Caracol is Belize’s largest known ancient Mayan city, covering over twenty square miles, sitting high on a plateau some 500 meters above sea level. Located in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve, it is one of the largest in the entire Maya world.
From Mountain Pine Ridge, on the way to Caracol, you will pass the Rio On Pools. As the road continues past the Douglas DeSilva Forest Station in Augustine, you will cross the Guacamallo Bridge. This low bridge crosses the Macal River into the Chiquibul Forest Reserve. Plans are currently underway to upgrade the road to Caracol, but it is easily accessible in the dry season, and accessible only with a four-wheel drive vehicle in the rainy season.
Caracol was discovered in 1937 by Rosa Mai, a mahogany logger. The official archaeologist of the then British Honduras, A.H. Anderson, later visited the site and named it Caracol (Spanish for snail), because of the numerous snail shells found there. Most of his documented findings were lost in the 1961 hurricane that hit Belize City, Hurricane Hattie. In 1983, Paul Healy of Trent University in Canada discovered that Caracol was a lot more important than originally anticipated. Studies continued into the 1990’s by Arlen and Diane Chase of the University of Central Florida. Today, the most recent excavation and restoration work is being conducted under the Tourism Development Project by Belizean Archaeology Coordinator, Dr. Jaime Awe.
Indications are that Caracol was inhabited about AD 300. By AD 700, it is expected that over 200,000 people occupied the area. There is no natural water source in the area, but the irrigation system is quite extensive. The reservoirs that were built hundreds of years ago are still being used today by the archaeologists of the sites.
Carved stelae describe victories by Caracol over Tikal in AD 562, and Naranjo in AD 631. Later discoveries indicate even more communication between the central lowland Maya and their neighbors. Caana (Sky Place) is Caracol’s tallest structure (and tallest man-made structure in Belize), and stands 140 feet above the plaza floor, topped with three additional temples. Over 100 tombs have been found, that of an adult woman (believed to be the wife of Lord Water – the ruler who conquered Tikal) was best preserved.
In plaza B, facing Caana, several large stucco masks have been discovered on Structure B5, depicting Tlaloc, the Mexican god of rain and lightening, as well as jaguars. Also recently restored, and very well preserved are the Barrios, or living quarters, as well as the observatory. When this city was populated, an internal road system (sacbeob, meaning roads) served as routes for transportation and communication. The social organization of Caracol included all levels of society.