When we were researching various Mayan ruins near San Ignacio, there was one that kept popping up that sounded amazing: Caracol. It was one of most recently rediscovered ruins (1937) and the biggest in Belize. In fact, it was a real rival to neighboring Tikal in Guatemala. Not something to be missed! However, it was not very easy to get to, so we had to come up with a plan!
Step 1: Decide whether or not to take a tour.
Not nearly as many people visit Caracol as do the other nearby ruins (in part because there are no easy cruise excursions here). But, several of the tour offices do offer day long trips to Caracol. The cost seemed outrageous. Up to $100 per person for trip of only 40 km outside of San Igancio. Decision: No Tour
Step 2: Explore how to get there without a tour.
The guidebook made it clear that it was perfectly possible to get to Caracol on your own. Only a few problems: there is no public transportation available AND you are going to be traveling through undeveloped jungle near the Guatemalan border and there have been reports of hijackings along the way! The good news is that it had been approximately 15 years since any of those had been reported, in part because the Belizean government had set up a military convoy into and out of Caracol. If you want the safety of the convoy, you must arrive at the starting point by 9 am and you must leave the ruins by 2 pm. Decision: It shouldn’t be too bad – let’s do it!
Step 3: Rent a Car.
We wandered around San Ignacio one afternoon visiting various rental car places listed in our guidebook. We pretty much went with the first one we found and were able to talk with someone (Matus Car Rental). Renting a car in Belize is an amazing experience compared with the US. It went like this: We ask for a car. They quote a price for the day. We say we will do it and go to sign the papers. They give us one easy to understand paper to sign. We ask for what the hidden fees are. They look at us like we’re crazy and confirm that it indeed the quoted price for the day, no more. We are shocked. Decision: Rent cars in Belize!
Step 4: Find Travel Friends!
We have discovered through our past trips that some of the best days happen when you rent a car, find some new friends, and strike out to something off the beaten path. Going to Caracol was the perfect opportunity, so all we needed were some travel buddies. Luckily, our prior trip to Xunatunich provided us with what we needed. We met a really wonderful couple on the top of El Castillo. He was from South Africa, she was from Slovakia, and they were amazing travel companions. Decision: Travel friends are one of the best reasons to travel!
Step 5: Go For it!
We picked up our rental car early in the morning. The first challenge was that the front tire seemed to be flat.
“No problem,” says the rental owner, “you can grab some air at the gas station down the road.” Suspiciously, we ask, “How much does that cost??” Long silence… “Air? Air is free!” He looks at us like we were insane. Who in their right mind could possibly charge for air? Oh…
We filled up the tire, retrieve our travel companions and head off towards Caracol. Della had to drive because Eric still hasn’t learned how to drive a stick shift! 😉 The road became pretty bumpy quickly, but not too bad when you compare it to some roads in Gilpin county. We made it to the military checkpoint with plenty of time to spare. The guards looked a little bored and were definitely not worried about anything bad happening. They told us we could wait for the convoy if wanted… or not. We took this as a good sign, but still decided to wait. When the convoy actually happened, it really wasn’t very regimented but we definitely made it safely to the ruins. The last 10 miles in were actually on paved road which was a wonderful change the from the gravelly, washboard road we had been traveling on prior.
We enjoyed a marvelous day at Caracol. We climbed to the top of Caana, which at about 141 ft is still one of the tallest man made buildings in Belize. We saw some great stellae ruins and the Temple of the Wooden Lintel which has an original wooden lintel! The great thing about how hard Caracol is to get to is that not very many people go. We often felt like we were the only ones there.
We left as recommended, with the military convoy at 2 pm. We were pretty tired, but our traveling companions suggested two stops on the way back that were supposed to be lovely: The Rio On Pools and Big Rock Falls. Rio On Pools were very easy to find and provided an excellent way to cool off on the hot Belizean day. Big Rock Falls were a bit of a harder challenge. They ended up requiring us to drive into what turned out to be an expensively exclusive resort and then to wander aimlessly through till we made a good guess as to where to park. But, despite the difficulty finding the place, it was amazing! We arrived back in San Ignacio after dark, exhausted but content! Decision: Get yourself to Caracol! It is fantastic day!
Click here to see the route we took.