The Cayo District boasts many wonders:caves,waterfalls, picturesque hillside towns and great people. By far the biggest draw is the colorful riverside town of San Ignacio. Being a neighbor to Guatemala, its Latin and Maya flavors are difficult to resist. Burns Avenue, San Ignacio’s cobblestoned main street, buzzes with shoppers and steaming roadside grills. As well as the iconicHawkesworthBridge, built in 1949, which towers over rivers.This is a place to be outdoors, and it is never dull.
Saturday is the highlight of the week. It is Market Day when all the diverse ethnic population converge and inhabit the area. Mestizos prepare tacos and pupusas as you wait, while Mennonites sell their freshly-made cheeses and desserts. You’ll see stalls of homemade jams, chutneys and fruit wines, even natural peanut butter, and vibrant stalls of fresh tropical fruits and vegetables. This is the nation’s “ breadbasket.”
A short ride away, you can visit the country’s most renowned Maya sites, sacredcaves andrainforests dotted with pine trees and medicinal plants. You can take daily walks along the river or rappel 300 feet into a rainforest, go canoeing on the river. Or horseback riding in the nearby jungle. Nights are lively, with outdoor restaurants, and nightclubs where you can dance and hob-nob with visitors at local bars, enjoying a healthy, happy slice of Belize countryside living.
The landscape of Belize was formed leaving features that resemblechunks ofSwiss cheese, with holes piercing the land. The entire country is riddled with so many caves, that we often jest about Belize having more miles of underground systems than pave highways. For the ancient Maya, caves were the refuge of malevolent gods who expected humans to offer them gifts. Studies show that in the mid-classic period, around 1100 B.C. they were already conducting rituals with offerings of corn and chocolate. Subsequently, with diminishing resources, there is evidence that basic gifts were not enough, and they began to conduct human sacrifice.
We Belizeans love to talk about our world of caves, but we are afraid of the “Duende.” This is a dwarf, a mythical cave dweller, and protector of the underworld. He is a trickster who can take human form and try to take your thumbs away because he has none. He is able to put curses on you for trespassing into the home of the gods. Step back in time, into the deep, mystical world of the Maya, cross sacred grounds, pass stalagmites, pottery shardsand bones. Your imagination will take you back; you might even feel the presence of the gods, in the trickle of the water or the chilling silence of the cave.
Nowhere in Belize are waterfalls more pristine and dramatic as in the Maya Mountains. Here the underground rivers push their way to the mountain tops and descend, carving their waydown bluffsand ridges before escaping over the escarpment. With numerous tucked-away cascades, including Belize’s Thousand Foot Falls, experiences are as varied as the terrain.
In the Mountain Pine Ridge area, the Hidden Valley Inn Reserve offers a very private experienceof waterfalls and hiking trails, available only to guests. It features over a dozen magnificent cascades, including Butterfly Falls – an 80 foot, single-drop waterfall that ends in a spectacular pool! Secret Fallsisanotherperfectly secluded fall and jade pool, where you may enjoy a catered champagne lunch immersed in nature. The ThousandFoot Fallswhich is the largest of its kind in all of Central America forms a slender veil that juts out over a precipice and disappears into the virgin forest below. The Mountain Pine Ridge is also home to the Rio On Falls and Pools, where you can revel in the bracing water or sun yourself on a rock. It is accessible, yet uncrowded. You will marvel at these masterpieces of nature!
Written by Nelita Castillo