Feb 15th

Today we took another guided tour with PACZ tours. This was a trip to the large Mayan ruins of Caracol. Because no one else had signed up for this adventure on that day, Melanie and I ended up with a private tour.

To reach Caracol is a long ride over a bumpy dirt road. You will pass through jungle and tree planations (teak and mahogany) and small villages. A few years back, there was danger from bandits from Guatemala crossing the border and robbing tourists on this road, but now Belize military maintains a presence (tourism is crucial to the country's economy) and the banditry has stopped.

At one point in Mayan history, Caracol was a major power. It fought wars with mighty Tikal and won. Their king ruled over a large population and they built some magnificent temples to celebrate their achievements. The biggest of these is the huge Sky Palace of Canaa. This is a huge pyramidal structure, on the top of which were erected three temples and rooms for elite citizens such as royalty and priests. Inside these temples were tombs and treasures. The structures were adorned with stucco masks and brightly painted painted; it must have been a marvel to see these buildings in their prime glory.

Our guide took us to each acropolis, told us some details about what we were looking at, and then went off to sit in the shade while Melanie and I explored everything. I guess it was a good thing that no other people had signed up for this same excursion, because I doubt they would have had the patience to wait for us to climb each temple and peer into each tomb.

Some of the buildings at Caracol are completely restored, but some are just grassy mounds. Only the main temple areas are restored, apparently there are hundreds of small residential buildings surrounding the city center that have not been excavated. The Sky Palace restoration was only recently finished, in 2005. The estimate of peak population in Caracol is 100,000 inhabitants, so there are significant amounts of discoveries still remaining. Although Caracol today is surrounded by jungle in all directions, during the days of the Maya all of the landscape was cleared for agriculture.

After we explored to our hearts content, we started the long drive back to San Ignacio. Our guide stopped at the Rio On pools so we could go swimming for a bit and cool off. We ate dinner in San Ignacio and again went to bed early. It had been another perfect day in Belize!

I bought a flyer of the Caracol site, and it included this map (which is how I identified all of the structures)

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