We and our friends took advantage of an off-season deal in October and visited the brilliant Blancaneaux Lodge in Mountain Pine Ridge area, Cayo District. This place is marvelous! Magical! The setting is just so different from Placencia or the Cayes or even other districts of the country with broadleaf tropical forest. Mountain Pine Ridge possesses a topography of dramatic limestone cliffs and ravines, red clay soil, rivers, caves, and waterfalls. The vegetation is less lush, favoring Caribbean Pines, Oak, and Palmetto, but the seclusion of the lonely vistas is exhilarating. It is a remote region with few inhabitants were you’ll feel a special connection with the natural world and sense the mysteries of the ancient Maya lurking just under foot.
It has never been a better time to explore this area. The Chiquibul Road is now beautifully paved all the way from the Western Highway out to Blancaneaux Lodge‘s turn off. Work on the road continues and will eventually reach deep in to this secluded reserve to access the impressive archeological site of Caracol. A rough drive that used to take ages and brutalize your vehicle’s suspension is now an easy 30 minutes from the Santa Elena exit.
Blancaneaux is my top choice of accommodation in the region though there are a handful of other options (Gaia Riverlodge, Kane Villas, Hidden Valley- which was on my Belize Bucket List for this year and I still haven’t gone!- and a smattering of campgrounds). Blancaneaux, one of the Coppola Family Hideaways, is an ecolodge dedicated to sustainable practices without sacrificing luxury. They have a massive organic garden, their own hydro-electricity system for producing all their power from the on-site Privassion Creek, and their dwellings are designed with efficiency and minimal impact in mind; the vaulted thatch ceilings and breathable open concepts are both beautiful, and eliminate the need for air-conditioning. We had a really lovely tour of the garden and a special vegetarian and vegan meal the first night we arrived. They offer horseback riding, hiking, and river tubing directly from the property and they’re close to local attractions such as Rio on Pools and the Rio Frio Cave.
During our stay we took a day to drive out to Caracol. The road from Blancaneaux to the site is still pretty rough and the journey took about 2 hours each way but we saw a jaguar en route (no lie! how amazing is that?!) and the Caracol Archeological site is pretty dang phenomenal so while it isn’t an easy reach, it is so worth it. Caracol was a majorly important, politically strong, and geographically large Maya settlement that reached it’s height of influence during the Classic Period. Caracol’s biggest temple, Ca’ana, still holds the country’s record for tallest manmade structure. The site is expansive; numerous temples, plazas, palaces, and ball courts to explore. Most of the 70 square-mile site has only been mapped by aerial LiDAR surveys and even a majority of the epicenter remains to be excavated. Of all the sacred, ancient Maya sites, Caracol is one of the lesser visited and the day we went we had the entire dominion to ourselves, save a few soldiers and groundskeepers scattered among the ruins. Tour as you please: climb whichever temples you choose, test the acoustics of the courtyards, scoot in to emptied tombs and caches- no crowds or restrictions. Live your Indian Jones dreams! Look for treasure! I took a few minutes to poke through some loose soil and quickly found a pottery shard characteristic of the early Classic Period… I’m an archeologist now. (Obviously don’t do any unauthorized real digging and if you find something special you have to turn it in to the rangers but it’s kinda cool to find a piece of pottery made over 2,000 years ago)
I can’t wait to return to this area and explore some of the Chiquibul Forest Reserve, tour Barton Creek Cave, hike around 1000 foot falls, find new waterfalls and swim in nature’s perfect pools, and generally discover new adventures. What secrets does this deserted domain retain? What other natural wonders are shrouded in the forests and limestone cliffs? The region calls to my explorer’s heart!