The Caracol Mayan ruins is the largest Maya site in Belize. Hidden deep in the Belizean forest, you’ll discover this ancient Maya city, which has been marvellously excavated. Sure, the Caracol Mayan ruins don’t get as much attention as the nearby Tikal in Guatemala. But, rest assured, Caracol is just as worthy of your visit! Given the ruins are difficult to reach independently, it’s likely that you’ll need to do a tour to visit. So, we’re going to tell you the most essential things to know about tours visiting the Caracol Mayan ruins in Belize.
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How to Visit the Caracol Mayan Ruins in Belize
In this guide, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about visiting the Caracol Mayan ruins in Belize. Certainly, visitors to Belize often prioritise visiting the Caribbean side of the country to snorkel or dive at the incredible Belizean Barrier Reef. But, we honestly think it’s worth heading to the west of Belize, just to visit the extraordinary Caracol Mayan ruins.
Often, backpackers following the Central America Gringo Trail will find themselves in San Ignacio, as they travel between Belize City and Flores in Guatemala (to visit Tikal). San Ignacio is actually the perfect base to visit the Caracol Mayan ruins. There are plenty of tour companies operating in San Ignacio, offering trips to the immaculate ruins.
To that end, we’re going to tell you all of the most important information when it comes to booking a tour to Caracol in Belize. But, first, a little Caracol Belize history!
About Caracol, Belize
The Caracol temple history is truly fascinating. The site was first discovered in 1937 by a local named Rosa Mai who was simply searching for mahogany hardwood trees to cut down. He was the first to stumble upon the mystifying Caracol city (AKA Caracol village).
The discovery was passed on to archaeologists in the late 1930s. But, it wasn’t until the early 1950s, that there were more extensive efforts to excavate the area. Since then, there have been ongoing exploration projects by varying groups. Most notably, Diane Chase and Arlen Chase were pioneers of discovery, from the mid-1980s. They considerably helped to uncover the Caracol Mayan ruins (AKA the Caracol Maya ruin, Caracol Belize ruins and the Caracol Belize Mayan ruins).
These days, the site is known as the Caracol Natural Monument Reservation, but it also goes by the name of Caracol Archaeological Site and Caracol Archaeological Reserve.
It’s believed that Caracol’s settlement history dates back to at least the Early Pre-Classic period between 1,200–800 B.C. Whilst, it’s proposed that monumental structures were built in the Late Pre-Classic period between 300B.C.–200 A.D. It’s likely that the site reached its glory days in the Early to mid-Classic Period between 250–700 A.D. This was, in part, due to the succession of the great warrior King Yajaw Te’ K’inich, Lord Water, in 553 A.D.
Eventually, Caracol was abandoned around 900–1050 A.D. for unknown reasons. Although, this period coincided with the general demise of the Mayan civilisation.
Caracol meaning: the name, Caracol, is a modern Spanish word, which generally means ‘spiral’ or ‘spiral-shaped’. The word was used in relation to the winding access road that originally led to the site.
Where Is Caracol Located in Belize?
The Caracol Mayan ruins are found in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve. This forest reserve is located in the west of Belize around three hours south of San Ignacio and around an hour south of the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. Please click on the image below to access an interactive map of the area on Google Maps.
Getting to and Around Caracol, Belize
Most tourists will visit the Caracol Mayan ruins from San Ignacio, a prominent town in the west of Belize. Indeed, visiting Caracol is one of the most popular things to do from San Ignacio.
There are no paved or sealed roads leading to Caracol in Belize. From the town of San Antonio, just west of San Ignacio, a series of unpaved, winding, bumpy and uneven 4WD-only accessible roads lead through Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve to Caracol. Whilst, there is no public transport heading to Caracol. Basically, unless you hire a 4WD and drive there yourself, doing a tour from San Ignacio to Caracol is really the only way of getting there and getting around.
Visiting Caracol: Guided Tour vs. Driving Independently
Basically, your only two options for visiting Caracol, in Belize, are to do a tour from San Ignacio or drive yourself there. Let’s look at these two options in a bit more detail below.
Basically, unless you hire a 4WD and feel brave enough to drive on the notoriously poor-quality dirt roads, a tour is your only option. Personally, Beck and I did a Caracol tour from San Ignacio and highly recommend it. Indeed, we think this is the most straightforward and easy option for visiting the ruins.
You’ll find a few different tour companies in San Ignacio, offering slightly varying Caracol tour itineraries. That’s because most tours combine visiting Caracol with visiting different natural attractions in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve.
These combined tours make sense, as after all, you’ll need to drive through the forest reserve to reach Caracol. Given it’s a three-hour drive from San Ignacio to Caracol, stopping in at natural wonders at Mountain Pine Ridge is actually a great way to break up the journey. Certainly, if you want the best of both worlds – seeing both historical and natural attractions, these combined tours are great.
You can find excellent combined Caracol and Mountain Pine Ridge tours on both Viator and GetYourGuide. Viator offers the most highly-rated and highly-reviewed tour from San Ignacio, which visits Caracol, Rio on Pools and Rio Frio Cave.
Visiting Caracol Independently By 4WD Hire
If you are a competent and experienced 4WD driver and are happy to hire a 4WD, then you can certainly drive to the Caracol Mayan ruins yourself. Although, keep in mind that 4WD hire in Belize isn’t cheap. You may be looking at around $80–100USD/day for car hire, plus petrol. Given that’s a similar price to a guided tour, hiring a 4WD wouldn’t save you money.
Of course, there’s also the safety element. We’ll discuss more about the safety situation on the Guatemala and Belize border here. In short, there have been safety issues in the past, although safety has improved and the current situation seems stable. But, for peace of mind, it’s probably best to do a guided tour. As they say, safety in numbers and with locals.
Visiting Independently: Entrance Fees and Inclusions
If you visit independently, the Caracol Mayan ruins entry fee is $15BZD ($7.50USD) per person. By visiting independently, you’ll explore the ruins without a guide. If you do a guided tour from San Ignacio, the entry fee is usually included in the price of the tour.
Caracol, Belize Guided Tour: Our Experience
Doing a guided tour is not only the most logical and simple way to visit the Caracol Mayan ruins, but it’s a great way to learn about Caracol’s history. Your guide will explain the significance of all of the monumental structures. Indeed, Beck and I enjoyed the experience even more by doing a guided tour of the site.
Overall, Caracol is easily one of the best Mayan ruins in Central America, let alone Belize. Truth be told, we visited a tonne of Mayan ruins during our time in Central America. And, without a doubt, Caracol is up there with the best of them! Specifically, one of the best things about visiting Caracol is that you’re allowed to climb the steps of some of the ruins. By doing so, you’ll enjoy unforgettable views of the ruins as well as the surrounding forest.
Personally, Beck and I visited Caracol as well as the ATM Cave with MayaWalk Tours. They are one of the most reputable companies in San Ignacio and they have excellent tour guides. Indeed, on the day, our tour guide was exceptionally knowledgeable. Whether it was a large monumental structure or just a small altar, stela or plaza, he explained the history behind everything!
Additionally, one of the benefits of doing a tour with MayaWalk is their flexibility with its itineraries. It’s possible to visit their office in person and ask whether certain inclusions can be made to a tour. Of course, there is no guarantee as it depends if other people have already signed up for a tour. But, because of their flexibility, we were able to do a Caracol tour that also visited the three main attractions of Mountain Pine Ridge – Big Rock Falls, Rio on Pools and Rio Frio Cave.
Indeed, on some occasions, tours only visit two of these three attractions. So, make sure to ask the tour company about the exact itinerary before you book so you know exactly where you’ll be going.
Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve
The Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve is one of the most beautiful areas to explore in Belize. Definitely, it’s an added bonus to visiting Caracol. As mentioned, the main natural attractions include Big Rocks Falls, Rio on Pools and Rio Frio Cave. Let’s quickly review these other fun stops you’ll make by doing a combined Caracol and Mountain Ridge Forest Reserve tour.
Big Rock Falls
Big Rock Falls is a stunning single-tier waterfall tumbling roughly 45 metres into a gorgeous natural swimming pool. Swimming to the Big Rock Falls is an awesome experience and one of the best things we did during the tour.
Rio on Pools
Rio on Pools is a series of gorgeous cascades, flowing over large granite boulders. Swimming in Rio on Pools is another incredible experience that you can have during a tour.
Rio Frio Cave
Rio Frio Cave is another exceptional natural attraction in Mountain Pine Ridge. Certainly, Rio Frio Cave is one of the best caves in Belize. Best of all, it’s easy to access and explore. After a short walk, you’ll reach the cave’s large opening, where you can enter and freely explore.
Thousand Foot Falls
Thousand Foot Falls is yet another impressive waterfall found in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. The Thousand Foot Falls are actually the highest waterfall in Central America. The waterfall used to be a possible inclusion in Caracol tours. But, unfortunately, the waterfall is notoriously difficult to reach because of extremely poor road conditions. That’s why tour companies have stopped including this waterfall in their Caracol tours.
Of course, this situation could change if the road conditions improve. Please let us know in the comments below if you were able to visit Thousand Foot Falls during a Caracol tour.
What To Pack When Visiting Caracol, Belize
Let’s talk about the things you’ll need to wear and pack for your trip to the Caracol Mayan ruins in Belize.
- Merrell Moab Mid Gore-Tex Hiking Boots: these are my favourite hiking boots. They’re super comfortable and lightweight.
- The North Face Venture Jacket: you’ll want a waterproof jacket if you’re visiting during the rainy season.
- Osprey Skarab 30L Day Backpack: a great backpack for exploring natural spaces, which has plenty of space to store your gear.
- Columbia Convertible Trousers: a great way to cover your skin to protect yourself from the sun and ticks!
- Swimming gear: you’ll need your swimmers if you want to swim at Rio on Pools or Big Rock Falls.
- Microfibre towel: a small lightweight microfibre towel is a great addition to dry off after a swim.
- Sunglasses, hat and insect repellant
Where to Stay in San Ignacio
Most people will visit Caracol from San Ignacio, Belize. With that said, let’s look at the best budget, mid-range and luxury accommodation options in San Ignacio.
- Budget – Yellow Belly Backpackers: if you’re looking for the cheapest accommodation, head to Yellow Belly Backpackers. The hostel is certainly a favourite among backpackers.
- Mid-range – Matus Guest House: Beck and I stayed at Matus Guest House and really enjoyed it. The guest house is certainly the best value for money option in San Ignacio. A stay in a private room at this lovely guest house is a similar price to staying in a dorm room in a hostel.
- Luxury – San Ignacio Resort Hotel: the San Ignacio Resort Hotel is definitely one of the nicest places to stay in San Ignacio.
Safety When Visiting Caracol, Belize
In fairly recent times (2000s and 2010s), there were problems with safety along the Guatemala-Belize border. Basically, there have been reports of Guatemalan banditos robbing tourists at gunpoint along the road leading to Caracol (Caracol Road).
In response, the Belizean Government increased their efforts to ensure the safety of tourists and guides near the border. As part of this, pre-pandemic, the government organised daily military escorts from the military base to the ruins. Post-pandemic, these military escorts have stopped.
Thankfully, there hasn’t been a robbery or another incident reported since 2016. So, hopefully, the robberies are a thing of the past. But, you just never know. As mentioned, a sensible precaution would be to do a guided tour instead of visiting independently. Safety in numbers and with locals.
Travel Insurance For Belize
You’ll need travel insurance if you’re travelling throughout Central America, especially if you’re getting off the beaten track in Belize!
SafetyWing is an excellent budget-friendly travel insurance provider. Personally, Beck and I have used SafetyWing’s Nomad Insurance many times to insure our trips. The Nomad Insurance is fantastic value for money with a smaller additional cost to add a partner. Unlike most other insurance companies, there’s an option to pay on a monthly basis, similar to having a prepaid phone plan. Better yet, there’s no lock-in contract. In addition, you can cancel at any time, which will take effect the month after.
For shorter trips, it’s also possible to use Nomad Insurance for trips lasting just days or just 2–3 weeks. Indeed, SafetyWing is cheaper than almost all other travel insurance policies and covers just as much and sometimes more.
SafetyWing is a modern travel insurance company that is certainly leading the way in terms of how travel insurance should work in the future.
Below, we’ll answer the most frequently asked questions about the Caracol ruins in Belize.
What Is Caracol Famous For?
It’s the largest Mayan archaeological complex in Belize.
When Was Caracol Built?
Construction of Caracol dates back to the Early Pre-Classic period between 1,200–800 B.C. Whilst, most of the monumental structures were likely built in the Late Pre-Classic period between 300 B.C.–200 A.D.
What Happened to the City of Caracol?
Like most ancient Mayan cities, it was eventually abandoned for unknown reasons.
When Was Caracol Abandoned?
It was abandoned sometime between 900–1050 A.D.
How Much Does a Trip to Caracol Cost?
Usually, Caracol tours from San Ignacio cost around $125USD. Of course, the cost all comes down to your haggling skills. With a bit of negotiating, you may able to bring the price of a tour down by around $10–15USD. Otherwise, by booking more than one tour with a company, you may be able to drive a harder bargain.
Is Visiting Caracol Worth It?
Yes, absolutely. The Caracol ruins in Belize are one of the best ruins in Central America.
- Other ruins in Belize: there are plenty of other fascinating ruins to see in Belize. If you’re keen to see other ruins near San Ignacio, visit Cahal Pech or Xunantunich.
- Getting from Belize City to San Ignacio: it’s easy enough to catch a chicken bus from Belize City to San Ignacio. This bus usually costs around $9BZ ($4.50USD) and takes three hours.
- Explore the Belize Barrier Reef: in contrast to the pine forest landscape, you’ve got the awesome Caribbean coastal vibes, where you can explore beautiful coral reefs and gardens. Read more about the best snorkeling tours at the Belize Barrier Reef, including tours from Caye Caulker.
Central America Guides
- Mexico: we spent a month exploring incredible Mayan ruins and breathtaking cenotes. Read about the 13 Best Mayan Ruins and 25 Best Cenotes in the Yucatán Peninsula.
- Guatemala: we also spent a month in Guatemala, exploring all of the main natural attractions. Read our 17 Best Hikes in Guatemala guide.
- El Salvador: we spent around three weeks trekking some lesser-explored volcanoes in El Salvador. For more information, read our 20 Epic El Salvador Hiking Trails Not to Miss.
- Nicaragua: we spent another three weeks exploring Nicaragua. Read about the 16 Best Hikes in Nicaragua and the 4 Best Hikes on Ometepe Island.
- Costa Rica: we explored the most popular waterfalls and volcanoes in Costa Rica. Read about La Fortuna Waterfall, the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Poas Volcano and Irazu Volcano.
Please read our other Belize travel guides or read 46 AWESOME Things to Do in Belize (Best Tours and Travel Tips).