There are many ways to explore our jewel of a country, be it by air, land or sea, the vistas are guaranteed to be beautiful and diverse. If you really want to immerse yourself in all that is Belize, exploring on foot is the ultimate experience. From strolling along a sandy beach to walking through one of our bustling farmers’ markets, the sights, sounds and aromas complete the Belizean package, but there is nothing like hiking through our lush jungles and verdant forests. This is how you become one with the very heart of Belize.
One perfect area for hiking is the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve in the Cayo District of southern central Belize. Established in 1944 to protect and manage native Belizean pine forests, it covers an estimated area of 106,352 acres, with much of it under private lease. The reserve is primarily pine and broadleaf forest with some grass and wetland areas. The Macal River forms the boundaries of the reserve to the west and south and is fed by tributaries including Rio Frio, Rio On, Privassion Creek and Pinol Creek. To the north-east some small streams feed into Barton Creek. Replete with expansive cave systems and countless waterfalls, the area offers hiking opportunities for every level of fitness and adventure.
Where to start? Hidden Valley Inn & Reserve, located within the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, boasts close to 90 miles of well-marked and maintained roads and hiking trails. In the past, access to these trails was only available to their guests, but they now permit day hikers to explore the area once they register at the lodge. Guides are available for hire which is great for those who want to learn about the surrounding flora, fauna and maybe do some birding, but the trails are well cared for with ample signage allowing for easy navigating with out one.
During one visit at Hidden Valley Inn, my co-worker Mary and I first explored the Secret Falls and Pools. A popular spot for romance, we imagined how fun the area would be if we were there with our husbands instead of each other, but still managed to enjoy a bottle of wine while taking in the lovely waterfall and river pool. The following day was a more challenging hike to Butterfly Falls led by our able guide Marvin, where the 80-foot waterfall cascades into a crystal-clear pool. A perfect swimming hole after a hot and sweaty hike, the cool waters instantly revived us! Several months ago, on a return visit, my hubby and I ventured solo one day exploring the Lake Trail. Our two-hour hike, which started from the lodge, took us along a babbling creek and past citrus and coffee groves until we reached the picturesque Lake Lolly Folly. It was a great place to birdwatch and relax under a shady tree. But our Cascade Ally hike the next day has to be my favorite journey yet!
Named for the dozens of waterfalls you pass along the trail, Cascade Ally takes you through an obstacle course of rustic steeps, bridges and even ladders crafted from felled trees. We start from Beverly’s Lookout so that we walk facing the cascades. The hilly trail traverses along and over countless streams and swimming holes bearing names like Molly’s Dip and Ofelia’s Tub. There’s even a place along the trail where a sign reads “Alia and Ben got engaged here”, and I can see how the area could inspire such a proposal! Our day is spent climbing and balancing over makeshift bridges that appear rustic but are solidly constructed, with the highest Sky Bridge an impressive network of planks. The adventure reminds me of a primitive jungle gym of grownups! Although the trail is just short of two miles long the hilly terrain and warm, humid temperature makes it feel much longer. We cool off in a couple of the inviting pools along the way and marvel at having the entire trail and forest to ourselves, save for the tropical birds and occasional Blue Morpho butterfly that flutter by.
There are dozens of trails to choose from and Hidden Valley Inn has a complete list of them along with distances and level of difficulty. As an early sexagenarian whose level of fitness leaves something to be desired, some of these hikes left me breathless at times but were very doable if going at your own pace, and nothing makes you feel younger than accomplishing something you weren’t sure you were up for.
For more information about Hidden Valley Inn and their trails please visit their website at https://www.hiddenvalleyinn.com/