Caracol is the largest Mayan archaeological site in Belize and my personal favorite in all of Central America (yes.. even after seeing Tikal!) The reason for that is because it is far less developed with a fraction of the tourists. After a huge debate; we chose to drive to Caracol in our rental car in order to explore the ruins on our own. Keep reading for updated information on our experience and how to get to Caracol safely by yourself.
For the largest Mayan Ruins in Belize; Caracol is surprisingly under exploited. The reason? The location. If you`ve looked into the drive at all I`m sure you`re aware that its` a commitment. The only way to get there is 2 hours on a bumpy and muddy dirt road that winds through the jungle. Upon arrival we were blown away by the lack of people. No restaurants, no tour buses, not even anyone selling water bottles (note to self: bring water!) Just these amazing ruins and a handful of people. For those of you who love finding these quiet places as much as we do; driving to Caracol is an option you may want to consider.
Related: 6 Can`t Miss Things to do in Belize
The Mayan Ruins are breathtaking with extraordinary sites uncovered and thousands of visible sites still awaiting excavation. In the age of Instagram and so much travel information available online; it has become really rare to experience something so spectacular and have it all to yourself. This is exactly the reason we began looking into driving our rental car to Caracol in the first place.
Immediately after typing “The Best way to get to Caracol” into google; we were overwhelmed with terrifying information about this drive.
In the past; Guatemalan bandits have conducted armed robberies of tourists while driving to Caracol. Almost all of the information we could find stated that it was completely unsafe to drive yourself and you would be stopped at the military check point if you even attempted to drive the road without a guide. They also went on to say that the road conditions were so poor that you might not make it even if you did get past the military check point. The general consensus was that if you were willing to take the risk by visiting this place at all; you must go with a guide or tour group.
Obviously at first we were completely turned off by that.. who wouldn`t be? We consider ourselves very safe travelers; David would probably argue that I can even be paranoid and neurotic (I call it going with my gut and being “extra safe”). Purely out of interest; I continued to dig deeper into these dangerous events. The problem? All of this information was 10 to 20 years old. It was super frustrating trying to find any recent information, good or bad, on the current state of this road.
After literally hours of research we found out that the last recorded robbery occurred in 2006.
We also knew that the situation in Guatemala has changed significantly over the past 10 years as they are no longer fighting a civil war. Based on what we could gather there was a military escort departing between 9-9:30 am each morning for those of us daring enough to drive. Our only other option was to pay almost $200 USD per person to take a tour to Caracol.
Call us frugal, stubborn, not “tour” people or just plain crazy but we decided to give it a shot. We would drive to the military check point and assess the situation; only moving forward if we felt safe to do so. The checkpoint is about 50 km (1.5 hours) from San Ignacio and we followed a few other travelers driving down this long dirt road.
Once we finally arrived at the military check point we asked the officers for clarification on the situation. Here`s what we found out:
- The last robbery involving tourists was in 2006.
- There was an incident in 2014 where a local police man was shot and killed by Guatemalan bandits. This was believed to be a retaliation for the confiscation of the bandits horses (which were used to transport products illegally).
- The military escort leaves daily between 9 and 9:30 am and returns from Caracol around 2 pm.
- You are welcome to proceed “at your own risk” if you show up before or after the escort.
- The government has worked hard to increased security in the area and there have been no incidents reported since 2014.
Although some of these facts sound scary; we decided that the risk now (in 2019) probably wasn`t any higher than many other areas we visited in Central America. Since we arrived at the check point around 8:45 am and the officers told us the military escort wouldn`t leave for an hour or so (get use to things running behind schedule); we decided to drive without the escort. The next portion of the road was full of potholes and quite a bit worse that the first half of the drive. You will definitely want a 4×4 to ensure you make it all the way to Caracol without getting stuck. One section was muddy so it would be smart to avoid going after a heavy amount of rain.
We had no issues getting to the ruins and they were absolutely phenomenal. We arrived before all of the tours and literally had the entire place to ourselves! The cost of a rental car, gas and admission for 2 people ($8 USD each) was less that the price of taking a tour and we got to experience Caracol in the best way possible.