Once one of the most powerful cities in the entire Maya world, Caracol now lies enshrouded by thick jungle near the Guatemalan border, a 52-mile, roughly two- or three-hour drive from San Ignacio. Sitting high on the Vaca Plateau, this is the largest Maya site in Belize, having possibly stretched over 70 sq miles at its peak around AD 650. Nearly 40 miles of internal causeways radiate from the center to large outlying plazas and residential areas.
At its height, the city’s population may have approached 150,000, more than twice as many people as Belize City has today. Though they had no natural water source, the people of Caracol dug artificial reservoirs to catch rainwater and grew food on extensive agricultural terraces. Its central area was a bustling place of temples, palaces, busy thoroughfares, craft workshops and markets. Caracol is not only the preeminent archaeological site in Belize but also exciting for its jungle setting and prolific birdlife. At the ticket office, a small visitors center outlines Caracol’s history and has a helpful scale model, while a museum houses much of the sculpture found at Caracol. There are toilets, picnic tables and a small gift shop. Be sure to bring food, water and, if you’re driving, a spare tire. Overnight stays are not permitted.