Caracol or El Caracol is the name given to a large ancient Maya site located in the Cayo District. Caracol is about 25 miles south of Xunantunich and San Ignacio, at an elevation of 1500 feet (460 m) above sea-level, in the foothills of the Maya Mountains. The name is Spanish for “The Snail”; the ancient Maya name may have been Oxhuitza.
Caracol is the largest Maya archaeological site in Belize. In AD 650, the urban area of Caracol had a radius of approximately 10 kilometers around the site’s epicenter. It covered an area much larger than present day Belize City (the largest metropolitan area of Belize) and supported more than twice the modern city’s population. Urban Caracol maintained a population of over 140,000 people through the creation of an immense agricultural field system and through elaborate city planning. Caracol is noted not only for its size during the Maya Classic era (A.D. 250-950), but also for its prowess in war; this includes an AD 562 defeat of Tikal (Guatemala) and a subsequent conquest of Naranjo (Guatemala) in AD 631.
One monument here records a military victory over the army of Tikal in AD 562, where Caracol’s Lord Water is shown to have captured and sacrificed Tikal’s Double Bird. This event is seemingly concurrent with archaeological and epigraphic evidence indicating the beginning of the Tikal Mid-Classic Hiatus, when a seeming decline in Tikal’s population, a cessation of monument building, and the destruction of certain monuments in the Great Plaza occurred as Caracol’s population and urban development seemingly skyrocketed.