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Mexico may have the major Mayan sites of Palenque and Chichén Itzá, Guatemala may be home to the mighty Tikal, and Copán, with its magnificent hieroglyphic stairway may hide out in the thick jungles of northern Honduras, but it is tiny Belize that has the highest concentration of Mayan ruins in the world.

With over 600 sites identified, there’s no shortage of opportunities for the traveller to ramble among these timeless archaeological sites. Deep within the lush green jungles of Chiquibul Forest Reserve, lays Belize’s most impressive ancient Mayan city—Caracol. The ruins are not nearly as well excavated as other well-known Central American Mayan sites, which is a good thing: Caracol has not lost its rugged charm. Chichén Itzá is for new-age mystics, Tikal is where they make ads for Nike and Tulum is for day-tripping college spring breakers out of Cancún; Caracol has been set aside for true lovers of ancient Mayan culture.

Located on the western edge of the Maya mountains in southern Belize, amid a tangle of thick forest, Caracol remained hidden from modern eyes until 1938 when a logger named Rosa Mai stumbled upon this marvellous wonder. That same year, A.H. Anderson (an archaeological commissioner) visited the site and promptly named it “Caracol” which means “snail” in Spanish, due to the large number of snail shells found at the site. Recent research suggests that the true name of the ancient Maya city was “Oxwitza.”

Caracol was a major Mayan city with five plazas, thirty-two large stone structures, five courtyard groups and two causeways. Excavations are currently being conducted by archaeologists from the University of Central Florida, led by Arlen and Diane Chase. One of the perks that comes with a visit to Caracol is the ability to stand over the shoulders of archaeologists as they dig away. So much work is being conducted here that new monuments and carvings are discovered weekly. Currently the ruins cover a total of 30 square miles and once fully excavated they may out-size the mighty Tikal to the west in Guatemala.

Caracol was settled around 300 BC, and occupied well into the Late Classic period of the Mayan empire. At its peak of political power, this mighty city covered an astonishing 100 square kilometres, and supported a population of more than 100,000. Recent evidence indicates that Caracol may have even defeated Tikal in the mid-sixth century.

It’s hard to believe Caracol remained hidden for over 1,000 years, considering the towering structure of Caana. The largest pyramid of Caracol Caana, or “Sky Palace,” stands around 140 feet high, and is in fact the tallest man-made structure in the whole country. From the top of the pyramid, visitors get the most spectacular view of Caracol and its surrounding jungle and mountain ridges. Birdwatching is top notch as you can expect to see toucans and flocks of brilliant green parrots flying overhead.

Did you like this article? Then you'll like these: Xunantunich, Placencia, Cahal Pech, Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary, Masewal Forest Garden, Tobacco Caye, Actun Tunichl Muknal, Aces American Crocodile Education Sanctuary/BELIZE, Nu'uk Che'il Cottages and Learning to Dive in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye.

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