Today we went to Caracol (Spanish for snail), perhaps the best Mayan site in Belize.  Set deep in the jungle, it took about an hour and half of driving over very rough roads from our lodge, which itself is more than an hour from the main road, or about 2.5 hours from Belize City.

You really have to want to go to Caracol to get there!  This is literally the end of the road, and as the site is close the Guatemalan border, you caravan in with other vehicles along with a Belizean army escort.  They had problems in the past with Guatemalans coming over the border and stealing flora and fauna, poaching, and even committing armed robbery on tourists, so they started the escorts and haven’t had any problems for many years.  Since we had our own rented SUV we decided to drive there ourselves rather than take a tour and so only had to pay the park entry fee (about US$7.50 each).  Given how bumpy the road is and that I can get motion sickness when I’m a passenger, I was glad to drive.  Very challenging, but fun.

Each of the Mayan sites we have visited has its own character, but to me, Caracol really feels remote – I half expected to see Indiana Jones make an appearance!  Because it is so remote, there aren’t a ton of visitors, so it is easy to explore the site and only occasionally run into other people.  The main temple here is still the tallest building in Belize and like all the ruins we’ve visited, it has similar architecture and great views.

What is particularly neat about Caracol is that there are some small segments of better preserved inscriptions and carvings so you get a little more sense of what an awesome place the Mayan ruins must have been in their heyday.  It is still being excavated and current estimates are that it supported many thousands of inhabitants.  From stellae inscriptions at Tikal it is known that at one point Caracol joined with the city of Calakmul (currently in So. Mexico) and defeated Tikal, but later Tikal regained its independence.

In between the various buildings is dense jungle and this is a fun part of the experience too as you walk along the trails.  Lots of leaf cutter ants and other insects.  We also heard howler monkeys again (very well named!)  Apparently the park staff spotted a tapir before we arrived, but we did not see it.  On the way in we saw a very striking bird of prey but unfortunately without a bird guide we could not identify it.

Caracol provided a few injuries – Kelly slipped on mossy steps and landed hard on her tush.  She was sore, but has since seemed to improve with rest.  Both Aaron and Kelly got ant bites, but I was mercifully spared.

When we were at Yaxha one of the locals showed Aaron how to “fish” for a tarantula.  You take a long thin stick and gently poke it down its burrow.  With luck the spider grabs on to it with its fangs and you can gently lift it out.   As we finished up our walk around Caracol Aaron spotted some spider leg movement from a hole under a big tree and put his training to use.  After some effort, the largest spider we have ever seen came out.  To get some idea of scale, we photographed it with my penknife, which is 6” long with the ruler.  The angle here is a little deceptive (the metal part is as long as the red handle, so both the spider and the knife are at a bit of an angle). End to end best estimate is that he was at least as long as the knife.  We left him (her?) in peace, had some snacks, and drove the journey back again in caravan with an escort, tired but very happy

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