Overnight Adventure at Caracol: Wining, Dining and History at Belize’s Largest Maya Site

I’m sitting at a dinner table for two, a glass of Lagarde 1897 from Mendoza in my hand.

There’s one torch near the table for two, lighting our dinner and our faces, but not completely. There’s no moon.

I hear a cat’s meow except it’s not a cat, am told, it’s an owl. Fallon is sitting across from me, resting from our walk up the Mayan temple’s steps.

I can’t concentrate on my plate of fresh made tamales just yet; Ofelia had made them for us earlier on an open hearth fire while we watched, the flames our only light.

I keep looking around instead. I can see the edges of the Chiquibul Forest Reserve and the rainforest in the background; I can hear it, too.

Just steps from me are Mayan structures, in each direction. My feet are resting on the ground of a Maya temple, too.

Am I really here, wining and dining under the stars at Caracol?

Located in the southern part of the Cayo District, Caracol is Belize’s largest Maya site and it’s most important historically. Discovered only in 1938 by loggers, it once had 100,000 Mayans living here. Caracol is a two-hour road trip from San Ignacio and bumpy one but worth every minute.

Passing across Maya villages, then bridges, views of waterfalls, river pools, the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest, and the Chiquibul Forest Reserve all along the way. The entire ride I felt as if I were in a different country. I’d never seen this side of Belize. It was as if I’d been missing a big part of it all this time. Waterfalls, river bathing and mountains? Hello! I was too excited to care about my sore behind.

When we reached Caracol, at sunset, Wilburt my guide from Ka’ana Resort – the brilliant minds behind this adventure – told me to climb up the tallest structure at Caracol so I could see where I was going to have dinner in a couple of —>Continued—>hours.

When I saw, I was speechless.

All Images Copyright Lebawit L. GirmaAll Images Copyright Lebawit L. GirmaAll Images Copyright Lebawit L. GirmaAll Images Copyright Lebawit L. Girma

I didn’t mind one bit that I’d have to climb this again later.

Now it’s eight o’clock and Fallon and I are surrounded by history, sitting at our dinner table for two on Caana, the tallest structure at Caracol and also the tallest man-made structure in Belize at 142 feet.

I try to imagine my boyfriend sitting across from me, instead of Fallon. It would probably feel like an episode of reality TV – being whisked away by your date to a Maya temple for dinner. Who would think this was even possible, to experience a Maya site this way?

I’m still looking at the temples around me. My camera sits on my lap. I decide to put it away and take this all in. Fallon, the guest services manager at Ka’ana Resort who came along for the experience, agrees.

We start sipping on the chilled white wine and we laugh – actually we giggle – because this is all surreal. We have the entire site to ourselves and we’re having a torch-lit dinner surrounded by thousands of years of history.

Behind the scenes, Ka’ana’s tour guides Wilburt and Amin, and Ginos, the ranger who patrols Caracol, aren’t too far away. We feel safe because we know they’ll appear if we call out.

Fallon and I pick up our forks to start eating. We talk quietly, as if we’re trying to not disturb the Maya Gods.

Two minutes later, I feel a drop of water on my arm. Then two. We glance at each other. We think it’ll go away, because surely the rain won’t come and ruin our once-in-a-lifetime Caracol overnight experience?!

Seconds later the rain comes beating down. More giggling. This is so unexpected and well, hilarious. The guides appear and immediately suggest where to take cover. “Go over there, to the tomb!”

“OK! But I’m definitely not leaving my wine!” I grab and run and so does Fallon.

It’s only after I enter the tomb that I realize where I am. The lanterns that Wilburt already placed there light up the narrow cave-like structure built within the temple that we’re standing on. There are stairs in the front of the entrance that go into the ground so we have to step to the side, where there is some space.

Wilburt and Amin return within minutes, carrying our chairs.

Chairs!? Fallon and I are still laughing. “Yes, why not! You can finish your dinner in here!”

And we do. We sit next to the right of a deep hole in the ground, and talk and have more wine and finish our tamales. We share our thoughts on the amazing fact that we’re having dinner in a Maya tomb.

I keep thinking about the spirits that were here before us.

“They’re probably watching us don’t you think?”

It feels peaceful and mystical all at once.

“I’m sure they are!” Fallon replies.

The guides come to check on us. In seconds our plates are gone and all we have to do now is climb up some more to the very top of Caana for cheese and… more wine.

We’re directly under the stars once we get there. Two cushiony chairs rest on a colorful Maya woven throw. There’s a lantern on the blanket too. I almost want to sleep up here. Fallon is loving it, too.

After about twenty minutes, we decide to head back down the temple with our fabulous guides’ help (what a challenge after the wine!).

We drive back to our “camp site.” But my “room” at Caracol is far from anything camp-like.

Inside my casita is a beautiful queen-size bed with a mosquito net, set up just as if I were at the actual Ka’ana Resort. White bedding, red throws, red pillows, candles lit and towels on the side table.

Just outside my casita, through the door and the screens, the view of yet another Mayan temple at Caracol. And it’s just steps away. It’s so incredible that I sit on my plush bed to take in my surroundings once more. The view will be even better in the morning, I think.

It’s getting late and it’s time for a shower. Well, there’s no shower per se. But there’s an open field area behind the main housing structure where Ofelia was cooking.

Everyone’s laughing and chatting away at the front, in the dark of night. Their voices overpower the owl and the secedas.

My bucket of water is ready and everyone clears to go talk on the other side.

I strip naked and I start bathing. I look up and the stars are all around. I laugh inside that I’m butt-naked bathing on Maya grounds, in open air, the forest in the background. It feels so free, though, to shower outdoors, I wonder why I’ve never done this before!

I dry off, get dressed and head to join the group for a while. I feel like I’m on a road trip with a group of friends. Many of them are Maya so I ask if I can learn a few words.

How do you say “hello, or good morning?” Dios.

I’m fascinated and I keep going.

Thank you? Botik.

How are you, what’s up? Bikilech.

Happy birthday? Kincabak.

My name is Lily? In caba ish Lily.

I could keep going for hours even though I’m probably butchering the words, but I’m fighting my eyes. Maybe it’s that second bottle of wine Fallon and I are sharing, a 2008 Viognier. Or maybe I can’t wait to lie on my luxurious Ka’ana bed in my casita. (Did I mention that’s it’s the best rest I’ve had anywhere so far in Belize, at the actual Ka’ana resort?)

I head back to my casita, just a few steps away but far enough from the group.

It’s close to eleven o’clock and I fall asleep to the sound of the owl and the staff laughing in the distance.

I wake up in the middle of the night, it’s a little chilly. I slip under my covers, thankful for my cozy bed at Caracol. No fans or A/C needed!

I wake up again at five o’clock in the morning, thanks to the howler monkeys.

I roll over towards the door of my casita and look through the screens. Yep, the temple is still there. I really did spend the night at Caracol. So ridiculously fabulous.

I can’t miss sunrise from the top of the Caana temple so I get up, still in my PJ’s, and walk for a short few minutes.

The climb is challenging but it feels great.

The view is breathtaking. Mist over the mountains, schools of parrots flying all around the temples. I’ve never seen so many birds in one place.

After almost an hour, I head back down and to our site, and get ready for breakfast.  Ofelia is back at it. She’s making fresh tortillas from a pile of “masa” dough. On the side, already cooked, is some “chaya” in a pan – it almost looks like calalloo.

I watch her shape each tortilla dough with little effort.

“How do you do this so easily!”

She smiles. “You want to try?”

Definitely. I grab a palm size of dough and lay it flat on the wooden table. I try to mimic her finger movements on the tortilla, but mine is spreading into a wide and thin flat circle.

The guys are watching and laughing, and so am I.

Amin says, “Just spin it like you’re a DJ. Like you’re spinning a record.”

I try it and my tortilla starts taking shape. Now I have to “throw” it skillfully on the hot plate. I watch Ofelia do it with hers. I throw my tortilla on like a Frisbee. It ends up half down and half botched.

Everyone laughs. Amin decides to take a picture of it. I don’t even care, I’m having such a great time learning. I try again until I get it.

Ofelia is from the San Antonio’s Women Group. Women from the Mayan village of San Antonio who come together to support each other and teach other various trades like pottery, embroidery and cooking. Their goal is to become self-sufficient and not be so financially dependent on the men. They still keep their traditional beliefs – that the woman is responsible for housework and rearing the children. But they now have their own trades and income. Visitors who head to Caracol can stop by the village to purchase authentic handmade Maya pots or other products.

Breakfast is ready. We head to another structure just across our casitas.

Another beautiful table set up for two.

Fallon and I sit. Across from us we see oropendulas flying in and out of their nests.

Amir appears out of nowhere with a tray. Everything we are about to consume in served on handmade Maya ceramic plates and cups from San Antonio. I’m ecstatic that there’s fresh coffee for us. And wait, that I’m having my breakfast at Caracol.

After breakfast, the crew starts cleaning up, making sure all is left as it was, and I leave on my historical tour of Caracol with Wilburt. Again, I have the site all to myself. Visitors don’t arrive until about eleven in the morning.

I walk off my breakfast while Wilburt shows me the stela and teaches me the historical significance of Caracol. At eleven o’clock, we’re ready to leave.

On the way out, I get a glimpse of the staff of five from Ka’ana taking down the amazing set-up for my overnight at Caracol, mattress and all.

The way back was bumpier than ever, but my mind is stuck on the amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience I just had. Wining, dining, taking in Maya history, culture and food for twelve hours, with Caracol all to myself. How many people get to live that?

Even solo, I would do it all over again.

***

Ka’ana Resort obtains exclusive permission from Belize’s Institute of Archeology for this amazing overnight trip experience to Caracol.

Many thanks to Ka’ana and all their skilled and wonderful staff for pulling this off so effortlessly for one person: guides Wilburt and Amin, Ofelia our Maya cook, Amir our server, Nicole the housekeeper, and Fallon, guest services manager and dinner companion!

For more information on how to set up your own overnight adventure at Caracol, please contact Ka’ana Resort directly and ask for Joanna Evans.

Lebawit Lily Girma

Lebawit Lily Girma has contributed writing and photography to CNN Travel, New York Magazine, AFAR, American Way, Travel Channel, BBC Travel, and others. She’s the new author of MOON BELIZE for Moon Travel Guides, and is completing a second title, MOON BELIZE CAYES. A serial expat, Lily’s lived and studied on three continents, including Africa–from her native Ethiopia to Côte d'Ivoire––and Europe, and is fluent in four languages. A former attorney who ditched the office for the road in 2009, she favors all things culture, adventure and storytelling, and escapes Washington DC’s winters every year. Lily also runs her award-winning travel and photography blog, Sunshine and Stilettos.

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13 Comments

  1. Karen 8 September, 2011 at 10:40 AM #

    Oh my goodness! What an incredible experience.

  2. kay johnson 8 September, 2011 at 2:29 PM #

    what a dream come true, I am green with envy!

  3. Yaffa 8 September, 2011 at 5:45 PM #

    Lily, this is romantic beyond belief! The sacred act of the Mayans returning to present time. You have managed to let us in on the past; it’s like the road is leading directly to Belize.

    Great work, live your life to the fullest; laugh and love a lot.

    Linda

  4. Marilyn Cutkelvin 8 September, 2011 at 6:25 PM #

    WOW!!! this is incredible…. makes me want to fall in love just to head out to Caracol! Beautiful pics, wonderful story Lily… U’ve done it again… how absolutely facinating! :-)

  5. Laura-Beyond Touring 9 September, 2011 at 8:14 AM #

    What a wonderful and unique adventure, I highly recommend this! Belize has so much to offer and this just adds to it, thank you! Laura Howard, Beyond Touring – Meaningful BELIZE Travel

  6. Lebawit Lily Girma 9 September, 2011 at 9:07 AM #

    Thanks everyone!! It really was incredible, I still think about it sometimes! I’ve never done anything that unique. @ Yaffa & Marilyn, yes so romantic, I could imagine a proposal taking place there! lol.
    The team from Ka’ana was so fun too, I never felt lonely.

  7. Sprat 9 September, 2011 at 9:50 AM #

    This just fabulous Lily…I felt like I was right there with you…in the way you described it. What an opportunity…and what a breathtaking setup with the table and chairs….simply gorgeous!

    Romantic….I would say so :)

    Thanks for sharing…

  8. Brenda 9 September, 2011 at 1:38 PM #

    I finally got a chance to catch up on some of your “postcards” and this one had me captivated throughout the entire story. What an incredible experience. Reading the beginning, I was thinking “this could be an episode of the bachelor” and then you said it felt like almost the same thing (if only your BF was there with you). Everything from the fantastic fresh-prepared meals, to your bed, the outdoor ‘bath’, just everything sounded amazing. And through your incredible eye for photography, we got an incredible look into the experience as well. Thank you!

  9. lellith August 9 September, 2011 at 2:09 PM #

    amazing go for it belizean you can do it.

  10. Lebawit Lily Girma 10 September, 2011 at 8:25 PM #

    Thank you Sprat!! It really was awesome, you’d love it…and you’d probably be much better at tortilla-making than I was! :-)

    @Brenda, thank you so much!! Really appreciate your kind words on my work!

  11. smudgepal 13 September, 2011 at 5:35 PM #

    What kind of toilet facilities were available?

  12. Alex Evans 15 November, 2011 at 3:26 PM #

    Simply awe inspiring… This may be the most romantic setting I’ve ever heard described… Would be amazing to experience with someone special

  13. Lebawit Lily Girma 15 November, 2011 at 10:52 PM #

    Thanks Alex! Yes it sure would! It was a really great time.

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