The journey to Belize’s Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve is an awe-inspiring one, to say the least. As you travel down the winding Chiquibul Road, you find yourself flanked on both sides by lush greenery. You can’t help but stop and take a moment to admire the natural splendour surrounding you. Occasionally, a break in the forest gives way to stellar panoramic views: hills and valleys stretching on for miles down below while, up above, the sun sits shining in the clear blue sky. Some may say the view rivals the Hummingbird Highway in beauty. And many more will agree that it is the perfect introduction to what lies awaiting inside Mountain Pine Ridge.
Towering Pine Trees And Gentle Rivers
AFAR Magazine calls it one of Belize’s grandest wild landscapes, and rightfully so. As you enter the reserve, lush green broadleaf forest gives way to towering Caribbean pine trees that make you feel small (in a good way). Follow the unmistakable brick-colored road, lined on both sides by said pine trees, to some of Belize’s most picturesque spots.
One such spot is Rio On Pools, where cool cascading waters flow into connecting pools surrounded by large granite rocks. The area, along with the rest of the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, provides visitors with a literal breath of fresh air. Thats because the higher elevation and more temperate climate allow for a much cooler atmosphere.
An impressive 300 square miles in area, it comes as no surprise that this reserve houses a broad range of wildlife. Keep an eye out for any of the many woodland creatures that call Mountain Pine Ridge their home, including tapirs, ocelots, Stygian owls, Rufous-capped warblers, the occasional King Vulture, and so much more. Plus, plant lovers, rejoice at the abundance of unique flora, including plenty of orchids and ferns.
Here, We Chase Waterfalls
Then something Tookish woke up inside him and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.”
-J. R. R. Tolkien
Sometimes, it’s okay to go chasing waterfalls. At least when they’re as magnificent as the ones in Mountain Pine Ridge, that is. In addition to being home to some of Belize’s best waterfalls, the reserve is home to Central America’s tallest. At 1,600 feet tall, the aptly named Thousand Foot Falls is a sight to behold. As you look across at its powerful streams of water cascading down the jagged mountainside and into the deep gorge below, it will feel as if time has slowed. And, suddenly, you will be reminded of just how spectacularly grand nature can be.
At the entrance to the waterfall’s main viewing platform, Lord of the Rings fans will be sure to take note of the beautiful J.R.R Tolkien quote featured on the national monument sign.
Along with Thousand Foot Falls, the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve is also where Big Rock Falls and Five Sisters Falls can be found. The former, a 150-foot waterfall, makes for an ideal picnic location as well as a great swimming spot.
Rio Frio Cave
After visiting the falls, travel to the Mayan underworld, Xibalba, when you visit the Rio Frio Cave. Perhaps one of the top attractions in Mountain Pine Ridge, this cavernous chamber holds gigantic stalactites and is about a quarter mile long. Marvel at the 65-foot-tall entrance, before heading deeper inside what was once a Mayan burial ground. Dozens of massive boulders lay strewn about, and flowing through the center of the cave is a river that leads to a small series of cascading waterfalls.
Where to Stay While Visiting Mountain Pine Ridge
Properly exploring, and enjoying, all that the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve has to offer may require a stay longer than just one day. In that case, eco-lodges like Gaia Riverlodge and Hidden Valley Inn & Reserve can help you make your experience as memorable as possible.
At Gaia, thatch-roof cabanas allow marvelous views of the Five Sisters Falls. Small and intimate, this stylish open-air lodge sits perched above the falls and offers a number of packages that will help make planning your exploration of the Mountain Pine Ridge completely stress-free.
Meanwhile, at Hidden Valley Inn, a 2022 Trip Advisor Traveler’s Choice Destination and forested haven, enjoy the sweet smell of the pine trees while you unwind before heading out to witness the best of what Belize has to offer.
As travelers, we live for the moments that we end up cherishing for a lifetime. The Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve grants us just that. Have you had the pleasure of visiting yet?
Featured Image courtesy Gaia Riverlodge.