I am standing alone atop the massive pyramid of Caana. From the nearly 140-foot summit, I feel like a bird soaring above an endless sea of dense jungle canopy. Scattered below me are the remains of Caracol, the most extensive Maya site in Belize. If I were visiting Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Machu Picchu in Peru, or the world-renowned Mayan city of Tikal 47 miles southeast in neighboring Guatemala, I’d be navigating selfie sticks and tour groups. But even on the busiest of days, it’s possible to find solitude in a slice of Caracol’s 30-square-mile complex. And since the pandemic, it’s not uncommon to have the entire archeological site yourself like my guide and I do today with the exception a few howler monkeys hidden in the treetops.
It’s hard to imagine these abandoned stone plazas were once home to a flourishing city with a population of 120,000 in the 6th century AD. And even wilder to think the jungle could swallow up such enormous structures and keep them hidden from the world for hundreds of years. It wasn’t until 1938 that a logger stumbled upon the ruins and excavations didn’t begin until the mid 1980s. Archeologists believe much of the site has yet to be discovered. As my guide and I descend the seemingly endless stairs of Caana, Mayan for Sky Palace, I marvel at the silence and scope of this mystical place. In an age where everything feels discovered, it’s reassuring to know the world still holds plenty of mysteries.