Visiting Belize’s Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve

If you’ve been following our Belize adventures, you know our visit began in the jungle village of San Ignacio. We stayed at the beautiful Sweet Songs Jungle Lodge which offers a wide variety of excursions including Mayan ruins tours, caving adventures, horseback riding, and much more. Of the options, the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve stood out to us for the variety of Belizean landscape we’d get to see.

Our Day in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve

The Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve excursion is a full day tour from approximately 8:00 am to 3:30 pm. We woke up early to enjoy a leisurely breakfast at Sweet Songs before departing. Side note: the banana pancakes are one of our favorite menu items!

If you’re lucky, you may also get a cute visitor at breakfast!

Collared Aracari Toucan at Sweet Songs Lodge, Belize

We met our guide, Selvin, around 8:00 am and loaded up in a spacious (and well air-conditioned) SUV. The drive to the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve entrance takes about an hour. To get to first stop on the tour is about 1 hour 30 minutes. Along the way, we learned some history about the reserve.

A Little Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve History:

The following history is from the Sweet Songs Jungle Lodge website:

Established in 1944, The Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve is the largest and oldest protected forest area in Belize encompassing 300 square miles. This unique area has long been a favorite holiday weekend getaway for Belizeans and now visitors. Even getting there is interesting as you drive through the predominantly Maya villages of Cristo Rey and San Antonio. The reserve boasts the highest waterfall in Central America at 1,600 feet.

What to Pack for the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Excursion:

  • Sturdy tennis shoes
  • Water shoes
  • Bathing suit
  • Towel (Sweet Songs provided this for us)
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray (I used wipes and they worked great)
  • Lunch & plenty of water (Sweet Songs provided this for us as well — we were on the all-inclusive package)

1st Stop: Rio Frio Cave in Mountain Pine Ridge

The first stop on the tour is Rio Frio Cave. The Rio Frio Cave Region is made up of several caves but we only explored the Rio Frio Cave “C”.

The cave can be accessed on foot and is well lit during the day. Some of the other caves in Belize require a little more athletic ability (spelunking or cave tubing) but you can walk right into Rio Frio. The entrance is quite impressive.

Kristy and WC standing outside Belize's Rio Frio Cave in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve

You will want to bring tennis shoes or walking shoes with good grip to navigate the climb inside. It’s not difficult but I would consider it moderate level.

In Mayan culture, caves were believed to be the entrance to the underworld. In many of the caves in Belize, you can still see evidence from human sacrifices that were made to the gods, but there is no visible evidence that can be seen inside Rio Frio. The cave, however, is quite a beauty.

2nd Stop: Rio on Pools in the Mountain Pine Ridge

The next stop on the Mountain Pine Ridge excursion is the Rio on Pools, just a short 15 minute drive from Rio Frio Cave. This was also probably my favorite spot of the day! The river cascades over large boulders forming small waterfalls and natural swimming pools at various levels.

There are several changing rooms to put on your swimsuit so don’t worry about changing beforehand. If you have water shoes, we’d suggest packing them. Getting into the pools is totally manageable without water shoes, but is a little easier if you have good grip. Once you’re in the water, just sit back and enjoy the view! The sound from the small waterfalls is very relaxing.

The Rio on Frio pools are a popular spot for locals to bring their families on the weekend. However, we visited on a Sunday and while there were some other visitors, it was still fairly quiet.

Kristy in the water at the Rio on Pools in Belize's Mountain Pine Forest Reserve

We relaxed in the pools for about an hour and by that time we were getting hungry. Above the pools is a nice lookout area with a picnic pavilion. Since we were on the Sweet Songs all-inclusive package, our excursion included lunch. The evening before the tour, we placed our order and it was all packed and ready to go when we departed in the morning.

For lunch, we had stewed chicken with rice, beans and plantains. This is a delicious Belizian specialty and you’re sure to have it (probably more than once) during your visit to the country!

After lunch, be sure to walk to the observation deck for a birds-eye view of the Rio on Pools.

3rd Stop: Big Rock Falls in the Mountain Pine Ridge

After the Rio on Pools, you’ll load up and head back toward the entrance of the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. The final stop of the day, Big Rock Falls, is located close to the reserve’s entrance.

For this stop, you’ll want to put your tennis shoes back on. The hike to the waterfall requires descending a somewhat steep wooden staircase. For the most part, the stairs are sturdy but we’d definitely recommend using the handrail.

Once you’ve made it to the bottom, you’ll get your first glimpse of the 150-foot waterfall.

From here, it’s a short walk over some boulders to the edge of the water in front of the waterfall. If you’re ready to cool off from the hike down, hop in and swim out to the rocks in front of the falls.

Big Rock Falls in Belize's Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve

From Big Rock Falls, it takes just over an hour back to Sweet Songs Jungle Lodge. We got back to the resort around 3:30 pm and headed to the pool for drinks and relaxation before dinner.

And that’s the highlights from our first Belize excursion! In our next post, we’ll share my favorite experience of the trip: a journey to the Yaxhá Mayan Ruins.

Disclosure: Our participation in this tour was in collaboration with the hotel. As always, all opinions are our own and we only promote activities we personally love.

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