Caracol is an important Mayan city that flourished in the 6th century AD and now lies in ruins in west-central Belize, near the border with Guatemala. The city, which lay hidden in the jungle until its discovery in 1938, contains numerous pyramids, royal tombs, dwellings and other structures, as well as a large collection of Mayan art.
History of Caracol
The largest Mayan site in Belize, Caracol once occupied a large area (88 sq km) and supported a population of about 140,000 people. Its Mayan name was Oxwitzá, ("three hill water"). The name Caracol means "snail" in Spanish and refers to the large number of snails found here during early explorations.
The earliest known habitation of Caracol occurred as early as 900 BC, but the first known Mayan ritual complexes date from about 70 AD, when the Temple of the Wooden Lintel and locus B34 burial were built. Another elaborate burial was added to the same site around 150 AD.
The Caracol royal dynasty was founded in 331, and the city rose in power over the next two centuries. Caracol flourished from the 6th to 8th centuries, after which it rapidly declined. In 562, Caracol defeated the Mayan city of Tikal and assumed leadership of the region. It went on to defeat another rival city, Naranjo, in 631.
The last date recorded on a stele at Caracol is in 859 and the city was totally abandoned by 1050. The ancient Mayan city was overtaken by the jungle and forgotten until its rediscovery by a woodcutter in 1937.
Archaeologists first arrived in 1952–53 and began preliminary studies, but extensive clearing of the jungle and dedicated archaeological work did not begin until 1985, under the leadership of archaeologists Diane Chase and Arlen Chase of the University of Central Florida. An on-site museum was opened in 1998 and excavations continue today.
What to See at Caracol
Caracol is located in the Chiquibil Forest Reserve of west-central Belize, just 47 miles from the Mayan city of Tikal (in Guatemala). Designated the Caracol Archaeological Reserve, the site is not as extensively cleared as others in the region, but this allows for more atmosphere and wildlife spotting.
So far, Caracol archaeologists have uncovered two ball courts and three main plazas surrounded by pyramid temples and other structures. Over 100 tombs have also been found, as well as a rich array of hieroglyphic inscriptions, which reveal the history of this lost Mayan city.
The most impressive sight at Caracol is a hillside complex known as Caana, which is Maya for "Sky Place." Rising 43.5 meters above the plaza below, Caana contains four palaces and three temples. It is one of the most elaborate complexes found so far in the Southern Maya region. The palace rooms were originally coated with white stucco and decorated with red paint.
The largest tomb discovered so far was hidden deep below Caracol Stucture B19. The tomb chamber was also coated with white stucco and decorated with a thick red line around the center and a large red panel at one end. Inside the red panel is an inscription recording the date 634 AD. The only occupant of the chamber was an adult female, who had been bundled in cloths and accompanied by ceremonial vessels.
Quick Facts on Caracol
|Names:||Caracol · Caracol Archaeological Reserve · Oxwitzá|
|Categories:||archaeological sites; temples; city ruins|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||16.763177° N, 89.117768° W|
|Lodging:||View hotels near Caracol|
- Caracol Archaeological Project - University of Central Florida
- Caracol - Encyclopaedia Britannica (2009)
- Caracol - Rough Guide to Belize (2007)
- Mountain Pine Ridge and Caracol Attractions - Frommer's Belize, 3rd ed. (2008)
Map of Caracol
Below is a location map and aerial view of Caracol. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.