Rio On Pools and Rio Frio Cave

Rio On Pools and Rio Frio Cave

Number Two in the Wet and Wild Inland Belize series


Having sung the joys of the Macal River, and continuing on with our Wet and Wild Inland Belize series, we bring you to one of the prettiest swimming holes to be found anywhere in the world; the Rio On pools up on the Mountain Pine Ridge. And, as long as we’re in the neighbourhood, we’ll throw in  a stop at the Rio Frio Cave.

The Rio On pools are only about fifteen miles off the Western Highway on the Santa Elena side of the Hawksworth Bridge, but the rather rustic road surface and the sightseeing along the way ensure that you’ll take your time. And you won’t mind, because all in all it’s a lovely drive through one of Belize’s most unique environments.

Mountain Pine Ridge is covered in Honduras, or Caribbean Pine, (Pinus caribaea), and while a massive fire in 1949 and outbreaks of disease have taken their toll, the forests are continually regenerating.  As an aside, you can see still large stands of Belizean mountain pines growing far across the world in the Fiji Islands, having been introduced by British colonialists in years past.

Coming from the warmer, more humid rain-forested areas of Belize, Mountain Pine Ridge is a breath of fresh air – literally. Cooler, pine infused and generally drier than the rainforests below, the atmosphere is lovely, and the flora and fauna a bit different to the rest of Belize.

So if you get the feeling of having been magically transported to another country, don’t worry, it’s a common reaction.


The Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve is home to a variety of animals including tapirs, white-nosed coatis, cougars, ocelots, jaguars and the occasional Morelets crocodile (don’t worry, they’ve never been seen in the pools). The birdlife is equally impressive, with native Stygian Owls, King Vultures, Keel Billed Toucans, Ocellated Turkeys, Blue Crowned Mot Mots, Parrots, Bluebirds and Woodpeckers joining visiting Orange Breasted Falcons, Tanagers and Chipping Sparrows as just a few of the many species common to the area.

And now, having passed through this unique, refreshingly exotic landscape, you’re ready for a picnic and swim at the Rio On Pools.


Surrounded by some 300 square miles of forest reserve,  the series of ponds are an oasis of tranquillity broken by the occasional squeals of laughter as people slide down the smooth rocks, hang under the waterfalls or just lounge in the pools.  The pools come in many different sizes, depths and levels of accessibility, and you’ll soon find the perfect one for you, you and your companion or your group.

“This is what Eden must have been like,” a friend once said, and laying back in the crystal clear running water, watching birds lazily circling the sky and nothing but pristine nature as far as the eye can see, it’s an easy connection to make.

We’ve spent entire days there sunbaking on rocks worn smooth by centuries of water polishing, pool hopping, getting relaxing  aqua-massages under the waterfalls and just generally enjoying this natural health spa.  It’s the perfect combination of exercise, relaxation, sociability and peaceful meditation. We always come away feeling both relaxed and invigorated.

In such a timeless location it’s easy to lose track of time, but make sure you leave enough to visit the Rio Frio Cave before heading home.


A short hop away from the pools, the cave is sort of a big limestone tunnel carved out by the Rio Frio, which is Spanish for “Cold River”, a title you’ll appreciate after a dip in the water. This is one of the more striking caverns in Belize, with the largest entrance of any Belizean cave, plenty of light, a pretty beach and rocky ledges that give it a sort of amphitheater feel. In fact, the cave was used by the ancient and not-so-ancient Maya for ceremonies, and when you’re there, it’s easy to see why.


Once again, you’ll have enjoyed a refreshing, fun filled day getting wet, one we recommend rounding off with a pre-dinner swim in Chaa Creek’s infinity pool and rehydrating with a cocktail or two at the Jungle Lounge. It’s been a day you’ll remember for a very long time…

Next: Swimming into history –  Actun Tunichil Muknal

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