Caracol (“the snail”) on the Vaca Plateau in the Cayo District is the most important archaeological site in Belize.
Only parts of the extensive Mayan city have been uncovered or even restored. Instead, one gets a good impression of what the rediscoverer, the logger Rosa Mai, saw in 1937. Thus, even today, many overgrown buildings can only be imagined under the vegetation cover of the tropical forest.
Caracol had been settled since the late Pre-Classical period and its ruling dynasty can be traced back to the year 331 AD. Yajaw Te’ K’inich II occupied a key position in the history of Caracol, as his reign included the victory over Tikal (562 AD), which made Caracol one of the most dominant cities in the eastern lowlands. This event is also reported by the ball court marker called Altar 21, which is considered one of the most important documents on the classical period of Mayan culture.
The centre of Caracol, which is supposed to have had more than 100,000 inhabitants, is dominated by the Caana Pyramid, repeatedly overbuilt, which at 46 metres is still the highest building in the country.
The acropolis complexes of the centre are connected to the hinterland by kilometres of Sacbeob, as the straight streets of the Maya are called. It is assumed that up to 36,000 house platforms can be found in the 88 square kilometre settlement area of the city.
To supply this enormous population could only be achieved by means of extensive cultivation areas and elaborate cultivation techniques. Where there is dense jungle today, there used to be terraced fields and large reservoirs to provide drinking water.
For today’s visitors, the bumpy ride from San Ignacio to Caracol is one of the most beautiful routes in Belize.
On the way back to San Ignacio, it is worth stopping at the river cave of the Río Frío and the pools of the Río On, a welcoming bathing opportunity against the backdrop of the Mountain Pine Ridge. Large granite rocks create a series of pools in the riverbed, some of which are connected by small waterfalls, while the smooth rock surfaces provide natural water slides.
The Frío River Cave is one of the most accessible river caves in the country. Since it is open from both sides, the bizarre rock formations and stalactites inside can be admired even without an artificial lighting source.