The Mountain Pine Ridge region of the Cayo District in Western Belize provides plenty of sightseeing opportunities. One can go on a day tour to the Maya ruins of Caracol and get back to Lower Dover Jungle Lodge in time for dinner. Along the way, there will be plenty of pot holes, wildlife photo opportunities, and numerous sightseeing turnoffs.
The name Mountain Pine Ridge comes from the large granite outcroppings present only here in Belize. These granite peaks, along with the country’s hottest daytime temperatures, provide the necessary habitat for pine forest growth. Unfortunately, an invasive species called the southern pine bark beetle devastated many of the old growth parts of the pine forest in early 2000. Luckily, a successful reforestation program has worked to halt a complete extinction of the pine trees in Mountain Pine Ridge.
The first stop on the way is Rio On Pools, a fantastic swimming area consisting of huge granite slabs and cascading waterfalls. We recommend stopping on your way back, as the pools are best enjoyed in the afternoon heat on when the sun warms up the black granite rock surfaces. There is also a sizable shelter where you can eat lunch and take in the beautiful vista.
Further along the road, there is a split in the road that heads toward either 1000 foot falls or Caracol. 1000 Ft. Falls is the largest waterfall in Central America, however, in the dry when water levels are low it might not be worth the hour detour. The base of the waterfall is within a steep ravine and inaccessible to the general public. If you want to see Caracol, and Rio Frio Cave, 1000 Ft. falls is usually skipped. It’s a good photo opportunity, but there is no real access to the waterfall. On a side note, Mt. Baldy, the tallest peak in Belize, is located right behind Thousand Foot Falls.
If you decide to skip 1000 Foot Falls, go in the opposite direction and head toward the Douglas de Silva Forest Station checkpoint. This is where you catch the convoy to Caracol. If you need to get any water or snacks for your journey, this is the last stop.
Just five miles beyond the Ranger Station, is the Rio Frio Cave. Visitors can park in a nearby lot located next to the cave’s massive entrance. There are public bathrooms and picnic tables on site. Rio Frio Cave is known for it’s 65 foot tall entrance that provides great photo opportunities. The hike to the entrance can easily be made by novice hikers. Once inside the cave, it is possible for more advanced hikers to descend the rock formations from the collapsed ceiling to a sandy beach along the Rio Frio stream that runs through the cave. From this spot it is possible to see all the way through the Rio Frio Cave to the equally large opposite entrance.
The last leg of the Mountain Pine Ridge trip is the Maya site of Caracol which we wrote about yesterday.
On the way back, Mountain Pine Ridge visitors are sure to be pretty exhausted from a long day of traveling on rough roads in the tropical heat. If the weather is nice, it’s a perfect opportunity for a swim in the Rio On Pools. It is wise to wear your socks when you swim because the rocks can get hot! Also be careful on the slippery surfaces in the shallow water that are covered in algae.