The Mayan Sky Palace – Caracol, Belize

barrio mayan temple caracol

Set deep in the jungle of Belize on the Guatemalan border lies the ancient ruins of the great Mayan city of Caracol.  While Central America is dotted with ancient Mayan cities, Caracol is a little known site that is still under excavation.  Even though it covers an area larger than the Belizean capital city and is the largest archaeological site in Belize it isn’t yet full of tourists.  The day I spent on site there were less than 10 tourists in total.  I’m sure this is due in part to its location and the adventurous drive it takes to reach the site but also because it’s one of the more recent Mayan ruin discoveries.

The ruins were rediscovered in the 1930’s by a local logger as the area surrounding the site is covered by a mountain pine forest.  It wasn’t truly till the 1980’s that extensive archaeological work really began and the importance of the Caracol site was understood.  Many are familiar with the ancient ruins of Tikal in Guatemala.  Its temples sticking out of the jungle canopy have made numerous movies, including Indiana Jones and the latest series of Star Wars films.  As it turns out, the great city of Tikal was actually defeated in battle by the residents at Caracol which is recorded on one of the many altars on the sight. 

Visiting Caracol is like walking into a scene from Indiana Jones with the first ruins revealing itself from the jungle canopy after traversing the same ancient stone steps the Mayans did thousands of years ago. 

mayan staircase
Ancient Mayan stairs to the Barrio group of structures

Then as you reach the top of the stairs a shaded temple appears through the jungle vines and foliage.  The impact of the small temple emerging from the jungle will definitely leave you in awe of the people that came before you.

mayan ruins jungle
The first ruin at the Barrio group of structures as it pops out of the jungle

The complex is comprised of numerous temples and ball courts along with evidence of an ancient reservoir for water reserves.  I should mention that there isn’t a natural water source near the site that used to support more than 100,000 inhabitants….amazing. 

The temples are amazingly grand, with Caana still holding its place as one of the tallest structures in Belize to this day. 

barrio mayan temple caracol
B Plaza Pyramid

A long climb that gets a bit scary halfway up.  Unlike many other sites there are no rails or ropes to support you as you ascend.  Being not too keen on heights, it will make your stomach churn more than a little bit. 

mayan temple stairs
Walking up Caana

Once you arrive at what looks like the top when standing at the bottom, you learn that you’re only a third of the way up.  

mayan temple top
The steps to the next landing….I though to the top but there’s more after that

Many rooms surround the middle of the temple with what looks to be small beds inside each.  

room halfway up mayan pyramid
A Mayan bedroom
mayan ruins temple trees

The next plaza was designed geometrically.  Each pyramid was constructed to not only align with each other but to align with the change of the seasons according to the sky. The Mayans were very advanced in predicting seasons and charting calendars.  

mayan temple plaza
Plaza A

Atop one of the tallest pyramids you can also see original wood beams above the doorway that have been present for thousands of years.  

mayan temple wood beam
The view of the opposite pyramid from the top of the Temple of the Wooden Lintel…where’s Waldo…I mean Carolyn?

As you can see, Caracol is an amazing site and one that I wish I’d spent more time at.  Would you want to visit?  How does Caracol compare to other Mayan sites you’ve visited?  

For more information you can also check out the Archaeological Project that details the history of the city as well as the ongoing progress of digs at the site.  

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