The first thing that came to mind when I thought of Belize was the Great Blue Hole, coconuts and white sand beaches. And while we did dive into the Great Blue Hole and sip rum out of coconuts, we spent hardly any time on the beach. Because what I didn’t know was that this tiny little country is packed full of ancient ruins, awe-inspiring scenery, intoxicating adventures, and thousands of square miles of untouched jungle.
Flashback to the Classic Period: 600AD. With an urban center spreading 55 square miles and a population of over 200,000 people, Caracol is the largest known ancient Maya site in Belize and among the largest in the world. It was connected to other Mayan cities throughout Mexico and Guatemala, and engaged in several conflicts with Tikal, before its eventual collapse around 1000AD. Caracol is now an active archeological site, in an active state of restoration, attracting those who seek both adventure and a humbling dose of ancient history.
I watched as my depth gauge plunged from 0 to 40 feet to 130 feet in a matter of minutes. It was dark. The pressure of our depth compressed our bodies and the nitrogen saturation played tricks on our minds. I looked around, at ghostly stalactites the size of houses hanging from the top of the cavern, created before the site was covered by the ocean; at the flashlights of our group ahead of us; and then straight down into nothing.
Tikal is northern Guatemala’s main tourism destination, but getting there without a tour bus wasn’t entirely straightforward. Is Tikal on your bucketlist? If so, here’s the details of how we planned our trip and how to plan your own: