Caracol

The Mayan ruins of Caracol are the most extensive in all of Belize. After a victory over Tikal in the 6th century, Caracol flourished and became one of the largest Mayan cities. After its decline, the city lay hidden in thick, high-canopy jungle for centuries until a native logger came across the ruins in 1937. A year later two archaeologists visited the ruins. They named the site Caracol, Spanish for Snail, because of the large number of snail shells they encountered. The ancient Mayan name of the city was Oxwitzá, or “three hill water”.

Excavations of the ruins did not begin until the 1950s while most of the work took place since 1985. The excavations have uncovered pyramids, royal tombs, dwellings, monuments and two ball courts.

Plaza A at Caracol. Photo credit: Dennis

Plaza A at Caracol. Photo credit: Dennis

History

The earliest habitation of Caracol occurred between 900 BC and 600 BC, while the first Mayan temple, the Temple of the Wooden Lintel, dates from around 70 AD. The Caracol royal dynasty was founded in 331, and the city rose in power over the next two centuries.

At first, Caracol was an alley of Tikal as witnessed by the appointment of a new lord over Caracol by Tikal’s king Double Bird in 553 AD. The relationship between the former allies turned hostile however when Caracol switched alliances from Tikal to Calakmul. An outraged Double Bird declared war against Caracol and defeated it, but not decisively. In 562, Lord Kan (Water) of Caracol, alongside its ally Calakmul planned a war in accordance with astrology against Tikal. Double Bird, was captured and sacrificed and Caracol experienced a boost in wealth and power.

At its peak, Caracol maintained a population of over 140,000 people through the creation of an immense agricultural field system and through elaborate city planning. It covered an area much larger than present day Belize City and may even have exceeded that of Tikal.

During latter reign, Caracol carried out a series of attacks on another former Tikal ally, Naranjo with mixed success. A period of decline followed due to Tikal’s resurgence and the downfall of Calakmul and its alliance. Caracol returned briefly as a major power around 800 AD during the reign of K’inich Joy K’awiil, who resumed both royal monuments dedications and construction activities.

The Last recorded date at Caracol is 859 AD found on Stela 10. Evidence points to a great fire around 895 AD. Its inhabitants eventually dwindled away until the city was finally abandoned around 1050.

Map of Caracol, Belize

The map shows the location of Caracol Belize. The buttons on the left can be used to zoom in or out. Click and drag the map to move around.

Highlights

Caracol’s largest and most impressive structure is a hillside temple known as Caana, which is Maya for “Sky Place.” Rising 143 feet (43.5 meters) above the jungle, Caana is the tallest Maya building in Belize and still one of the tallest buildings in the country.

Visit Caracol

Most people visit Caracol on a guided tour but it is possible to drive here on your own, as long as you are prepared for a crazy, bumpy and muddy ride. All visitors, groups and individuals, travel to Caracol in a convoy that departs Douglas D’Silva ranger station at 9:30am every morning. On the return trip the convoy departs at 2pm.

The entrance fee is BZ$15.