Established in 1944, the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve — known as “Pine Ridge” to locals — is a beautiful landscape of rolling pine forest spread over smooth, granite hillsides in Cayo, Belize. One distinctive feature is Baldy Beacon, a hilltop that stands out because its soil will not support the growth of trees.
About a decade ago, Pine Ridge suffered a pine beetle infestation and it is still struggling to fully recover to its once majestic splendor. However, the area is still pretty spectacular and it is a popular destination for travelers since it offers a variety of things to do.
Bird watching is a popular activity within the reserve; species include the rufous-capped warbler, crossbill, pine siskin, stigeon owl and eastern bluebird. If you visit between autumn and spring, you may also see the hepatic tanager and chipping sparrow. Raptors cruise the valleys of the Pine Ridge, and it’s the most likely place in Belize to see orange-breasted falcons.
Just off the main road in Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve, before reaching Augustine Village, you’ll find the popular Rio on Pools. Through the expanse of pine forest, the river spills over large granite ledges and rocks, making small waterfalls and cool round pools. On the bank of the river is a picnic area to relax and watch swimmers enjoying the troughs, pools and natural waterslides made smooth by the rushing water.
Rio Frio Cave is located in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve and reveals an impressive 65-foot arch at its opening. Just about a half a mile in length, this is a great choice for the first-time caver. From the cave’s opening, visitors have a striking view of the entire cave and stream running through it.
Deep into the forest reserve lies Caracol, one of the largest Maya temples in Belize. Caracol is Belize’s premier Mayan site with a rich and exciting history that rivals the power of Tikal. The largest temple at Caracol is “Caana” or “Sky Place.” This massive pyramid rises over 140 feet above the jungle floor and is the tallest manmade structure in Belize. Caracol was the most important political center of the lowland Maya during the Classic Period within Belize. In 650 CE, the urban area of Caracol had a radius of approximately 10 kilometers around the site’s epicenter and had a larger population than present-day Belize City, which is currently Belize’s largest urban area.