As the beaches of the coastal Placencia and Ambergris Caye attract and fill its own troop of sun-seeking wanderers, there’s a fresh stretch of adventure that’s ripe for discovery in Inland Belize.
For those of you unfamiliar with Belize, it’s the destination of all tropical escapes. With an astonishing 103 protected areas, including its 185-mile UNESCO-attested Belize Barrier Reef, its entire natural landscape is a playground for curiosity.
The interiors of the country’s lush, undisturbed landscapes thrum with exotic wildlife, such as kaleidoscopic Scarlet Macaws and echoing Howler Monkeys, amongst heavily protected acres of land. After all, 61% of Belize’s total landmass is forest cover. Undisturbed greenery blankets majestic jungle cascades, highland trails and treasure troves of geological and archeological wonders, like ancient Maya ruins and even the longest cave system in Central America.
Belize bursts with an unbridled sense of adventure, regardless of which district your escapes take you.
Inland, you’ll find the beauty is rawer, with that elusive sense of discovery that’s seemingly harder to grasp these days. Back in the days at the cusp of independence, only backpackers came to this corner of Central America. Now, it’s amazing to see the number of families and curious travelers discovering the eco-hub of Belize: the western-most Cayo District.
From a warm and welcoming culture to the misty cloud forests of the Macal River bank, here are five can’t miss adventures in inland Belize.
1. Diving into sacred symbols inside Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM)
It garnered international attention from National Geographic as the top spot on its list of the Top 10 Sacred Caves in the world, and for good reason. Raising the pulse from start to finish, wade into the chambers of Actun Tunichil Muknal, Xibalba through hip-deep water: you’re in the Cave of the Stone Sepulcher now.
The living museum inside the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve has no rival. Slip and slide through tight spaces on slippery rocks until you’re awed by its sacrality: intact pottery, dripping limestone stalactites shining under headlamps, and its Crystal Maiden—a fully crystallized woman skeleton.
ATM is a 45-minute drive from San Ignacio Town, and a 45-minute trek to the crystal-clear stream at its opening.
2. Traversing Caana at Caracol Natural Monument Reservation
Coyly hidden within Inland Belize’s Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, there’s impressive evidence of the Maya civilization that once flourished for nearly 3,000 in Belize—once the heartland of the Maya. Caracol, which means The Snail in Mayan, still stands as the tallest man-made structure in Belize with its 143-feet high temple of Caana (Sky Place).
Much like the stelae statues, stone slabs, altars, burial sites and steps behind you: epic. The 3,000-year-old once-sprawling city is colossal, and it is Belize’s greatest ancient discovery (to date, at least). After all, archeologists are still excavating it’s temples and shrines that lie just below the surface. With it, ancient secrets of the past.
Caracol is a 2-hour drive from San Ignacio Town.
3. Jump into Mountain Pine Ridge’s Jungle Cascades
Carpeting 300 impressive square miles of dense Caribbean Pine Forest in the Maya Mountains, the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve is the anchor to a handful of Instagrammable waterfalls. Marvel at the Thousand Foot Falls from miles away, which in reality undersells its true height of 1,600 feet, as Central America’s tallest waterfall. But to really get up-close and personal with its water-carved landscape, visit the Rio on Pools or majestic Big Rock Falls.
Hidden in the hills, granite boulders are smoothed into a culmination of pockets of invigorating pools as Rio on Pools. Here, unwind in a rush of zen. For those after a rush of adrenaline, plunge into the forest with a steep wooden staircase before the 150-foot waterfall reveals itself just around the corner. Get low on all fours, climb up to the biggest rock (pun intended) and bet your best cannonball into the plunge pool below.
Big Rock Falls and Rio on Pools are both roughly one hour from San Ignacio Town.
4. Zipping through the rainforest
How do you feel about careening through inland Belize’s jungle at 40 miles per hour, hundreds of feet off the ground, suspended only by a steel cable and some nylon webbing? It’s a healthy dose of adrenaline, that’s for sure. If you’re not afraid of heights, a visit to the Jaguar Paw Outpost outside of Belmopan might be in order.
From platform to platform built meters above the forest floor, fly through treetops up to 700 feet across the jungle for an impressive bird’s eye view of the flora and fauna. Pure exhilaration. While you’re here, stick around to explore the Nohoch Che’en National Park’s cave system by inner tube—the easiest way to cool off after a rush like that.
Nohoch Che’en National Park is roughly 1-hour and 15 minutes from San Ignacio Town.
Experience these Inland Belize Adventures with Chaa Creek Inland Expeditions
If you wish to include Ambergris Caye and diving the Great Blue Hole or snorkeling the barrier reef in your vacations, visit any of Belize’s archaeological sites or experience the geological and cultural diversity, Chaa Creek Inland Expeditions has got you covered.
5. An epicurean adventure for the Chocolate (and Cenote) Lovers
From ripe, yellow cacao pods on the tree—split by machete—to thick, tropical, white pulped cushions in a sticky gel within, go from bean to chocolate bar in Armenia Village. Touring through rows of cacao that span across acres on the Hummingbird Highway, don’t forget to pack a sense of adventure when it comes to your palette.
Prized in Maya culture for centuries, the curious looking legume becomes dried, fermented, roasted and mashed. Don’t worry, you’ll get a chance with the cylindrical Mayan metate stone—a few flicks of the wrist later, and the cacao’s natural fats create a smooth, glistening paste. The smell of chocolate fills the air, and you’re ready for a taste test, including the traditionally Mayan cacao tea.
Before you leave, head just one mile to St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park a different kind of perk-up: a plunge into its always-icy-blue cenote.
Armenia Village is roughly 1-hour from San Ignacio Town.
Keeping the adventure going with your Belize base
Explorers can keep the adventure going by choosing the right base for your inland antics. A chameleon of a country, Belize offers the best of both worlds, as it does for both relaxation and adventure. Stay at a nearby Belize jungle lodge and find peace doing outdoor yoga on your private sundeck, going on guided nature walks accompanied by the thrum of hummingbirds, or sunset gaze from your canoe.
Indeed, Cayo’s spirit attracts the adventurous and resilient. Like the 400-acre Lodge at Chaa Creek—a dauntless escape created by a regenerative minded group entirely of Belizeans. After a long day hiking to Big Rock Falls or even wading into the ATM Cave, guests can retreat to a place like Chaa Creek that does rest and relaxation just as well as skin-raising adventure, including its own on-site activities like the Belize Rainforest RTV Safari and Critters of the Night Tour.
Start planning your unmissable inland adventures with our concierge here.