What do you do when you live on Ambergris Caye and want to take a local vacation? We needed a change in scenery from the white sandy beaches and coconut trees. After all, just how much sailing, snorkeling and languishing in the Caribbean waters can you take? So, we decided to head to the mountains of mainland Belize to hang out in the jungle with the monkeys and the toucans! Ironically, what was the first thing we wanted to do when we got there? Why get on a boat and play in the water of course! But this river experience promised to be far different from the standard island fare.
While staying at Martz Farm Treehouses and Cabanas Ltd in the Cayo District, we were excited to learn that one of the many adventures they had to offer is their signature La Capitana Pontoon Boat tour on the nearby Macal River. Years ago, we had kayaked the same stretch of river before the Vaca Dam was completed in 2010, and we were eager to see how the area had changed. Now, this section of the river has transformed into a lazy tributary, perfect for a pontoon boat tour. What better way to weave through the lush jungle landscape and dramatic cliffs that border the river while exploring waterfalls and playing in the cool mountain water? We couldn’t get our swimsuits on fast enough!
La Capitana pontoon boat is a Martz Farm family affair, with boat caption/brother Lazarus at the helm. Other family members help crew the vessel and they are just the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. You feel like you are stepping into a part of their home when they welcome you onto the rustic boat, and as other guests from nearby lodges join us for the day, we soon fall into a comfortable family repartee.
We are a group of 20, speaking a variety of languages, ranging in age from 10ish to 80ish with most of us being families with young to adult aged children. Many are visiting Belize for their second and third time, and it’s easy to make conversation with these like-minded travelers.
We are invited to sit on the edge of the pontoon and dangle our feet in the cool water while meandering up the river. After taking a look from the top of the Vaca Dam which has turned this waterway into a lake, we stop at the first waterfall where it’s time to explore! A limestone caldron holds the first pool of water that we scamper up to get a closer look at the cascading fall. While some opt to climb higher to see the terrace of falls and pools above, others (like me) are happy to stay and linger in the refreshing mountain pool. Surrounded by a jungle canopy, and serenaded by the rush of falling water, the spell is cast; I could stay here all day and soak away every worry in the world.
Our day progresses when we return to the boat, and we slowly tour the river, feet trailing in the water while we scour the terrain for monkeys, birds, iguanas or who knows what else. Some of us plunge into the water to be towed in trailing inner tubes from behind the boat. Next stop is the Rio On waterfall, where some of our brave passengers scale the falls and plunge into the roaring water below. It’s breathtaking to watch – which is what I did from the comforts of the boat; I can’t image being so daring! It is here that we enjoy our packed-lunch and feed our bread crumbs to the little fish who have gathered around us to beg.
Our final adventure of the day finds us taking a short hike through the jungle to the impressive Rio Frio. By far the highest of the falls we have seen, a large pool gathers at the foot of this plunge, and here we play in the yes, FRIO water and marvel at the thunder of the falls. Literally a breath-taking experience, we soon acclimate to the chilly water and take turns snapping photos of each other in front of this stunning backdrop.
As we head back to our home dock, the amber colors of sunset wash over the river valley. We are deliciously tired from a day of play, and fall quiet as we photo memorize our last minutes on the water. I can’t think of a better way to explore the Macal River, one waterfall at a time…