Cayo District is a world class eco-tourism destination that refuses to sell out. There are no high-rise hotels here. Instead, Belize offers its commitment to conservation and eco-tourism with an astonishing 880,000 acres of protected areas, nature reserves, and national parks within the 2,000 square miles that make up Cayo District.
Much of Cayo District consists of broad-leaf jungle overlying limestone formations. These formations are a result of an uplifting of ancient coral beds during the past 20 million years. Over time, flowing water has gradually dissolved the limestone, forming underwater rivers, sinkholes, and the spectacular caves for which Cayo District is well known for. The Mountain Pine Ridge was formed in this way.
Mountain Pine Ridge
Encompassing a spectacular range of rolling hills, peaks and gorges formed from some of the oldest rocks in Central American, the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve covers nearly 300 square miles. The karst limestone terrain is especially suited for hiking and there are some fun water options.
- Big Rock Falls involves a steep hike down to the foot of the waterfall where you can swim in the cascading pools just below the falls.
- Rio On Pools are a continuous series of pools formed by large granite boulders. Many of the pools are connected by small cascading waterfalls. The smooth surface of the boulders make natural water slides and a great place for a swim or a hike.
- Rio Frio Cave is the best cave for claustrophobics. Everything is big in this cave! The two 65-foot arched entry ways leave you in awe. Huge stalactites hang from the massive cathedral-like vault, which is part of a cave system the Maya used to bury their dead. Room size boulders are strewn throughout the cave and a stream flows through, forming pools with cascading falls. Openings at both ends make flashlights unnecessary for viewing the cave's formations during daylight hours. There is a beach area with a foot bridge for crossing the stream and getting to the other side, which leads to the exit. It is a quarter mile through to the other side, another equally impressive opening.
- Thousand Foot Falls offers only one look out point for viewing the falls and that entails lots of extra bumpy driving. If you are a Birder this won't matter to you, because this one of the sites for spotting the Orange-breasted Falcon.
Near the Mountain Pine Ridge
While it's not possible to do all of these in one day, ask our friendly office staff to help you choose the combination of Pine Ridge and nearby attractions that's best for you. These include: Green Hills Butterfly Ranch, Zip-Lining or Cave Canoeing. Visitors to the Maya archaeological site Caracol, have the option of adding a stop at either the Rio On Pools or Big Rock Falls on the return to the lodge if time permits.
San Ignacio Town
San Ignacio Town is the hub of commerce and tourism for Cayo District, and along with its sister town, Santa Elena, make up the largest populated area in the District, with a mere 40,000 residents. Located along the banks of the Macal River, on a series of bluffs, San Ignacio is conveniently located less than two-hours by road from both Belize City and Tikal in Guatemala. Known locally as "Cayo," San Ignacio is a unique blend of America's Old West and tropical backwater with frontier-like wooden shops on narrow streets. Burns Avenue is "Main Street" and a good place to begin a tour of the town.
Most days it's a busy thoroughfare with lots of people walking in the streets. Burns Avenue and the adjacent streets are packed with shops, hotels and places to eat where hospitable town's people mingle with visitors in the restaurants & bars.
Many of our guests take the opportunity to visit the local market. Saturday (early) is the best time and day to go, as it's the busiest market day and along with the wide variety of fruits and vegetables offered, there are also plenty of food vendors preparing fresh local fare such as, tacos, tamales, pupusas, along with homemade breads, cheeses and yogurts for you to sample. There are also plenty of hand-made crafts and gift items to inspect and a place that sells local medicinal and cooking herbs. Do all this while sharing a taste treat and mingling amongst the locals in the festive atmosphere of this bustling market place.
Ajaw Chocolate Experience
Chocolate originated in Central America and was so valuable that cacao beans were even used as currency by ancient indigenous people. Lean how chocolate was done the old-fashioned way and take part in roasting cacao beans over a wood fire, grinding on a matate and mixing until you have 100% pure chocolate. Try a taste and even take some home.
The Iguana Conservation Project
Located at the San Ignacio Hotel. Here you will have the opportunity to take a closer look at these descendants of dinosaurs and learn how vital they are to the ecological balance of the Macal River Eco-system. This hands-on tour is both fun and educational and takes about an hour to complete.
Located on the highest hill overlooking San Ignacio is where to find Cahal Pech, a partially excavated Maya archaeological site. From town its about a 15 minute up-hill walk to the site. Here you will find a visitors' center which contain artifacts and a reconstructed model of the site. The site centre consists of 34 structures compacted into an area covering slightly more than 2 acres. One of the nicest features is the bird-life and abundance of shade trees.