The Amazing Ruins of Caracol in Belize
Known by the Maya as Uxwitza, a term meaning "Three Water Hill," the city fell into ruins many centuries ago but was discovered by a Belizean logger in 1937. Renamed by the British to Caracol, the Spanish word for "snail" due to the spiraling ascent to the site, today the area is the biggest Mayan city ever excavated in Belize.
Larger in area than Belize City, the biggest metropolis in modern-day Belize, the site of Caracol encompasses more than 75 square miles. Archeologists believe that the downtown area of the city was once home to 15,000 elite members of society, including government bureaucrats, royalty and priests. An additional 180,000 people lived further out in settlements build on paved roads that stretch in every direction from the city center. Founded approximately 3,200 years ago, Caracol remained inhabited until about the year 1050 A.D. with the final collapse of the Mayan Empire.
Today, visitors can explore the amazing Sky Palace (known as Caana) which includes a large pyramid, four impressive palaces, three sacred temples and the building that still holds the record as the tallest building in Belize. Further out, visitors can see more than 24 intricately-carved stelae, several large ball courts, 24 ceremonial altars, five enormous plazas, water reservoirs and an astronomical observatory. Archeologists have documented more than 35,000 separate buildings on the site but only the core area has been completely documented and open for the public.
After much consultation, an aerial survey was conducted in 2009 using lasers to penetrate through the thick jungle growth, revealing huge swathes of the city that have not yet been excavated. It is believed that Caracol was once an ally of nearby Tikal (just over the border in modern-day Guatemala) and that Caracol was once a leading city-state in the Classic Period of the Mayan Empire. Carvings and glyphs have revealed that Caracol was once at war with Tikal and other nearby city-states.