Field Guide

Student Guide to Life at Caracol

Archaeological work at Caracol is a unique lifetime experience, one well worth the time and effort. Caracol is the largest Maya site in Belize, covering some 200 square kilometers. It was occupied from ca. 600 BCE to CE 900 and supported a population of over 100,000 people at CE 650. Today the site’s only inhabitants are the members of the Caracol Archaeological Project and the caretakers installed by the Belize Institute of Archaeology. Thus, it must be stressed that participation in the project will require a far different kind of lifestyle than most of us have become used to, especially as Caracol is in a remote location without many of the creature comforts of home (e.g., running water, indoor plumbing, air conditioning, internet, etc.). The site is 56 miles from the nearest town (San Ignacio Cayo, Belize) but has become a long-distance tourist destination.

Travel Arrangements, Passports, and Visas: Project members will be met at the airport (if you have made advance arrangements with the directors). All members should have in their possession a valid passport. The Belize immigration officials will issue you a 30-day visa. The project will arrange for visa extension once you are in country. Immigration may require proof that one has enough money to leave the country – often this proof need only be a round trip airline ticket, but sometimes the authorities have been known to ask to see at least $200.00 in cash. Regardless, please bring some funds in cash, as you will likely not be able to go to the bank prior to going to Caracol.

How to get to Caracol: Caracol is located in a remote location deep in the jungle of the Central American country of Belize on the western edge of the Maya Mountains. Most project members will be flying to Belize City via a US Carrier (e.g., American Airlines) and met by the directors or other project staff members at the airport for the overland trip into the site. Please consult with the project directors prior to purchasing your ticket to be sure your flight arrives early enough to travel to Caracol (and set up your sleeping arrangements) in daylight. it is not advisable that you try to reach the site on your own. If for some reason you should become separated from the project, it is recommended that you contact the Institute of Archaeology in Belmopan (082-22106) and ask them to help you contact the project.


Housing:Camp consists of approximately 8 buildings. All facilities are primitive and housing will be in jungle huts with thatched roofs and no screening. Additionally, please note that there will be no amenities such as running water, flush toilets, internet, or accessibility to town. In the past we used a a photovoltaic system at Caracol to produce electricity, but the cost of deep-cylce batteries and their constant replacement was too much for the project to bear.  Instead, today we use a gas-powered generator that produces light in minimally 3 of the buildings and can be used for recharging batteries. Electricity is produced between 5-9 PM every night by the generator. It is recommended that all project members bring sleeping bags (it can get cold at night) and functional inflatable (non electric) mattresses (see bedding). You will also need a mosquito “tent” to complete your sleeping accommodations; these can usually be found in army-navy stores. Please consult with the directors for information. Conditions at Caracol may be somewhat crowded with 4 or more individuals housed in each hut.

Restrooms and Bathing Facilities:

Caracol Camp has outhouses and not flush toilets. Bathing takes place in tarped shower stalls with portable sun showers. Sunshowers are on your list of supplies below.


Food: All food and supplies are brought into the site by road. We hire Belizean cooks. Breakfast generally consists of homemade flour tortillas with refried beans and scrambled eggs or, if you prefer, peanut butter and jelly is always available. There is a set menu for lunch and dinner. A typical dinner will consist of  rice, stewed beans, and stewed meat with cabbage salad. Beyond peanut butter and jelly, there are no provisions for any specialized diet(s).


Recreation: Bring your own fiction and other paperback books or digital reader as well as ipod or MP3 player and headphones to listen to music;, guitar, board games, playing cards, and other legal forms of entertainment are encouraged; the more the better off we all are. In general, however, please remember that we are in the middle of a pristine jungle environment and that that it is not advisable to go hiking on one’s own in this environment. Jaguars, snakes, and things that go bump in the shadows are likely to surprise you. If you wish to travel at the end of the season, buses are available in Belmopan, Belize City, or San Ignacio Cayo daily.


Currency: The rate of exchange is roughly 2 Belizean dollars for 1 U.S. dollar and the U.S. dollar is accepted by almost all merchants on a 2:1 basis.


Medical Information: In cases of emergency illness, accidental or non-work related, you must be prepared to pay for your medical expenses; make sure that your medical coverage applies during your stay in Belize and secure the additional college travel insurance. Please see Study Abroad.

You should have the following inoculations:

  1. Tetanus
  2. Typhoid
  3. Hepatitis A

You should also bring the following “over the counter” medications:

  1. Pepto-Bismol for any stomach upsets
  2. Lomotil for the “touristas”
  3. Malaria tablets (Aralen P04 recommended) – Remember you must start these before going to the field.
  4. A 2-month supply of insect repellent (Cutters or stronger)
  5. A 2-month supply of suntan lotion/ sunscreen. The sun is very intense in Belize.
  6. Salt tablets (if you require these)
  7. Tylenol/Advil/Aspirin, Band-Aids and antiseptics for any minor injuries
  8. Benadryl for insect bites
  9. And, any other medication that you typically use (do not assume that it is available in Belize)

If you have any medical problems or conditions that could be significant in a field situation, you probably should not be at Caracol. Please see the Project Directors well in advance of departure if you have any medical concerns. A medical kit containing most material for minor problems is maintained at the site. However, there are no doctors or nurses in residence. Professional medical care can be hours away. Please also note that malaria, beef worm, and chiclero’s ulcer occur within the vicinity of Caracol and that any project member has the possibility of “acquiring” such an illness. All are treatable but are painful and costly to treat. Simple precautions like preventive treatment, long sleeve shirts, long pants, and insect repellents are important.

*Note: It is very important for each student to obtain travelers insurance. Please work with Study Abroad.


Field Equipment:

Most field equipment is provided but it is suggested that each project member bring his or her own kit including the following. These are generally available at hardware stores or online:

  1. one or two Marshalltown 4-inch drop-forged pointing trowel
  2. 3-meter or 5-meter pocket tape (all archaeological measurements at Caracol are metric)
  3. one or two line levels and line level string
  4. one or two folding 2-meter metric rule
  5. two  1-inch China bristle paint brushes
  6. pencils,  erasers (mechanical), pens should you wish
  7. plumb bob
  8. If your dentist has any hand dental tools (worn out or broken) available, you will undoubtedly find them useful during excavation.
  9. Wood tools for excavating small objects – popsicle sticks and ceramic working tools work well
  10. A compass (ask which kind); inexpensive ones are fine

Pens, pencils, graph paper, and field notebooks will be provided. If you bring pens, black ink is best. If you have an excavation kit with other favorite items bring them along rather than assume we will have them on hand. Please be sure to mark all your personal equipment, we cannot be held responsible for lost or stolen equipment.


Clothing: We have a laundress at Caracol who washes all clothing by hand. Clothes are hung on a clothes line to dry. If it rains it may take several days for laundry to dry. Bleach is also added to the wash water, so please do not bring fancy dress clothes as some color-fading will occur over the two months. In terms of clothing, it is suggested that each project member bring at least the following:

  1. 7 pairs of socks
  2. 7 pairs of undergarments
  3. 4 pairs of pants
  4. 5 long-sleeved shirts as well as cotton shirts Cotton long-sleeved shirts are recommended as protection from sunburn, insects, and thorns.
  5. 1 “good” pair of clothes should be worn into and out of border crossings
  6. a light-weight poncho is needed as raingear since it can cover you and your belongings in the field
  7. bathing suit (there is no place to swim at Caracol, but the suit can get you from the showers to your hut in the rain)
  8. 2 towels
  9. jacket or an old sweater- in the mornings and evenings it can get pretty chilly in the springtime up in the Maya Mountains
  1. Non-field clothes for the end-of-season luncheon in town and for any travel after the project. You may also wish to bring shorts or cut-offs; HOWEVER, be warned that due to insects and brush they are not appropriate for evening wear or at excavation locales.
  2. All laundry should be marked with your initials.

In general, your clothing will be stored in your pack or suitcase so plan accordingly. Also be sure to check size and weight limits before you travel. Extra weight or baggage can be costly. Shoes:Boots are necessary footwear because of the ankle and arch support offered as well as protection from thorns and snakebite. You will want at least one other pair of shoes (sneakers or tennis shoes are the usual choice) with you as well as a pair of sandals or “flip-flops”.




  • sleeping bag
  • mosquito net / tent
  • 1-2 blankets (sheet?)

Self inflating or non electric inflatable single mattresses are required for sleeping purposes.


Other Equipment Which You Need


  1. A light colored hat with brim – the mid-day sun is strong
  2. Good flashlight and extra batteries (alkaline or rechargeable if you bring a battery charger)
  3. At least 2 two-quart canteens (check for leaks)
  4. A good pocket knife
  5. Dark sunglasses
  6. SunShower  3-5 gallon shower bag; read reviews and be sure it is a sturdy one. These often break. We ususally use Stearnsl
  7. Toilet articles
  8. Pocket mirror
  9. Portable alarm clock
  10. Needle and thread and/or safety pins
  11. A small pack for carrying field items
  12. Plastic, covered soap dish
  13. Paperback books to read and, if you wish, add to our camp library so others may enjoy
  14. Camera and extra storage media
  15. Machetes and file (will be provided upon arrival in Belize)
  16. Ipod or MP3 player and headphones to listen to music and/or a small device to watch pre-recorded movies.Playing Cards, Frisbees, musical instruments, etc.
  17. A sturdy wrist-watch for field use
  18. Umbrella for walking around camp when it rains
  19. Plastic poncho to cover you and your backpack if walking to/from an excavation location to camp when it rains
  20. Your own identifiable coffee mug and drinking cup (made of a durable material)
  21. A small folding beach chair, if desired (popular in past seasons)
  22. mats for floor

Any additional questions you may have should be directed to the Project or Field Director.


Communication with the outside world:

Electronic Communication

There is no internet at Caracol and there is no Belize cell phone service covering the area.

While the connection is not always good, there is Guatemalan (TIGO) voice and text service possible west of camp or from some of the taller buildings. If you plan to use a cell phone while in Belize, please check coverage and prices in advance and/or secure a Guatemalan SIM card in advance of your trip, if possible.

Snail Mail:
Project Mailing Address:
Name of person
Caracol Archaeological Project
P.O. BOX 350

San Ignacio, Cayo
Central America
*Be sure to label “Air Mail”

We check mail once per week and postcards or letters can be sent out to town with institute staff. However, mail is extremely slow, sometimes getting lost; any packages that are sent will also have to have DUTY paid on them (often expensive), so make sure that things in packages are not extremely valuable.

In Emergency: Anne Tessier at (909) 607-3027 at Pomona or the institute of Archaeology at 011-501-082-2227


Work Hours (tentative):

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
06:15 – 06:45 Free Day Breakfast
07:00 – 10:00 Excavation/Lab Excavation/Lab
10:00 – 10:10 Break Break
10:10 – 12:00 Excavation/Lab Excavation/Lab
12:00 – 01:00 Lunch
01:00 – 04:00 Excavation/Lab
06:00 – 07:00 Dinner

7:00-9:00 PM        Lab: M, T, R, F                   Movies: W, Sat

Most evenings will be spent doing laboratory work and/or catching up on lot cards; Wednesday and Saturday nights are reserved for movies. Each Project Member will be required to work in the lab on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 7:00PM – 9:00PM.

Saturday afternoons are used by Project staff to “catch up” with lab work or field recording.


Data Required from each Project Member:

  1. Curriculum Vitae
  2. Covenant Agreement Form
  3. Health/Personnel Form
  4. Statement of Intent

Each Project Memer should have all of the above forms to the Project Directors by January 1st.

Caracol Project Catch 22:

“Catch 22 A”
Each Project Member is expected to perform his/her duties as assigned by the Project or Field Director during working hours. At other times each individual is free to do as he/she chooses, so long as his/her activities do not adversely affect others or cause harm to the project. Please remember that we are foreign guests in Belize; every member of the Project is expected to act accordingly.


“Catch 22 B”
While at Caracol, each member is a participant in an ongoing archaeological field project which, by its very nature, must be recorded and published. As is standard archaeological procedure, Project members are free to photograph excavations and finds during their stay at Caracol to be shown to friends, family, and in classroom situations upon their return. However, such photographs and/or other records may not be reproduced, published, used in film/video, or any other type of media without the specific written consent of the Project Directors. All rights are reserved by the Pomona College, Claremont CA  and Drs. Arlen and Diane Chase.


Caracol Project Research Rules:

  1. Each Project Member is responsible for the archaeological objectives his/her excavations or analysis are designed to meet. Accordingly, each Project Member/Supervisor should direct excavations/assistants under his/her control in keeping with the said objections.
  2. Project Members/Supervisors are expected to insure that their excavators/assistants are engaged in fruitful labor throughout the working day.
  3. Excavation Supervisors should keep the safety of their excavators/assistants in mind at all times, but especially when working in any “dangerous situations”.
  4. Al matters concerning adherence to Project or Belizean labor rules, special requests such as sick leave, travel, permission to depart early for personal or vacations reasons, or complaints must be referenced to the Project or Field Director for action.
  5. Project members MUST discourage requests by visitors to enter any excavation area for reasons of safety and as Project policy. Should visitors be present at an excavation area, the field supervisor/assistant will be responsible for warning visitors to remain away from trench edges, or any other area that could be potentially dangerous or cause injury. The field supervisor/assistant is also responsible for making sure that nothing is removed or disturbed from the excavation area or areas.
  6. Project members are also responsible for ensuring that photographs by visitors are not taken when and if any excavation locale is not clean of debris and leaves.
  7. Each Project member is responsible for assuring that all material and information necessary for his/her day’s work are in his/her possession or available prior to 7:00am of each working day; this includes but not limited to notes, paper, bags, trowels, heavy equipment, pens, ink, toothbrushes, buckets, etc.
  8. No smoking in or around excavations, laboratories, dining facilities, or Staff kitchen.
  9. There is NO camping at Caracol for the outside public.
  10. Please be courteous to all visitors. While we realize that tourists may sometimes by wearing, it is imperative that you do not convey such an attitude to them- even if they have done something to overly annoy you.