overhead. And howler monkeys will screech in the jungle below you.
Give yourself an entire day to reach Caracol (with a few stops along the way). You'll pay around $8 to enter the site. Leave the site with at least an hour of daylight left to return to San Ignacio, and watch for jaguars on the road!
From journal It's UnBelizeable!
December 2, 2003
Caracol is amazing. There is something about it that makes you feel like Indiana Jones in one of the better movies. The city is large and is still very much in the process of being excavated. One of the interesting things to do is watch the archaeologists at work. Our guide, booked through David's Adventures, knew quite a bit about the site and was very open to educating us on Mayan culture. He was also open to letting us run around and explore on our own if we wished.
After walking around the partially excavated site, we climbed the main temple. Take your time, bring some water. The stairs are steep and huge and there is no railing or ropes like some other sites have. For your effort, you will be rewarded with fanatitic views of the jungle. On the day we went, there were only five other visitors in the whole site. When we got to the top of the temple we had the sensation of being alone in unspoilt jungle. VERY Indiana Jones!
From journal A Week in Belize