The Mayan culture has always impressed the modern man and being able to venture into Mayan sites can be a sheer delight. Since there are only a few Mayan ruins, it’s easy to understand why we have to preserve them to the best of our capabilities. The Caracol Mayan Ruins are a standout example in this regard, as these ruins showcase the beauty of the Mayan culture, all while offering us a great insight into the ancient world!
Where can you find Caracol?
Caracol is located in the Chiquibul forest reserve. This is one of the major Maya sites that you can find in Belize and it’s also one of the largest ones in the Maya world as well. Initially, Caracol was one of the largest Maya town in existence as it hosted around 180000 people. It spread over 55 square miles and the core area alone had 15 square miles.
The structure of the city is quite interesting, because the core area was linked together with causeways. This brought in a very distinct architectural appeal to the region, albeit quite a peculiar one. since Caracol is a very important architectural site at this time, you will actually find archaeologists at work when you choose to visit it.
A thing to keep in mind is that Caracol’s Mayan ruins have a lot of stairs to climb and from there you will be able to see the sheer beauty of the forest. The city structure was very interesting, especially since no other town is known to offer something like this!
It’s unclear why Caracol had this type of structural design. We can imagine that the main focus was on safety, because those causeways offered some additional protection to the residents. Also, this could be a differentiation between the people that lived in the central area *and which were most probably rich* and the people that lived in the slumps. However, we can only speculate on that as nothing is known with complete certainty.
The city structure included a central ceremonial area that was accessible from all city regions. It was from here where the outlying structures and causeways emerged from.
An interesting thing about the Caracol ruins is that the buildings created to, surround the A court were created as an astronomical observatory. Aside from that, here you can also find a wide array of temples and some residential ruins. Visiting Caracol does offer a great insight into how the world was before the modern times and it’s nothing short of fascinating to see all of this in person.
Who created Caracol?
It’s hard to pinpoint who created Caracol. There are no clear historical documents to pinpoint a person or a date of inception for the city. What we do know is that the city did flourish after a victory over the Tikal in the 6th century. This helped make it one of the most important Mayan cities at that time. Also, the site was occupied in 1200 BCE, yet most of the important edifices were created during 400-800 CE.
However, just like most other Mayan cities out there, Caracol soon started its decline and it was actually lost for many centuries. It was 1937 when the city was re-discovered by Rosa Mai, a native logger that wanted to find more mahogany trees.
Mai shared a report to the archeological commission of the British Honduras at that time and it was in 1938 when Caracol was actually visited by A.H Anderson and H.B Hex. The two archeologists spent around 2 weeks in the region as they tried to catalog and identify the stelae, Maya inscriptions and all the other edifices that were found there at that particular time.
Caracol has multiple pyramids, but the main one is called Caana. The name wasn’t chosen by accident, as it means sky palace in the local language. Its main purpose was to host 4 palaces and 3 temples. Caana is the tallest buildering that you can find in Belize, as it has around 141 feet in total.
But there are many other structures at Caracol aside of Caana. In total, you can find around 24 alters, 24 stelae as well as 5 plazas, a ball court, a wide range of causeways, reservoirs, the central acropolis, more than 100 tombs and around 35000 buildings. This clearly shows that Caracol had a lot of people living in it when it flourished.
Most of the numbers written above are estimations though. The reason is simple, little is actually known about Caracol since only a small portion of it was excavated. In fact, all that’s excavated from Caracol is the central core, the main pyramid, 3 plaza groups, 2 ball courts, the visitors center as well as a few smaller structures. Other than that, it can be very hard to figure out how large Caracol really was in its prime.
But archaeologists reached the numbers above thanks to a 3D map of Caracol, a map that was created via aerial laser mapping. Thanks to this, archaeologists realized that most of the city is still undiscovered. More specifically, it seems that a lot of the causeways and terraces are still buried, but hopefully things will change in the near future. Archaeologists are specifically interested in the agricultural terraces that most probably were very large if you take into consideration the sheer size of the city.
According to numerous historians, it seems that Caracol managed to survive the first collapse of the Mayan civilization. It was mostly due to its power and unique location, yet just like all the other Mayan cities, it ended up being disbanded as people migrated to more relevant cities at that era.
What does Caracol mean?
A lot of people are interested in the meaning of Caracol and what does this actually mean. It’s important to note that Caracol had the ancient Mayan name of Oxwitza, which means three hill water.
The meaning of the name is very peculiar, because no one really knows why the Maya people opted for this particular meaning. It may have a connection to the jungle, although that is also very hard to determine.
The two archaeologists that discovered Caracol named it this way because this is the Spanish term for snail. As you can imagine, they encountered a lot of snails and that’s how the entire city got its modern day name.
Caracol’s excavation was quite cumbersome at first. The first excavation efforts appeared in 1950 but the excavation process didn’t start until 1985. Since then, a lot of very interesting discoveries were made, as we mentioned above.
It’s interesting to think that Caracol was actually an ally of the Tikal before the battle between these two nations started. Yet it was Caracol’s fault here, as they switched the alliance with Tikal to one with Calakmul. This stared a very long battle and feud. Caracol harnessed the power of Calakmul and they created a massive army that was able to defeat the Tikal king named Double Bird. As a result, Double Bird was captured and he was actually sacrificed. It was thanks to this why Caracol flourished for a long period of time, as it was able to stay away from any wars.
Is Caracol a major tourist location?
Caracol is visited on a daily basis by 15-20 tourists and the numbers can double during Easter for example. The local authorities are created a museum that will hold all the large monuments which can be found on the site. You can also access a visitor center here and you have the ability to access some directional and information signs. There’s a house for the residential staff as well.
The interesting thing about Caracol is that the only road you can use to access this beautiful Mayan city is a paved one and it connects to the Western Highway, more specifically it connects you with Santa Elena, Belmopan and San Ignacio.
It’s amazing to see that even despite its age, Caana from Caracol still remains the largest man-made structures in the country.
Were the tombs excavated? What was found in them?
Numerous tours were found on-site as we mentioned above. A lot of those were excavated, only to find relics like facades, altars, ball court makes and stelea among many others.
These relics manage to show a great insight into the day to day life of the local people at that time. It shows that the Mayans who lived in this region were focused on religion, entertainment and science. They were a very distinct, powerful and certainly smart population that was not afraid of anything. That alone managed to provide them with a lot of power as the population became more fearful!
Why should you visit Caracol?
There are many reasons why anyone should be interested in visiting Caracol! We created a small list to offer you some of the best reasons Caracol is indeed an amazing vacation!
Caracol is a great place to visit, it has a rich history and it can be a delight to explore. It allows you to find out more about the Mayan culture and it can be a very good location to visit if you are a history buff. Plus, it can be an educational experience for the entire family. No matter if you come along or with your family, you are in for a treat for sure as these ruins are visually impressive and one of a kind.
The surrounding region is teeming with wildlife. If you like history but you also enjoy animals, you will find these ruins to be one of the best locations that you have ever seen. Since most of the tours you can do here require you to have a guide, you can imagine that one will be able to stay safe even if the wild animals appear near you. The ocellated turkeys are unique to this area and there are a wide range of other animals that you can find in this region as well.
Caracol is an amazing location for birding. If you love birds and want to explore their behavior in a natural setting, this is definitely one of the best places that you can visit at any given time. It really is a one of a kind experience that does pay off immensely in the long term.
You can find a lot of tour offers that include the Caracol Mayan Ruins in their program. As a result, you will be able to reach this city very fast, all while being able to enjoy some great benefits to begin with!
In order to visit Caracol you will have to do a bit of climbing. It’s a really interesting experience for sure, since the road to Caracol does require a bit of physical activity. Nothing too major though.
Visiting Caracol is not expensive, in fact it’s actually quite inexpensive to come to this region. If you are a fan of travelling, you will find these ruins to be quite enticing and a delight to visit. You will have to create a good itinerary that will include all of that and so much more.
You can come to Caracol in small groups and experience a lot more fun this way. Visiting this great Mayan city can be a delightful experience, especially if you do it with your family or friends.
In conclusion, Caracol is home to one of the best Mayan ruins in Belize. If you are a fan of history, then visiting this location can easily take you back in time. But even if you’re not a history buff, you will be able to find Caracol as a very interesting, distinct place that you will enjoy visiting at all times.
Don’t hesitate and include Caracol on your itinerary. It really helps you better understand the Maya culture in all of its glory. If you always wanted to connect with the Mayan culture, this is definitely one of the best ways to do it!