The narrow, 16-mile-long Placencia Peninsula has often been referred to as “the island you can drive to.” And it indeed has a very laid-back, island-y aura to it with the expanse of sandy beaches, busy boats, and colorful buildings. It is a marvelous destination with a respectable number of diversions to keep you entertained for a good long while, but every now and again “island fever” can strike. What can you do to combat this affliction whose symptoms include itchy feet and wanderlust? Take a day trip! Here are a few of my favorite inland adventures that you can have in a day’s drive from Placencia.
River Tubing in Red Bank
Red Bank is a small and rather unremarkable Maya Village on the mainland just south of Placencia that most people would never think to visit if it weren’t for the spectacle of the annual onslaught of exotic visitors that take up residence along the lush banks of the Swasey River for several months each season. The biorich forest in the foothills of the Maya Mountains receive the largest gathering of Scarlet Macaws during their annual migration when they seek the wild nuts and fruits that grow abundantly along the river. Wildlife tours and nature hikes can be enjoyed year round but the Scarlet Macaws are only spotted from December through March. A fun, if a bit unorthodox, way to watch the macaws is from an inflatable tube as you float down the river. (Read more here about macaws in Red Bank, contact Raul Tec here to arrange tour)
Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
Visit the world’s only jaguar preserve, approximately 150 square miles of protected forest, which provides a haven for Belize’s endangered big cats. Pack a picnic and tackle one of the park’s hiking trails such as the challenging Ben’s Bluff which rewards you with spectacular views of the adjacent Victoria Peek, the country’s second highest. There are trails for all ability levels, river tubing, and even camping options. Leave time to visit the butterfly farm in Maya Center, the traditional Mopan Maya Village at the entrance to Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Preserve. The Ya’axkin Butterfly Farm welcomes visitors of all ages and offers fast and friendly informational tours of both their breeding room, where you’ll see thousands of caterpillars of different size, shape, and species, as well as their butterfly house-and enclosed garden acting as the playground for over 3000 fanciful, fluttering butterflies. (Read more about Cockscomb here, read more about the butterfly farm here)
St. Herman’s Cave and Blue Hole Park
Take the scenic drive up the Hummingbird Highway to St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park and one of the few caves in the country you can explore (to a certain point) without a guide. The park has two notable attractions: the cave and the jungle-shrouded cenote. You can explore on your own up to 200 yards deep into the cave, but it’s worth hiring a guide for either the challenging Crystal Cave tour, or the less demanding cave tubing. On the other side of the park is Belize’s second most famous Blue Hole. This one is a clean and crisp, freshwater cenote with a depth of about 25 feet. The beautiful turquoise natural pool rimmed by green jungle makes for a wonderful photo-op and a refreshing swim. (read more here about the Hummingbird Highway)
Mayflower Bocawina National Park
At the eastern edge of the Maya Mountain Range, this park consists of more than 7,000 acres of low and highland, thriving broadleaf forest, numerous waterfalls, and several unexcavated archeological sites from the Maya’s post-classic period. Visitors can choose from several excellent hiking trails of varying length and difficulty, most of which lead to at least one of those spectacular waterfalls the park is known for. Onsite adventures include a 9-run zipline course that traverses 2.5 miles of pristine canopy and gives thrill-seekers a bird’s eye view of the park. Waterfall rappelling is a unique challenge for the sure-footed and fit daredevils. (read more here about the zip lining, and here about hiking)
Ayala’s Natural Pool and Adventures
Just off the Hummingbird Highway, south of the capital city of Belmopan, there is a half-hidden gem of a day-destination in the village of Agua Viva. Beautiful and inviting, Ayala’s Natural Pool is the perfect place to picnic with family and friends. A seasonal underground spring feeds the cleanest and most refreshing water into the natural pool; it is crystal-clear and chemical free. With ample space for barbeque grills and picnic tables, Ayala’s is a comfortable place to spend a lazy day. The property also has a football field, waterslide, and family friendly zipline course. (The natural spring is dependent on rainfall and ground water levels so the pools may close for a period during dry season) (read more here)
Maya King Waterfall and Adventure Park
So close and so simple to reach from the Placencia Peninsula. Maya King Waterfall is the easy choice for an accessible adventure the whole family will enjoy. Crisp, cold, and clean; this waterfall provides a refreshing place to swim as well as ample parking, toilets and changing rooms, picnic tables, and a huge covered seating area. Mere minutes from the junction at the top of the Peninsula, on the Southern Highway, is Mayan Adventure World. Just look for the obviously fake but frequently photographed “temple” at the entrance. The private park encompasses acres of citrus fields and offers horseback riding, river tubing, a 7-run zipline course, and the waterfall.