Here is a post to prove that Scoop readers are the very coolest, smartest, most talented and best looking in the world. Thanks SO much Meg. I’ve never been to Caracol and NOW I need to go. Take it away…
Before we get started, allow me to introduce myself. I’m Meg, and I traveled to Belize for 10 days in September with my new husband Chris on a fantastic honeymoon- 5 nights on the mainland, and 5 on Ambergris Caye. I’ll be doing a few guest scoops for Rebecca as she takes a much-deserved trip back to the States. The photo below isn’t the best, but I’m much more frequently the photographer than the one being photographed!
The first half of our trip brought us to Hidden Valley Inn in the Mountain Pine Ridge. Rebecca stayed there last year and loved it, so I’ll let her cover the resort itself (and all the food!). ***From SPS – Check those posts at the bottom of this one!*** A future post from me will take on some parts of the property she didn’t get a chance to visit. For now, let’s focus on our first day-trip, deeper into the MPR to the ancient Mayan city of Caracol!
We were a group of 4 (myself, my husband, and two young women from the Netherlands) with our guide from HVI, Freddy. The Inn itself is about an hour down an unpaved road from Georgeville, on the Western Highway. Caracol is about another two hours further down that road- but luckily, there are some interesting stops along the way.
Our first stop was Rio Frio Cave- a cave with a huge opening and easy walking access.
Freddy let us know that examples of Mayan pottery had been found in the cave, which were probably sacrificial offerings- but no human sacrifices! There are also several carved rocks in the shape of significant figures to the Mayans. Apparently, one of the young campers from Hidden Valley’s summer camp discovered a new one this past summer!
After this brief stop, we were back on the road. Just past the turnoff for Rio Frio is a military checkpoint. All tour groups travel to Caracol with a military escort. I’ve heard several reasons for this, but they all boil down to proximity to the Guatemalan border. They had had problems in the past with bandits coming into the Caracol archaeological site, and since starting the escorts they have had no problems- and we felt very safe!
Our stop at the checkpoint had some added excitement, however: the soldiers there had just captured a huge boa constrictor! Here is a video as they released it into the woods, away from their barracks:
We started in the Barrio area, which was a residential neighborhood for the upper class.
There was also a good example of a partially-excavated ruin in this section.
We then moved on to the highlight: Caana.
Caana is still the tallest man-made structure in Belize, at about 140 feet. From the ground, you can only see the first two levels. On top of what you see above are three smaller structures. This is the center one.
The view from the second tier:
From the top, you can see into Guatemala- so gorgeous.
And there is an opportunity to climb inside a royal tomb.
There is also a restored example of Mayan glyphs
and a frieze.
We then moved through the ball court into the A-group, toward the Central and South Acropolis.
We wrapped up our two and a half hours or so on site with a lunch packed by Hidden Valley- which was way nicer than any picnic I would have packed! We also took a moment to appreciate that we were one of only two groups of tourists on site that day- a benefit of an off-season visit.
On the way back from Caracol, we visited the Rio On Pools (ie, pools in the River named On…. it took me a few months to realize that it was not supposed to refer to a river on top of pools or something). This was the one thing we missed out on due to the rainy season. While we saw almost no rain (seriously! almost none during the daytime!), apparently we’d just missed quite a bit of heavier rain in the days before we arrived. As such, the river was swollen and it was unsafe to swim in the pools. We did get to take some pretty pictures, though!
This was the second Mayan site Chris had visited (we’d visited Lamanai on a cruise last year), and my fourth (Altun Ha, and Chacchoben near Majajual, Mexico, in addition to Lamanai), and we both agree that this has been our favorite. The combination of the size of the site, the height of the temple, the view from the top (and the fact that it’s broken up into chunks, so an acrophobe like me can have a chance to stop freaking out and actually appreciate it!), and the fact that it was so empty made it incredibly impressive. We had debated going to Tikal instead, but are glad we took advantage of the chance to see a site so few are able to visit.
Next up, we’ll continue the Mayan theme as we trek deep underground, into Actun Tunichil Muknal- the Cave of the Stone Sepulcher.