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8 Best Things to do in Belize’s Mountain Pine Ridge

Your Friend the Nomad

8 Best Things to do in Belize’s Mountain Pine Ridge

Trying to figure out what to do in Mountain Pine Ridge Belize? Tranquil swimming holes, breathtaking mountain vistas, luxurious ecolodges, and towering waterfalls await!

I just spent a month in Belize and the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve is the part of the country that surprised (and delighted) me most! I wouldn’t have explored this area if it weren’t for my sister-in-law who lives in Belize and recommended it. Due to its higher elevation, Mountain Pine Ridge tends to have lower temperatures, and attracts local Belizeans hoping to escape the heat on vacation.

But the cool mountain air is just the beginning of what this part of the Cayo District has to offer. In this Belize travel guide I’m sharing all my favorite things to do in Mountain Pine Ridge, plus how to get around, where to stay, and other essential travel tips.

Note: This article may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases through these links, at no cost to you. But don’t worry, I only share products I’d truly recommend to a friend.

🌺 My Belize Favorites 🏝

🤿 Barrier Reef Snorkeling & Diving: Belize has the best snorkeling I’ve ever experienced! You can book guided snorkel and dive trips from Hopkins, San Pedro, or Caye Caulker. Browse Belize snorkel and dive trip.

🌲 Escape to Mountain Pine Ridge: Climb up in elevation to a cooler (and less visited) area with gorgeous waterfalls, fun swimming holes, Mayan ruins, and so much more! You will need a vehicle with 4WD here, but this day trip from San Ignacio is also an option.

🥾 Cave Adventures: Cave tubing is an adventure unique to Belize, and many people come all the way here to experience the ATM Cave, where you can witness human remains and Mayan artifacts.

🚙 Explore the Hummingbird Highway: This breathtaking lush scenic drive connects the Cayo District and the Caribbean coast. Stop along the way at waterfalls, a cenote, a chocolate workshop, caves, and more! My guide to the Hummingbird Highway.

🌴 Where to Stay: A sustainable jungle treehouse beside the beach in Hopkins at Hamanasi, a quiet breezy room at Weezie’s on the vibrant small island of Caye Caulker, or a luxury bungalow overlooking waterfalls at Gaia Riverlodge.

Find more of my Belize favorites and Belize travel tips at the bottom of this article!

Things to do at Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve (Belize)

I expect this lesser known area will increase in popularity in the coming years since the roads are currently being paved for the first time. But right now Mountain Pine Ridge feels like a Belize hidden gem, with only handful of day tripper from San Ignacio every day, plus a few scores of vacationers staying in the resorts inside the nature preserve.

Enjoy the emptiness and tranquility of this place while you can! It’s the perfect place for bird watching, swimming, hiking, and escaping the heat of Belize’s lower elevation jungle areas. And if you’re like me, every place you visit in Mountain Pine Ridge will greatly exceed your expectations!

🛑 Driving in Mountain Pine Ridge Belize 🚙

You need a 4WD vehicle with high clearance to access most of these Mountain Pine Ridge attractions. Most of the main road was recently paved and in great shape, but many side roads and parking lots are a muddy mess. Even with a Ford truck we almost got stuck, so please be careful!

1. Swim at the Rio On Pools

Hundreds—maybe thousands—of little natural pools form besides waterfalls along the river at Rio On Pools. It is the best place for swimming in Mountain Pine Ridge so be sure to bring a swimsuit and towel (even on a colder day!)

I didn’t expect to enjoy this place and much as I did, partly because the photos I saw online beforehand didn’t fully capture the magic of this place. I don’t think my pictures do it justice either, and I wish I had a drone to show you how many tranquil little pools and cute waterfalls there are at Rio On Pools.

Just trust me on this one and make sure you add this place to your Mountain Pine Ridge itinerary!

How to Visit Rio On Pools

Rio On Pools is very close to the main paved road, so in theory you could get here without a 4WD high clearance vehicle if you parked near the turnoff and walked along the dirt road, but I’d still recommend a better vehicle since the parking lot itself isn’t in great shape.

The Rio On Pools are free to visit, and they’re only a short walk from the parking area. Bring a bathing suit and towel, and perhaps a dry bag like this one to keep your valuables from getting wet. Be careful as you walk over the slippery rocks!

Before or after relaxing at Rio On Pools, drive (or walk) up to the viewpoint overlooking the waterfalls and pools. It’s a great spot for a photo, or lunch as there are some covered picnic tables.

2. Explore Rio Frio Cave

This limestone cave is HUGE in width and height. Even though I’d seen pictures, I had no idea it would be so big! It is 30 meters (98 feet) high — that’s the length of almost three school buses. The cave is 50 meters (164 feet) wide, the length of almost five school buses.

Another cool feature of this cave is that you can see both cave openings from inside. The cave is only about 240 meters (787 feet) long, and you can walk to the other side easily.

Technically this is Rio Frio Cave C as there are several other caves in the area that share the same name, but this is the one to visit! As the name suggests, the Rio Frio river flows at the base of the cave.

How to Visit Rio Frio Cave

The road to Rio Frio Cave was the worst one we experienced in Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve, though I’ve heard the roads to Caracol and Thousand Foot Falls are worse. We almost got stuck in the mud on our way back, so be careful and pay attention to conditions. Definitely do not visit after rainfall.

Rio Frio Cave is free to visit and open 7am-5pm daily. After parking, its a short walk to the mouth of the cave. Since there are two large openings, you don’t need a flashlight, but it could be helpful. Walk through the cave with caution as it can be slippery.

3. Swim Beneath Big Rock Falls

The short hike to Big Rock Falls is one of the most popular things to do in Mountain Pine Ridge, and for good reason! The waterfall is picturequse and its a great place for a swim.

I’ve read several places that Big Rock Falls is 150 feet high but after seeing it in person, that cannot be true. I’d guess it’s about 75 feet high, maybe less, but nonetheless beautiful! If you visit Big Rock Falls and Rio Frio Cave (98 feet high) in the same day, you’ll know what I mean. Unless there is some sort of optical illusion, Big Rock Falls is a bit shorter than the cave opening.

Big Rock Falls in Belize
How to Visit Big Rock Falls

The road to Big Rock Falls is the same road you’ll take if you’re staying at Gaïa Riverlodge, Blancaneaux Lodge, or the Kane Villas. You’ll definitely want 4WD drive and a high clearance vehicle but the road isn’t as bad as some of the others in Mountain Pine Ridge.

After parking, the walk down to the falls takes about 10 minutes with a steep incline down wooden stairs. Walk carefully and avoid slipping. Be careful on the rocks at the base of the falls, too, because they tend to get slippery. Big Rock Falls is free to visit.

4. See 1,000 Foot Falls

Mountain Pine Ridge is home to the tallest waterfall in Central America. Thousands Foot Falls is actually 1,600 feet high.

At first I wanted to go here, but several people told me that it is just not worth it as the roads are terribly treacherous and you can’t really get a good view of the waterfall as the viewing platform is so far away. Since I was visiting Mountain Pine Ridge with my sister-in-law who had already been there, I decided to skip it.

Since the local government is currently paving the roads in many parts of Mountain Pine Ridge, I’m hoping it will be easier to get to next time I’m in Belize so I can justify the journey!

Belize Hummingbird Highway Travel Guide

5. Journey to Caracol

Caracol (Caracol Natural Monument Reservation) is one of the most important Mayan archaeological sites in Belize. But it is one of the least visited sites because it is deep in the Mountain Pine Ridge and difficult to get to.

Like with 1000 Foot Falls, I skipped Caracol Archaeological Site on my recent trip because at the time the road was being paved but still not complete. I travel to Belize often so I don’t mind waiting, but if you want to visit now, here is what I recommend:

The easiest way to get to Caracol is to take a tour with a local guide. They handle the transportation completely and you don’t have to worry about your rental getting stuck or damaged. This Caracol day trip is with the most reputable tour company in the Cayo Distrcit. I’ve had a great experience with them on other tours and they have over a hundred 5 star reviews for this tour specifically. The tour also includes a stop at Rio On Pools and Rio Frio Cave!

6. Sip Cocktails (or Mocktails) at Gaïa Riverlodge

Gaïa Riverlodge is the place to stay in Mountain Pine Ridge with an absolutely breathtaking view of the ridge, river, and the Five Sisters Waterfall below. Thankfully, you don’t have to stay there to enjoy the views!

Their Five Sister’s Restaurant is one of the only places to eat in Mountain Pine Ridge. You can certainly dine here, but stopping by just for a refreshing drink here is my recommendation. They have a wonderful assortment of delicious mocktails and cocktails, with unique tropical flavors. Sip on something yummy and soak in the sun while listening to the waterfall.

Woman standing on a patio overlooking waterfall in Mountain Pine Ridge Belize at Gaia Resort
How to Visit Gaia Riverlodge

Follow the signs and directions for Gaia Riverlodge and Five Sisters. The resort is at the end of a long dirt road and you’ll need a high clearance 4WD vehicle (maybe they’ll pave the road someday). From the parking area, follow the signs left to the restaurant area. The staff is incredible if you need to ask for help.

I recommend sitting on the deck where you get a view of the waterfalls below! We came around 11:30am on a weekday and were the only people in the whole restaurant, but I’m guessing its more crowded at dinnertime.

PS: If you can afford it, I highly recommend staying at Gaia Riverlodge! It is one of my top three favorite places to stay in Belize with a private waterfall, drinks delivered to riverside sunbeds, cabanas overlooking the mountains and waterfalls, delicious organic food grown onsite, and excellent service. Check Gaia Riverlodge prices here (you can often get the best deals on Booking if you make an account!).

7. Watch Hummingbirds & Learn About Butterflies at Green Hills Butterfly Ranch

Like with every other Mountain Pine Ridge attraction I visited, Green Hills Butterfly Ranch really took me by surprise!

I’ve been to plenty of butterfly exhibits before, but nowhere like this! The hour-long experience included a private tour where we learned everything about the butterfly lifecycle and the different species present onsite. Then afterward we could explore the butterfly ranch on our own, and watch dozens of hummingbirds enjoy the feeders around the property. A tranquil experience indeed!

Woman in dress inside butterfly room at Green Hills Butterfly Ranch Belize
How to Visit Green Hills Butterfly Lodge

Green Hills Butterfly Ranch is located near the entrance to the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve and its easily accessible in any car (yay!) The ranch is open 9am-4pm daily and it costs $20 USD ($40 Belize dollars) for adults and $10 USD ($20 Belize dollars) for children. Your entry fee includes a 45 minute tour of the property where you’ll learn all about the butterfly lifecycle.

It’s a great place for bird watchers as they have seven species of hummingbirds on their property!

8. Spend the Night at an Ecolodge

Mountain Pine Ridge is home to a handful of lovely ecolodges where you can experience the tranquility of this part of Belize.

I hope to someday go back to Mountain Pine Ridge and stay at Gaïa Riverlodge as it is absolutely the most peaceful and beautiful place I’ve ever been. The property is situated cliffside above the river with the Five Sisters Waterfall below. Overnight guests can relax by the falls in luxurious longe chairs, get massages by the river, or even do yoga in a cave! Check Gaia Riverlodge prices here (you can often get the best deals on Booking if you make an account!).

Although we visited Gaia on my recent trip to Mountain Pine Ridge, we stayed at a more budget-friendly option, Kane Villas‘ Mahalo House. This two story ‘treehouse’ was the perfect place for our group of four people with a full kitchen, outdoor fireplace, and close access to the pool. One thing we loved about Kane Villas was the onsite hiking trails to some small waterfalls and a cave.

Along with Blancaneaux Lodge, these two ecolodges are some of the only places to stay inside the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve.

Wherever you end up staying, you’ll be in for a treat! I love how secluded all of Mountain Pine Ridge’s ecolodges feel — because they truly are secluded in this giant (mostly) undeveloped forest reserve.

Mountain Pine Ridge Tours from San Ignacio

If you don’t have access to a 4WD high clearance vehicle in Belize, a guided day trip with a local tour company is the best way to explore Mountain Pine Ridge. Here are my recommendations for some excellent Mountain Pine Ridge Belize tours:

👙 BEST Mountain Pine Ridge Tour: Hosted by my favorite tour company in Belize, this day trip from San Ignacio includes visits to Big Rock Falls, Rio Frio Cave, and Rio on Pools. Book here.

🥾 Caracol and Mountain Pine Ridge Tour: Hosted by the same excellent tour company, this day trip from San Ignacio takes you to the ancient ruins of Caracol, plus Rio On Pools and Cave Rio Frio. Book here.

🌿 Xunantunich and Big Rock Falls: This highly-rated tour combines Big Rock Falls in the Mountain Pine Ridge with Xunantunich, one of Belize’s most popular Mayan sites. If you want to see Mayan ruins but don’t want to have to deal with the long bumpy drive to Caracol, this tour is a great option! Book here.

How to Spend One Day in Belize’s Mountain Pine Ridge

Only have one day to experience Mountain Pine Ridge? That’s okay, one day is enough time to experience the highlights! Mountain Pine Ridge makes a perfect day trip form San Ignacio and resorts throughout the Cayo district. You can also visit on a day trip from Belize City, Hopkins, or resorts along the Hummingbird Highway.

I recommend leaving early and packing a lunch, snacks, and all the drinking water you’ll need for the day as there aren’t any stores inside the park and isn’t many places to eat.

You can choose which places you want to visit based on my list of Mountain Pine Ridge activities above. If I had only one day, I would start off at Rio Frio Cave, then spend a few hours swimming at the nearby Rio On Pools. I’d have lunch at the picnic tables above Rio On Pools before driving to Gaia Riverlodge for an afternoon drink. Then I’d hike to the nearby Big Rock Waterfall for another swim. Then, if you have time, you can stop at the Butterfly Ranch on the way out of Mountain Pine Ridge.

Silhouette of woman standing in Belize cave in the Mountain Pine Ridge

Mountain Pine Ridge Packing List

👙 Bathing suit: Even though Mountain Pine Ridge has cooler temperatures than other parts of Belize, you’re going to want to swim!

🥤 Drinking water: Make sure you can stay hydrated! There aren’t any shops in the nature reserve so bring all the water you need for the day.

🥙 Lunch & snacks: Unless you have plans to eat at one of the lodges, make sure you bring all the food you’ll need for the day!

🥾 Sturdy hiking shoes or sandals: Pack some shoes you can walk in down muddy hills and along slippery rocks. I brought these shoes that are grippy and sturdy for hiking and double as water shoes!

💦 Travel towel: I love this fast drying, sand resistant travel towel. I bring it everywhere!

🎒 Dry bag: A dry bag like this can be very helpful to keep all your valuables safe and dry!

🐛 Bug spray and sunscreen: I didn’t have any issues with bugs while I was in Mountain Pine Ridge, but definitely experienced my fair share of itchy bug bites during my month in Belize. Always bring insect repellant just in case!

📷 GoPro or waterproof phone case: I have a GoPro Hero11, which has 27 megapixels and screens on both sides, and I love it!

🩹 Travel insurance: While it is not a physical item to pack, please don’t forget to purchase travel insurance in case something happens! I always buy a policy with SafetyWing.

Belize Travel Blogs

Getting Around Mainland Belize

🚙 Renting a Car: The best way to experience all (mainland) Belize has to offer is to rent a car! Just keep in mind that some roads are not in the best shape and you should never drive for the first time after dark (learn the potholes in the light first!) You can compare rental prices from various rental companies here, but I usually end up renting from locally-owned Crystal Auto Rental when I’m in Belize.

🚕 Private Shuttles (and Tours): If you prefer not to drive in Belize, you can easily get around by booking a private shuttle from the airport, and then going on guided tours for all your jungle adventures. This shuttle is also the best option for folks flying into Belize airport and then going directly the islands!

🚍 Public Busses: Riding the local chicken bus is a popular way to get around Belize for backpackers and budget travelers, but I wouldn’t recommend it to most people as the busses are hot, crowded, slow, and unreliable. Spend the extra money for a private shuttle (or car rental) so you can get your destination more quickly and maximize your time in beautiful Belize.

Best Things to do in Belize

🌲 Explore Mountain Pine Ridge: Perhaps the most underrated area of Belize, Mountain Pine Ridge is full of beautiful waterfalls and fun swimming holes, plus the most striking cave I’ve ever seen! You will need a vehicle with 4WD here, but this day trip from San Ignacio is also an option!

🏺 Discover Ancient Ruins: There are far more Mayan ruins here than you could ever expect. I recommend a day trip Tikal (UNESCO World Heritage Site) in nearby Guatemala, a river cruise to Lamanai in Northern Belize, and/or a visit to Xunantunich near San Ignacio.

👙 Experience ATM Cave or go cave tubing: Dare to explore the famous ATM cave system, where you’ll swim upstream until you find rooms with hundreds of Mayan artifacts and human remains. Book your ATM tour here ahead of time (they sell out!) Or, go on a more relaxing cave experience, cave tubing!

🚙 Drive the Hummingbird Highway: Belize’s most scenic drive connects the Cayo District to the Caribbean coastline. Chase waterfalls, swim in a cenote, indulge in local chocolate, go caving, and taste Belize’s famous hot sauce along the way. My guide to the Hummingbird Highway.

🦈 Coral Reef Snorkeling & Diving: Whether you stay in Caye Caulker, San Pedro, or Hopkins, be sure to book a guided snorkeling or diving experience on Belize’s gorgeous barrier reef!

My Favorite Places to Stay in Belize

🤿 Hamanasi Adventure & Dive Resort in HopkinsThe best place I’ve stayed in Belize! Hamanasi is located in Hopkins, which is said to be the friendliest place in Belize. The town is full of Caribbean charm, and the resort itself is incredible with next-level service, a gorgeous oceanfront property, and wonderful guided day trips to both the jungle and islands. Read my review of Hamanasi.

🌺 Weezie’s in Caye Caulker: My favorite hotel on the vibrant island of Caye Caulker. Weezie’s has a beautiful property on a quieter part of the island, but it is still very close to all of Caye Caulker’s restaurants. Check Weezie’s nightly prices.

🚠 Gaia Riverlodge in Mountain Pine Ridge: The most breathtaking (and peaceful) hotel I’ve ever seen! Gaia is situated on a cliff overlooking the river and mountains in Mountain Pine Ridge, with an excellent onsite restaurant, and a tranquil area by the waterfalls below to relax. Check Gaia Riverlodge nightly prices.

More Belize Travel Guides

🏺 Worth It? Belize’s ATM Cave Tour

🚙 Unforgettable Stops Along the Hummingbird Highway

🚤 Best Lamanai Belize Tours & What to Expect

🐠 My Honest Review of Hamanasi Adventure & Dive Resort

Final Thoughts: Mountain Pine Ridge Belize

Surprises are around every corner in Mountain Pine Ridge with its secluded Mayan ruins, expansive limestone caves, colorful vegetation, cascading waterfalls, and diverse wildlife. I hope you have as lovely a time here as I did. Be sure to browse my other Belize travel guides as you plan you vacation and let me know if you have any questions!

This post 8 Best Things to do in Belize’s Mountain Pine Ridge first appeared on Your Friend the Nomad.

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