Caracol maya ruins in western Belize.
Located deep within the Chiquibul Rain Forest, at the foot of the Maya Mastif, in Belize's Cayo District, Caracol is truly one of the greatest Maya archaeological sites ever recovered. Said to have been occupied as early as 1200 BCE, its greatest period of growth occurred during the Maya Classic period and by 700 CE (AD) Caracol may have reached 180,000 in population, making it one of the highest inhabited Maya cities to ever exist. An interpretation of a very elaborate stone located in one of its two ballcourts depicts Caracol defeating the city of Tikal in 562 CE, 60 miles away in Guatemala.
This was my second or third time to visit Caracol, and I can say that I love this place, not only for its history and architectural beauty, but because of the nature of clearings around Maya sites making them ideal wildlife viewing areas.
My dad and mom at Caracol.
The view from the top of the main temple, Ca'ana is spectacular on clear days. Lately though, there has been much clearing of land by use of fire, which has caused lots of smoke in the area (refer to my family picture from '01 vs '07). Actually on the way there, the road led us right through many of these actively burning areas. It was really sad to see for me, because I know so much habitat is being destroyed, and that the fires are uncontrolled and are burning well beyond their intended effects.
Another interesting note on visiting this site is that at the time of our little outing, we had to coordinate with several other groups of tourists at the Mountain Pine Ridge Ranger Station in order to arrange a police escort to the site.
Climbing Ca'ana, the main structure at Caracol.
Apparently there had been several incidents of cars being stopped by bandits from across the border who were taking people's money on their way in and out of Caracol. So we, a school bus full of kids, and two other cars, followed the cops, who were fully equiped with automatic rifles, from MPR Station to the Caracol Visitor's Center. Not only that, but of course we had to be escorted out as well, so we were put on a schedule so that we couldn't spend as much time there as we would have liked. I think we were allowed 2 hours, but I'm sure we would have preferred another hour or two. We had no such run-ins with bandits, though I don't know whether it had anything to do with our escort.
It turned out to be a nice day.
The fam at Caracol in 2007.
The smoke cut out a good bit of sun, but it was still hot. We got to see everything we wanted to see though we were contending with the bus full of San Pedro High School kids, many of which I'm sure I taught coastal ecology classes to back in '02. We did feel a little rushed, but made it to the top of Ca'ana (Belize's highest manmade structure), and to the ball courts, observatory, and some of the other more outlying buildings. It wasn' t the best day for birding or other wildlife viewing, as we were there during full heat, but we did run into colorful critters.
I fully suggest a trip to visit Caracol to anyone who has the opportunity to spend time in Cayo District and has the interest in Maya history and classic Central American jungle.