Driving to Caracol is time consuming. With rough roads and no radio or cell signal, driving alone can be a bit boring. However, this is a very doable trip and there is no need to spend money on a tour from San Ignacio because what you’ll be paying for is basically a chauffeur for the day.
Of all the sites I visited, this was my favorite. Yes, it’s a pain to get to. Yes, you end up traveling for the whole day for a site that isn’t extremely large. But it’s the remoteness and the wild unexplored nature of the site that really makes it appealing.
A lot of sites nowadays are so popular that they’re being destroyed by tourism. Either by idiots trying to get that “perfect” shot for Instagram (and subsequently getting hurt that destroys the experience for the rest of us) or by larger idiots who love to carve their initials into something and deface the historic sites (seriously….are you in 2nd grade?).
Driving from San Ignacio
The first thing you’ll want is to make sure you rent a 4×4. The road is rough and the bulk of the drive will be over unpaved/gravel roads. If you’re going with a group of people, make sure you don’t get stuck in the middle seat since that could be a very uncomfortable ride.
Next, make sure you have a full tank of gas. There is a small town on the way there but it’s still a good 90 mins from the Caracol site. You don’t want to be caught out here without any help since the only help will be from other rare tourists or the military.
The easy part of the drive is the fact that you really can’t get lost. There are a couple places where you have an option to choose a street to drive but for the most part, you’ll be driving on 1 road all the way in and out. Even if you don’t know exactly where you are, just know that the road dead ends into the Caracol site so you really can’t get lost.
Checkpoints and the caravan
There are 2 checkpoints as you drive in. The first is at the main entrance about an hour from the site. There, they just write down your car info and ask for some basic info. The 2nd stop is one I didn’t see but saw the sign for. It looks like you’re supposed to stop at the military base since it says to check in but I didn’t see anyone there. Also, there is a sign at the base that says no entry so I’m not sure what I was supposed to do. I didn’t run into any problems though.
I was told there is a caravan that leaves the military base for safe passage. I didn’t want to be caught behind it so I made sure to get there before the caravan. Maybe ignorance is bliss because I didn’t understand the need for a caravan but maybe there is.
Caracol the site
The site isn’t that large but the cool aspect is you can still climb the temples and look around…seriously, let your inner child go wild. There are 2 temple complexes which visitors can climb. Both offer amazing views of the area and luckily don’t have any restrictions getting to the top.
The 2nd temple complex is a little further past the main square and is more uncovered. However, since it’s more exposed, it is much warmer with fewer places to easily find shade or a respite from the heat.
I spent a solid 3 hours there just walking around taking what felt like a million photos because there was no reason to not wait around and get it right. The whole day, I saw 1 person at the gate to charge admission and 2 soldiers who were out patrolling the area. When I left, there were 2 other cars on the parking lot along with a massive school bus with kids who were just about to start their tour.
If you enjoy seeing these ancient sites as much as I do, I’d strongly recommend going. There is a rumor that the government is going to build a highway that connects Caracol with the main highway that’ll make it more accessible. If that’s true, I can’t imagine it’s going to be finished anytime soon. This site is so remote I don’t know how they’ll hack through it all. But as the site becomes more popular, I do imagine it’ll turn into another Chichen Itza or worse, Xunantunich.
Some tips to remember:
Bring extra water and snacks. If you don’t have it, it’s going to turn into a very long day (especially in the heat). There are no refreshment stands on the grounds and the nearest place to buy anything to eat or drink is a good 45 mins outside the gates.
You’ll need to rent a 4×4 to get there. The road is unpaved for the most part and you’ll have to cross a number of low “bridges” or roads. If you’re traveling with a group, make sure you pick your seat early. You don’t want to be stuck in the middle seat for the duration of that trip.
If you like to travel with a tour guide, you’ll want to make sure you get one either at your hotel or from wherever you can get a tour. I didn’t see anyone at the gate advertising their services but I don’t know if that’s because it was too early or if the site is just too remote to make it viable for people to offer tours on the fly.
Ok, so hopefully these tips will help you when you decide to visit Caracol and see this magnificent complex for yourself.
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