The Mountain Pine Ridge is one of the top attractions in the Cayo District of Belize. While it is not difficult to reach, the roads have degraded significantly do to lack of maintenance. As a result, we only suggest the trip to tourists renting 4 wheel drive vehicles, or preferred, going on trips with guides that are familiar driving the roads.
Guests of Lower Dover Field Station and Jungle Lodge can see everything that the Mt. Pine Ridge has to offer on a whole day tour, including the magnificent Maya site of Caracol. It is really a whole day trip, and a grueling one at that. This is not a ride for people who suffer from car sickness, or anyone nursing a hangover, for it will test your endurance even in a Land Rover.
For tourists short on time in Western Belize and looking for a sample of the Mayan experience in 2012, we suggest visiting the highly accessible Maya archaeological sites of Xunantunich or Cahal Pech first. Both of these Maya ceremonial centers have been well excavated and can even be reached by public transportation.
If guests have planned on making the trek to Guatemala to see Tikal, then we suggest skipping Caracol, because the Tikal tour is a much smoother ride. The Tikal ruins have undergone many more years of excavation to yield multiple temples that reach far about the jungle canopy. In our opinion, Caracol is only for the hardcore Maya enthusiast. Unless tourists are really into it, the third or fourth Maya settlement visit can be overkill on a short vacation.
That being said, Caracol was the Maya site that supposedly conquered Tikal during the Classic Maya period. It is one of the few Maya sites where the Mayan name is actually known. Oxwitza or “three hill water” is the name the Maya used, Caracol is actually Spanish for snail, due to large amounts of snail shells found there during initial excavations in the 1930’s.
The main draws to Caracol are the site’s well preserved stela depicting the history of the great rulers here, and the massive temple, Caana (“sky place”) Caana is a massive Maya temple, 43 meters tall, which almost unbelievably, is still the largest man-made structure in Belize. In the last 1200 years no government, hotel, or private building has surpassed Caana’s scale, and the Maya built without the wheel!
Due to the remoteness of Caracol, in a region neighboring Guatemala known to harbor illegal loggers and Mayan looters, the Belize Defense Force has a healthy presence. In fact, all tours going to Caracol need to check in at the ranger station, and drivers will have the option of an army escort for the final leg of the trip to Caracol. We say accept, it’s not often you have the opportunity to pick up a guy with a machine gun that’s on your side! The security will hang out at the park until the tour is done and head back with the crowd.
For more on the other tourist spots in the Mountain Pine Ridge, including 1000 foot falls, Rio Frio Cave, and the Rio On Pools, check in tomorrow for part 2.