Day 1: Mountain Pine Forest
The Cayo District of Belize is a vast highland expanse of the tiny country’s most rugged and remote terrain. This largely undiscovered inland stretch, bordering Guatemala’s department of El Petén, is a vast wilderness of Mayan ruins, rainforest, waterfalls, cave systems, rivers and ranches. There are no beaches here, but the chance to explore some 2,000 square miles of untouched natural landscape draws the most intrepid and adventurous of travelers who brave the wild frontier on foot, by horseback and bike, via kayak, raft or canoe and even by aerial walks and zip lines. Although the Belizean capital of Belmopan is located in the Cayo, the hip Colonial city of San Ignacio takes the prize as the true hub of the district with its dining, shops and nightlife.
One of the can’t-miss attractions in the Cayo District is the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, which you’ll call home during your jungle explorations at the Blancaneaux Lodge. Once a forgotten jungle lodge, filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola discovered and reinvigorated the abandoned property in the early 1980s as a private family retreat. The original Coppola property in Belize, today the Blancaneaux is an eco-luxury hideaway nestled in an untamed mountain setting with 20 thatch roofed cabanas of unrivaled luxury. Dotted amongst well manicured gardens on the top of a cliff overlooking a river valley, the one and two-bedroom units are decorated and furnished with local textiles and woods. Although all villas are lovely, we recommend the two luxury cabanas, family cabana, two-bedroom villa, Enchanted Cottage or even the family’s own villa for our clients. Luxury cabanas have their own private pools and outdoor showers. There is no air conditioning but ceiling fans ensure a comfortable, breezy stay because of the high elevation. The Blancaneaux features an on-site restaurant and bar, as well as a freshwater swimming pool, hot tub and day spa.
Today, you’ll arrive to Belize and check into Blancaneaux Lodge following a private transfer from Belize City to the hotel.
Day 2: Caracol & Rio Frio Cave and Pools
After an invigorating breakfast at Blancaneaux, you’ll be met by our guides to begin the journey to the subtropical rainforest and Mayan village of San Antonio. Here, in this famous village, you’ll get to know a bit about the Mestizo (a combination of Spanish and Maya) culture and way of life. San Antonio contains residents from two tribes, the Yucatec and Mopan Maya and is most well-known as the home of one of the last practicing shamans in Belize.
From San Antonio village, we begin the journey to the 106,000-acre Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve— a protected national park that still shows signs of the catastrophic timber industry of the ‘50s through ‘70s and pine beetle infestation in the late 1990s. Reforestation programs are in place today, and our guides will discuss this history with you as the natural landscape changes from pine forest to tropical rainforest and we enter the Chiquibul Forest Reserve.
Roughly an hour outside of Pine Ridge, the stunning Mayan site of Caracol appears on the horizon. Caracol (or “snail”) is the largest Maya archeological site in Belize, spanning 30 square miles of jungle and boasting more than 35,000 buildings, including a massive pyramid, five plazas and an observatory. Originally named Oxwitza or “sky place” in Maya, it’s easy to see how the site got its name as you stand at the base of Caana, rising nearly 150 feet from the jungle floor. You’ll get a private guided tour with entrance fees and picnic lunch included.
On the way back to the Lodge, we’ll stop to explore the striking Rio Frio Cave and then head onto the Rio On Pools, to finish the day with a relaxing dip in their restorative and crystal clear waters.
Day 3: Xunantunich & Botanical Gardens
On day three of your Belize Jungle Explorer tour, you’re headed to another Maya archeological site and then onto the 45-acre Belize Botanical Gardens. Getting to the Maya site of Xunantunich is part of the fun, as we take a hand-cranked ferry across the Mopan River for part of the way.
Once we arrive to Xunantunich or “stone woman,” you’ll notice this fascinating terminal classic site is much smaller but no less picturesque than Caracol. As you take an informative private guided tour and enjoy breathtaking views of the surrounding rainforest from the pinnacle of the large main temple, you’ll also notice the Mopan River is just a stone’s throw away, as is the Guatemala border. Be sure to ask your guide why the site is called stone woman (if you’re in the mood for a ghost story). Lunch will be served at one of the nearby rainforest lodges.
Next, get ready to experience the wonderment of the amazing floral biodiversity of Belize at the Belize Botanical Gardens, where both native and exotic plants are showcased on the banks of the Macal River surrounded by the foothills of the Maya Mountain. One part informational resource and one part conservatory. the botanical gardens invite you to enjoy this place of beauty (and the local community, industry, government and science too) and be inspired to help protect native species and their habitats.
All admission fees, equipment and picnic lunch is included.
Day 4: ATM Cave or Barton Creek & Butterfly Farm
On the last day of your stay in the Cayo District of Belize, you can choose from an adventure and archeology day at one of the most impressive caves in Central America or a more cultured and relaxing day touring a local Mennonite Community and butterfly farm:
If adventure and archeology sound exciting, a visit to Actun Tunichil Muknal (or ATM) Cave is a first class not-to-miss experience. Renowned throughout the world as one of the most awe-inspiring caves in the Maya lowlands, ATM is tucked into the heart of the Belize rainforest and requires a 45-minute trek through the dense jungle of the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve (and three stream crossings) to get there. ATM was a sacred site for the prehistoric Maya where sacrificial ceremonies took place in its expansive central cathedral accessed by a series of chambers of varying sizes. A living museum, ATM gives visitors the opportunity to imagine life during the classic Maya period by witnessing artifacts in their traditional context. All necessary equipment (and a picnic lunch) is provided on this excursion, but guests should note that some swimming and climbing is required on this tour, and time in the cave system itself is roughly three hours.
If something a bit more low key sounds more your speed, choose the trip to Barton Creek and the beautiful butterfly sanctuary. Your guide will pick you up from Blancaneaux with the first stop of the day being the butterfly farm at Green Hills, where you’ll enjoy a guided tour to learn more about native species. From the butterfly sanctuary, we’ll head out through the unique Mennonite community of Barton Creek before continuing on to Barton Creek itself for the Barton Creek Cave tour via canoe. Unlike the ATM tour, this is low intensity and appropriate for most everyone, including families. Known as Xibalba (or “underworld”), this cave system boasts impressive stalactites, stalagmites and calcite crystal formations, as well as an archeological significance as a ceremonial and burial site for the ancient Mayans. All necessary equipment (and a picnic lunch) is provided on this excursion.
Day 5: Mountain Pine Forest
After your last morning in the Belizean wilds at Blancaneaux Lodge, you’ll take a private transfer to Belize International Airport for the return flight home.
Comparable accommodations may be substituted depending on availability. Alternative accommodations available in some areas (prices may adjust accordingly).