Belize’s Cayo District is often seen as the ideal central hub when visiting the tropical country. Verdant rainforests, mysterious caves, and ancient Maya temples are all within reach when in Western Belize. The region is considered the adventure capital of Belize, and it’s easy to see why. With a plethora of unique experiences waiting to be explored, there are definite must-dos you can’t miss when in Cayo.
1. Caracol. Home to the tallest man-made structure in Belize, Caracol is located a couple of hours away from the town of San Ignacio. The ancient Maya site is tucked within the vast Chiquibul Forest Reserve, surrounded by dense jungles and thriving wildlife. You can climb to the top of the temple at Caana and admire the sweeping panoramic views of the rainforest below.
2. Birdwatching. With hundreds of bird species flitting by in the Mountain Pine Ridge region it’s no wonder birders consider it a hidden haven. The forest reserve lies about two hours away from the international airport and is a treasure trove filled with avian friends. Wake up bright and early and head to the rainforests teeming with brown jays, hummingbirds, stygian owls, and more. Linger long enough in the jungles and you just might spot the elusive orange-breasted falcon!
3. Butterfly Falls. Nestled within Hidden Valley Inn’s 7,200-acre property is the majestic Butterfly Falls. The cascades are a sight to behold, and often the background of many waterfall selfies on Instagram. The cascades drop an impressive 80 feet into crystalline waters, accessible either via a two-hour hike from the property or from a drive and short 20-minute hiking trail. Its name was derived from the multitude of Blue Morpho butterflies found at the location when first discovered.
4. Xunantunich. Perhaps Belize’s most popular Maya site is Xunantunich, located in San Jose Succotz a short drive away from San Ignacio Town. Its towering “El Castillo” temple is a key feature, and the venue for many photographs, proposals, and even weddings! Its name translates to “Stone Lady” after a hunter in the 1800s allegedly saw the apparition of a ghostly woman at the base of the temple. At the very top, you can admire the jungle canopy, meandering Mopan River, and even the far-flung views of neighboring Guatemala.
5. Rio On Pools. Also located in the Mountain Rine Ridge region is Rio On Pools, a set of small falls gushing over rocks and ledges. Easily accessible, the scenic area is perfect for a half-day exploration, complete with a picturesque picnic on site. You can choose to sunbathe on the rocks flowing with water or swim in any of the smaller pool areas. The area recently received an upgrade, now having a great viewing area to admire the waterfalls and surrounding rainforest.
6. Thousand-Foot Falls. A mere 20 minutes away from Hidden Valley Inn is the renowned Thousand-Foot Falls. A misnomer, the colossal waterfall is actually 1,600 feet tall, making it the tallest in Belize. You can drive right up to the viewing area and admire the rapids from afar. The jungle valley below is also a bonus scene, with undulating hills peppered with broadleaf and pine trees.
7. Cave tubing. Cave tubing is a popular activity for thrill-seekers, and also the go-to experience for day-trippers. Your morning is spent sitting on a river tube, being pulled along by a trusted guide as you wade into the darkness of an ancient cave. One of the most sought-after cave tubing experiences is at Nohoch Che’en Caves, otherwise known as Caves Branch. The tour lasts about two hours, and by the time you emerge, you’ll want to add it to your next trip’s itinerary for sure.
8. Ziplining. Nothing is as exhilarating as soaring through the trees hundreds of feet in the air, warm breeze whizzing by as you zip from tree to tree. This is what ziplining is like in Belize. Daredevils line up for this popular adventure activity with their harnesses strapped and adrenaline pumping. With Belize having over 70% forested area, it’s more than suitable for this type of adventure. Trust us, there’s nothing more freeing than the feeling of flying!
9. Kayaking. For the laid-back folks, kayaking is a lovely pastime to enjoy the wild beauty all around the Cayo District. Head to the Macal River near San Ignacio and hop into a kayak to enjoy wildlife from a new perspective. Paddling through the shallow waters, you’ll spot bright green iguanas lounging on the low branches, colorful Keel-Billed toucans perching on the treetops, and the occasional mammal scurrying by the banks of the river. Feeling confident? Paddle all the way to San Ignacio Town and hop on out to stretch your legs at the farmer’s market.
10. ATM cave. Last but not least is one of the world’s most sacred caves, according to National Geographic. Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave is not for the faint of heart, but the reward is a thousand percent worth the arduous journey. Slipping through tight crevices after wading into icy water, you’ll come face-to-face with ancient Mayan artifacts. However, the real spectacle is a crystallized skeleton of a young maiden. Believed to be the victim of a sacrificial ritual, the remains are one of the most sacred and alluring features of this cave. No photos are allowed in here, so make sure to remember every detail of this fascinating experience.
Cayo is chock-full of adventures any which way you turn, and most of them are a mere stone’s throw away from Hidden Valley Inn. So keep that in mind when booking your stay at the luxurious eco-resort.