The Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve near San Ignacio, Belize is a vast and unusual 100K+ acre expanse of pine trees in an otherwise tropical country. Nestled within this forest are several spots worth visiting, including Belize’s greatest Mayan ruin: Caracol, the Big Rock Falls waterfall, Rio-On Pools, and Rio Frio Cave.
Approximate distance and driving time from San Ignacio:
- Big Rock Falls: 19 mi (31 km) – 1 hr
- Rio-On Pools: 27 mi (43 km) – 1hr 15min
- Rio Frio Cave: 30 mi (50 km) – 1hr 30min
- Caracol: 51 mi (82 km) – 2hr 30min
The great news is that all four locations are more or less along the same main route, so it’s possible to hit all the locations on the same day (although if you’re visiting Caracol, it would be a tight fit and better spread over two days).
Caracol boasts Belize’s largest man-made structure, Caana. It doesn’t have the busy traffic of Tikal in neighboring Guatemala, which makes it a great getaway to view Mayan ruins in relative quiet. There are debates on whether it is safe to drive to Caracol on your own or whether you should go with a tour or use the military escort. I’ve broken down the details here for you to make your own decision.
Rio Frio Cave
Rio Frio Cave is an above-ground cave that is great for claustrophobics who want to see a cave but don’t want to crawl around in tight spaces. You can see both entrance and exit from inside the cave, which makes it a rather small one, but if you’re fortunate enough to go when no one else is around, the peaceful environment of pine trees makes it a quiet getaway, and a nature walk trail lets you get a little exercise to boot. Additional pics and proper directions on how to drive there can be found here.
The Rio-On Pools are a vast expanse of granite that form a network of small waterfalls and pools in which you can wade or swim. It’s a great place to relax and picnic, and even if it gets crowded, it’s such a large area that you don’t have to run into too many people. Keep in mind, however, that besides a small rest area, there is no cover from the sun, so be prepared to have those rays shine down on you! You can see more pics of Rio-On Pools here.
Big Rock Falls
Big Rock Falls is a great place to swim and relax on the rocks. The waterfall is just big enough to look pretty but small enough to swim near. It does require a somewhat steep hike down about 300 yards into the forest (a combination of natural trail and man-made steps) which means you’ll be huffing and puffing your way back out. For those who want a little exercise, it’s a nice short, steep trail. For those of you who don’t want the exercise, the waterfall promises a fun and relaxing afternoon to make it worth the effort. 🙂 More details and pics of Big Rock Falls.
One final word on MPR – once you enter the forest, there aren’t any restaurants or vendors around, so make sure to bring plenty of water and snacks/food, especially if you plan on spending the entire day out there.