Caracol is the largest archaeological site in Belize and its remote location and proximity to the Guatemalan border means getting there requires a military escort. It’s worth the effort.

There are many regulations–including a military escort–which need to be followed in order to visit the Caracol archaeological site in Belize.

Getting to the Caracol archaeological site

To get to the Caracol Mayan archaeological site you’ve got to drive through the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve over a mostly decent dirt road. Then you keep driving out of the reserve and into Chiquibul National Park (tours depart from and return to San Ignacio or the lodges in the Mountain Pine Ridge area).

But Caracol is very close to the border with Guatemala and the area has seen some illegal border crossings among Guatemalans sneaking into Belize to find work or to harvest things from the still-pristine jungle in the parkland on the Belize side of the border, including a palm frond called xate that’s used by international floral companies.

Guatemalans and Belizean officials have had violent clashes in this border area, so now all tourists who want to visit Caracol are required to arrive at a nearby military check point by 9 am and then convoy up into a line of vehicles lead by a military escort to the site itself. It’s dramatic and sort of a pain in the neck, but once at the Caracol site you are free to explore on your own. After touring the site, a few of us left in our own un-escorted convoy for the return trip.

Caana (which means sky place) is the main temple at the Caracol archaeological site in Belize and at 141 feet (43 meters) high it’s still the tallest structure in the country.

Exploring the Caracol Mayan archaeological site

Caracol has been dated to the Maya Classic period and at its peak it was one of the largest Mayan cities with more than 140,000 inhabitants. The site is currently being excavated and studied by Dr. Arlen Chase and Dr. Diane Chase.

Caracol is not a huge site, but what’s excavated is spectacular. The main temple, Caana (which means sky place) is 141 feet (43 meters) high making it the tallest building in Belize even today.

The Caana temple at the Caracol archaeological site.

Frieze work on an upper temple of the Caana temple at Caracol.

The view from the top of the Caana temple.

Check out the panoramic view of the jungle around the Caracol archaeological site in our video, below, which was shot from the top of the Caana temple.

The Temple of the Wooden Lintel at Caracol.

A mask at the Caracol archaeological site in Belize.

Plaza A at the Caracol archaeological site in Belize.

A restored residential area at the Caracol archaeological site in Belize.

An impressive pair of ceiba trees at the Caracol archaeological site–the Mayans consider the ceiba to be a sacred link to the underworld.

On our way out of Caracol we made a short detour to check out the Rio Frio Cave. More of a tunnel or a tube, this petite and peaceful formation requires little more than a stroll from the parking area through the cave (along a path that does not require wading through the stream that runs through the cave) and back again. There were a few rudimentary camping areas near the mouth of the cave too.

The very accessible Rio on Frio Cave, near the military checkpoint on the dirt road to/from the Caracol archaeological site, is really more of a tunnel.

Here’s more about travel in Belize