It is not what you'd call an easy
drive, particularly following a
heavy rain. But on Monday
cameraman Brent Toombs and I
finally made it to an ancient Maya
site in Cayo that, thanks to a
multi-million dollar facelift, may
one day become one of the
nation's most popular destinations.
Janelle Chanona, Reporting
Guatemala may have Tikal; Honduras Copan; Mexico
Chichen Itza but in Belize, Caracol is king. Translated to
mean snail in English, the remnants of Caracol are slowly
emerging from beneath the jungle to claim a place of
prominence in the modern Mundo Maya. Since it's
rediscovery in the early 1920s, archaeologists have
discovered the earliest dated carved stellae in Belize at
Caracol, dating back to 400 A.D., and unearthed the
massive structure called Caana or "Sky Place", believed
to have been completed around 800 A.D.
At the peak of its existence, the Mayan city of Caracol
covered some sixty-five square miles and was home to
more than a hundred thousand people. Today,
archaeologists from all over the world have a field day
excavating its more than seventy-five structures.
Jaime Awe, Archaeological Coordinator
"Caracol is certainly one of the most amazing sites that
we have in Belize. It has the tallest and largest human
made structure in this country."
According to archaeological coordinator, Dr. Jaime Awe,
Caracol's influence in the region spans thousands of
Dr. Jaime Awe
"Besides constructing large monumental structures, we
know that they were politically involved with other sites
in the region. We know that Caracol entered wars
against cities like Tikal, Naranjo and Bital, Ukanal and
that in many of those occasions, Caracol was the
triumphant site. But Caracol is also important to us as a
country, as a culture, because it gives us a symbol of
what the ancient first Belizeans or ancient Belizeans,
were able to accomplish in our own country."
"For the past two years, the Government of Belize has
invested two point seven million Belize dollars to restore
Caracol to some semblance of its former glory. By all
accounts, they have succeeded."
But it has not been easy. More than a hundred and sixty
people call the archaeological site home...working from
dawn to dusk shifting through soil for secrets. Nestled
deep in the Chiquibul Forest, accessibility to Caracol has
Dr. Jaime Awe
"Everything that we use here has to be trucked in. We
have no water here, so we have to bring in water from
twelve miles away from the Guacamayo Bridge. All the
food, we have a hundred and sixty people who work here
full time. It's taken us two years, but in the two years
that we've been here, we have converted what used to
look like just hills with trees to some of the beautiful
temples and palaces that you can now see when you
come to the site."
Financed through a fourteen million U.S. dollar loan from
the Inter-American Development Bank, the rebirth of
Mayan sites like Caracol is part of the Ministry of
Tourism's, Tourism Development Project. The plan is to
turn the trickle of tourists into a steady stream of
Mark Espat, Minister of Tourism
"Like the reef, like the rainforest, like the caving,
archaeology is a particular brand of tourism that attracts
literally hundreds of thousands of people to Belize. So I
think the excavation work, the new visitor's centre,
access to Caracol will open up the Cayo District certainly
to a lot more archaeology enthusiasts to visit Belize.
And it will certainly develop offshoot industries, hotels
nearby, gift shops, restaurants. So the work here really
is firstly to preserve certainly our very profound Mayan
culture, and secondly, it is promote and build tourism to
this district and to Belize."
Dr. Allan Moore, Director, Tourism Development
"If we may look at Xunantunich, which gets about two
hundred people per day on an average, and that's going
up because the cruise ship tourism is increasing. So we
might look at Caracol somewhere around four, four-fifty,
five hundred a day, providing the accessibility is taken
care of. The road condition is not too pleasant right
now, but we hope to address that situation pretty
But at this rate, setbacks aside, it won't be long before
the magnificence of Caracol captures more of the world's
attention and respect.
Anytime but the dry season potential visitors may
want to check with the B.T.B. before embarking down
the road to Caracol.
Reporting for News 5, Janelle Chanona.