Mountain Pine Ridge
It is believed by some that the unique ecosystems of the Mountain Pine Ridge were created centuries ago when a volcanic island erupted onto the mainland. Today, some 127,203 acres of semi-tropical forest, containing a mixture of pine and broadleaf vegetation, all thriving on undulating granite mountainsides make up the most frequently visited Reserve in Belize. The Mountain Pine Ridge is home to the only Pine forest in the entire Central American Region. Proud address to some of the most spectacular waterfalls in the country, and 300 square miles of unpaved roads and nature trails, the Pine Ridge area is an ideal destination for adventure-seekers and nature lovers. Belizeans and foreigners alike enjoy mountain bike riding, caving, canoeing/kayaking, horseback riding and invigorating swims in the many waterfalls and natural pools in the park. Apart from the small handful of resorts within the area, the only community is Augustine/Douglas Silva, which is the established headquarters of the reserve.
There are two roads leading to the reserve and it is always recommended that a four-wheel-drive vehicle be used, especially in the rainy season when the dirt roads become very slippery. Currently there are no bus routes to Mountain Pine Ridge so visitors must obtain a private vehicle or inquire about transfers provided by several resorts in the park. The first road, which is probably the best route to take, is in the village of Georgeville on mile 63 on the Western Highway heading towards San Ignacio.
The unpaved road, called the Chiquibul Road, passes through some houses in the village before the journey begins ascending the mountains of the Pine Ridge area. The second and bumpier route is the Cristo Rey Road branching out of Santa Elena Town, near San Ignacio. Both routes climb up through the mountains and around citrus orchards until the Reserve’s entrance comes into view. Here visitors stop at the Mai Gate and sign in, then journey on in the direction they wish to go. Currently there is no entrance fee but a visitor logbook is kept from the check-ins at the gate.
Exploring the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve requires a full-day expedition. Interesting sites to visit within the reserve include the Rio Frio Caves, Rio On Pools, Thousand Foot Falls (also called Hidden Valley Falls), Big Rock Falls, Five Sisters Falls, King Vulture Falls and Butterfly Falls. While enjoying these sights, be sure to observe the abundant birdlife around you, as Mountain Pine Ridge is well known as one of the best birding sites in the country. Look out for the magnificent King Vultures who have made there nesting grounds in pine forests of the reserve. Also of interest is the Maya Monuments of Caracol (the largest Mayan Site in Belize), which can be reached by following a road that leads out of the Pine Ridge Reserve and deeper into the mountains.