Mountain Pine Ridge

 
 

Mountain Pine Ridge is a Forest Reserve (146,000 acres) that covers the northwest section of the Maya Mountains, an undulating landscape of largely undisturbed pine and gallery forest, and valleys of lush hardwood forests filled with orchids, bromeliads and butterflies. The devastation to large swathes of the pine forest first caused by an infestation of the southern pine bark beetle in 2001 continues to impact on the area. Note the frequent changes of colour of the soil and look out for the fascinating insect life. If lucky, you may see deer. There's river scenery to enjoy, high waterfalls, numerous limestone caves and shady picnic sites; it's a popular excursion despite the rough roads.
1000-ft falls

The main forest road meanders along rocky spurs, from which unexpected and often breathtaking views emerge of jungle far below and streams plunging hundreds of feet over red-rock canyons. A lookout point (with a small charge) has been provided to view the impressive falls, said to be 1000 ft high (often shrouded in fog October to January). On a clear day you can see Belmopan from this viewpoint. It is quite a long way from the main road and is probably not worth the detour if time is short, particularly in the dry season (February to May) when the flow is restricted. At this time of year, there is an ever-present danger of fire and open fires are strictly prohibited. Eighteen miles into the reserve the road crosses the Río On. Here, where the river tumbles into inviting pools over huge granite boulders; is one of Belize's most beautiful picnic and swimming spots. The rocks form little water slides and are fun for children.

Augustine
 
Five miles further on is the tiny village of Augustine (also called Douglas D'Silva or Douglas Forest Station), the main forest station where there is a shop, accommodation in two houses (bookable through the Forestry Dept in Belmopan, the area Forestry Office is in San Antonio) and a camping groundiUS$1, no mattresses , keep your receipt, a guard checks it on the way out of Mountain Pine Ridge. A mile beyond Augustine is a cluster of caves in rich rainforest. The entrance to the Río Frío Cave(in fact a tunnel) is over 65 ft high, and there are many spectacular rock formations and sandy beaches where the river flows out. Trees in the parking area and along the Cuevas Gemelas nature trail, which starts one hour from the Río Frío cave, are labelled. It's a beautiful excursion and highly recommended.

Forestry roads continue south further into the Chiquibul Forest Reserve (460,000 acres).

The four forest reserves that cover the Maya Mountains are the responsibility of the Forestry Department, who have only about 20 rangers to patrol over a million acres of heavily forested land. A hunting ban prohibits the carrying of firearms. Legislation, however, allows for controlled logging; all attempts to have some areas declared national parks or biosphere reserves have so far been unsuccessful.

Caracol

South-southwest of Augustine, Caracol is a rediscovered Maya city. The area is now a National Monument Reservation. Caracol was established about 300 BC and continued well into the Late Classic period (glyphs record a victorious war against Tikal). Why Caracol was built in such a poorly watered region is not known, but Maya engineers showed great ingenuity in constructing reservoirs and terracing the fields. The Sky Palace(Caana) pyramid, which climbs 138 ft above the site, is being excavated by members of the University of Central Florida. Excavations take place between February and May, but there are year-round caretakers who will show you around. Currently very knowledgeable guides escort groups around the site twice daily and a new information centre and exhibition hall has been built. The road has been improved and is passable for much of the year with normal vehicles and year-round with 4WD. It is an interesting journey as you pass through the Mountain Pine Ridge, then cross the Macal River and immediately enter a broadleaf tropical forest.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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