The Do’s and Don’ts Of Staying In A Private Forest Reserve In Belize

by Carolee Chanona

If you’ve already started looking for ways to beat the heat this summer, we’re boldly suggesting the respite of the Belizean jungle. Switching city lights for firepits and solar-charged trail illuminators, embrace the wilderness of Belize in one of her most verdant corners: the Cayo District. Besides being home to the Chiquibul National Park⁠, Belize’s largest at 264,960 protected acres⁠, Cayo also has the privilege of the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve carpeting its southern highlands. The same feel as a wildlife safari, it’s almost inexplicable: the sun stirs over mountains that stack like echos, unique ecosystems enable a jumble of species to co-exist, and nature thrives with everything in its perfect place. There are a few jungle lodges sitting in the lap of nature inside the Mountain Pine Ridge, but just one offers a playground of 7,200 acres, and it’s Hidden Valley Inn. If you’ve never stayed in a private forest reserve in Belize before, here’s your crash course on the do’s and don’ts.  

Do: Take A Birding Tour 

A violet sabrewing. Image by Francis Canto Jr.

With 85 ecosystems and nearly 600 bird species to explore inside 9,000 square miles, Belize is an avian adventure, and Mountain Pine Ridge yields high-elevation species like the critically endangered Orange-Breasted Falcon and the mega-rare Solitary Eagle. Self-guided tours throughout the Hidden Valley’s reserve include two-way radios, property maps, and even canoes to bird on Lake Lolly Folly.

However, especially for first-time birders or pros unfamiliar with their newfound neotropical feathered friends, birding with one of Hidden Valley Inn’s guides make your experience all the more enriching. Mostly, you won’t know what you’re looking at without a guide. This is their turf, and it shows—a few seconds and they already have the ID to that obscure bird call, plus species-specific stories of your ‘lifer’ that might not be in your (albeit handy) field guide. 

Don’t: Stay Inside

With no TV and limited mobile connectivity, but dependable WiFi, Hidden Valley Inn promises an unparalleled experience in the wilderness of Belize. That’s not something to squander when over 90 miles of well-maintained trails beckon beyond your cottage with the complimentary mountain bikes, walkie-talkie radios, and property map.

Don’t get me wrong—the in-room outdoor waterfall showers, stand-alone tubs, and in-room fireplaces inside all make for cozy lodgings. But they feel even better after a day of adventure; the Inn’s heated tub and jungle spa guarantee your exhaustion fades in no time, too.  

Do: Book Any Time of Year For Any Occasion 

Whether’s it family travel, solo jaunts, or romantic escapades, I promise—Belize is the answer. Delightfully accessible by just one 2-hour (or less) flight from the continental U.S., Belize sits in the middle of Central America. Although, it boasts more in common with the Caribbean than neighboring Mexico and Guatemala. Four paved highways (yes, in the entire country) connect one corner to the next, English is the first language, and the U.S. dollar is also widely accepted thanks to a 1:2 conversion to the Belize dollar.

san ignacio roeming belize mural

This popular art mural is in San Ignacio. Image courtesy Roeming Belize

Its 240 miles of coastline is peppered by more than 450 cayes, while inland, teeming mountains are lush with broad-leaf rainforests that conceal ancient Maya temples. Visiting seasonally throughout the year has its benefits; the dry season coincides with peak tourism and the rainy season equals extra savings on both flights and stays. Do stay flexible: prioritizing what activities you’re most interested in can help you decide what time to visit. Otherwise, there’s plenty to keep you entertained in Belize, whether staying in a private forest reserve or not,  for any month of the year. 

Don’t: Be Too Ambitious

caracol maya site must see belize

Caracol – Maya Site © Duarte Dellarole Photography

Biodiversity. It’s the big, bright heart of Belize, and the country’s only caveat is perhaps not being able to experience it in solely one visit. Places like Mountain Pine Ridge—and by extension, Hidden Valley Inn—are meant to be savored. Sure, there are five major waterfalls onsite the Inn alone, but what about Big Rock Falls, Rio On Pools, or the 1,000 Foot Falls that’s around the corner? Or the towering Caracol Maya Site and Rio Frio Cave? And that’s just within the Pine Ridge; you’ve barely scratched the surface of inland adventure, much less ventured offshore. However, don’t pack too much into an itinerary that you burn out by check-out time; instead, let the experts curate a package instead.

You can however split your time evenly down the middle to experience Belize’s duality; Hidden Valley Inn has a waterfall to reef package with SunBreeze Hotel in San Pedro Town of Ambergris Caye for a sample of snorkeling the world’s second-largest barrier reef. Plus, we promise you’ll be looking for an excuse to plan your return by the time you’re through. 

Perhaps the best part?

San_Ignacio_Night-1 town belize

Photo by Duarte Dellarole

Wilderness is just within reach at 50 minutes or less from Cayo’s commercial hub, San Ignacio Town. If you want to experience forests up close, Belize’s Mountain Pine Ridge is one destination with a myriad of destinations within itself. With summer fast on its way, it’s time to warm up to the idea of staying in a private forest reserve in Belize — start here with our do’s and don’ts. 

Header image courtesy Hidden Valley Inn.

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