Travel in Central America conjures up images of white beaches, idyllic islands, and ancient ruins. But as any local will tell you, that’s just the beginning for Belize. Our interiors are verdant, with oversized ferns lining misty jungle trails that lead to mountains and ridges carved by serpentine riverways. Ascents and descents of the Twin Towns — San Ignacio and Santa Elena, connected by the iconic 1949 Hawksworth Bridge over the pristine Macal River — are begging to be explored on foot. As the district that borders Guatemala, Cayo inspires irresistible Latin and Maya flavors that go on full display every Saturday morning; the local farmer’s market in San Ignacio fills with stalls from diverse ethnic backgrounds — fitting for Belize’s “breadbasket.” Here is why the Cayo District is a playground for the senses.
RAISING THE PULSE
Dive in (or under) to adrenaline-packed adventures in the Cayo District, including the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave. Wade into the chambers of Xibalba through hip-deep water: you’re in the Cave of the Stone Sepulcher now. Slip and slide through tight spaces on slippery rocks (butts up!) and discover sparkling crystal walls and dripping limestone stalactites.
High-powered headlamps, horseback, and ancient Maya cities await.
More of a fan of wide-open spaces? Venture to Caracol, the once sprawling metropolis that covered an area larger than present-day Belize City. Although not all of Caracol has been fully excavated, which may outshine even the great city of Tikal; instead, the adrenaline of being an archeologist for the day can propel your adventures (and discoveries) ahead. Bring yourself back to the present-day with a refreshing dip at the foot of a 150-foot waterfall. Located on the Privassion River, make the steep descent to Big Rock Falls on foot or on horseback to make it even more thrilling.
FEEDING THE FOODIE
The biggest foodie hub in the Cayo District may arguably be the San Ignacio Farmer’s Market, which comes alive every Saturday morning. Dubbed the country’s breadbasket, the district is home to a cultural melting pot of Mestizos, Creoles, Chinese, Lebanese, Guatemalans, Mennonites, and Mayas. Browse stalls of fresh produce before grabbing a street food favorite for breakfast, like tacos, pupusas, burritos, and more. Prefer a sit-down meal instead? Head to Burns Avenue, the town’s Main Street that’s lined with restaurants and bars, to enjoy an all-day breakfast at Pop’s Restaurant. The savory Chaya pockets are arguably my favorite.
SECLUSION IN PRIVATE RESERVES
Belize has a small population of approximately 468,000, while the other six countries in Central America reflect population ranges between 4.3 million for Panama and 17.9 million for Guatemala. You hate to overuse the phrase distanced by nature, but with the lowest population density, it’s hard to resist. Cayo is home to the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, carpeting 300 impressive square kilometers in the Maya Mountains. Established as a natural treasure in 1944, there are lots to explore before retreating to open-air accommodations within.
Surrounded by towering pines in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, GAIA Riverlodge is a stylish, open-air lodge beautifully perched above the Privassion Creek. Cabanas and villas are well spaced out onsite, naturally creating a sense of privacy by nature. Gaia is an hour jeep ride from the more populous San Ignacio area; here, guests can recharge inside the 24 private and spacious cabanas to the waterfall’s sounds. Enjoy the rainforest’s intimacy with its native birds, butterflies, and remarkable flora; it is all set against the soft glow of the setting sun. Ps: the riverside and waterfall-view rooms give unrivaled sunrise vistas amongst rural luxury.
Nestled in the heart of Mountain Pine Ridge lies Blancaneaux Lodge, a member of the Family Coppola Hideaways. This intimate inn features 20 boutique cabanas overlooking the reserve. The reserve itself is a playground for nature lovers with waterfalls, crystal clear creeks, and a plethora of hiking and biking trails. After all, being tucked away in the ethereal Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve makes it a perfect place to relax and rejuvenate while taking in the beautiful sounds of nature. A nearby waterfall from Privassion Creek tumbles into turquoise pools above the jungle canopy. Besides, you can always enjoy Belize’s simple pleasures at a Coppola Hideaway.