Our Travel Specialist Alex, explored the beauty of Guatemala last week and earlier this week, she made the short journey across the border to neighboring Belize. Her first stop was in the Cayo District located in the western Belize and bordering Guatemala’s Maya region of El Petén. A vast highland stretch of rainforests, cattle ranches and pinelands; the Cayo District has some of the country’s most rugged andremote terrain.
The Cayo District is the region you head to not for beaches (as there are none), but for the chance to explore the great outdoors and Maya ruins on foot, by horse, or via kayak, raft, or canoe.
The Cayo District houses the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve which is the oldest and largest National Park in Belize. Here you’ll find caves to explore, cool rivers to swim in, and a vast expanse of forest that’s home to myriad tropical birds. It is also has one of Belize’s most spectacular Maya ruins at Xunantunich and Caracol. Belmopan, the country’s capital, is located in Cayo, though the real hub of the district is San Ignacio, a small town located 68 miles from Belize City. San Ignacio has beautiful colonial architecture to explore, an eclectic mix of restaurants and shops, a bustling weekly market, and Maya ruins no more than a stone’s throw away. The list of sights and activities to do in the Cayo District is endless meaning all you have to do is enjoy the limitless opportunities.
♦ Xunantunich’s Impressive Maya Ruins
The adventure of visiting the Xunantunich Maya site begins by taking a small hand-cranked ferry across the Mopan River as there is no bridge here, adding to the pure sense of discovery and exploration. After disembarking from the boat, you’ll arrive at the spectacular site of Xunantunich. Although smaller than other Maya sites in Belize, it is a fascinating site and provides unmissable picturesque and beautiful views of the surrounding rainforest scenery from atop the main temple. With 6 main plazas and more than 25 Maya temples and palaces, the centerpiece known as ‘El Castillo’ is the tallest pyramid on the site and second largest in Belize. The 130ft. tall El Castillo also shows off some of the most detailed and preserved frieze carvings on its east and west sides.
♦ Beautiful Barton Creek & the Butterfly Farm
Situated between two hills covered in lush vegetation is a colorful and charming Butterfly Farm. Exploring this beautiful butterfly sanctuary you’ll learn about the butterflies of this area which range from brilliant blue and intense orange to dazzling yellow. Having experienced the magic of walking among the rainbow of colorful butterflies, you will continue to Barton Creek where you’ll be able to enjoy the diversity of Belize’s Cayo District. Having lowered yourself into your canoe and equipped with high powered lights, you’ll paddle along the gentle river and into the Barton Creek cave system known as Xibalba which is Maya for ‘the underworld’. Stalactites rise up and stalagmites hang high overhead as you float past impressive crystal formations in this 4-mile long cave system. The Barton Creek cave is of high Mayan significance as it was used for ceremonial purposes and an ancient burial site for the Mayans adding to the mysterious beauty of this adventure.
♦ Caracol & the Adventurous Rio Frio Caves
The breath-taking Maya site of Caracol, meaning ‘snail’ got its namesake by the archaeologists working in the area as they found snail lather on the site. Caracol’s original name is in fact ‘Oxwitza’ which means the ‘Sky Palace’ as it’s the largest archeological site in Belize. Surrounded by approximately 30 sq. miles of thick, high canopy jungle, are 5 plazas, an astronomic observatory and over 35,000 buildings that have been identified. The highest among them, is the massive pyramid called ‘Caana’ which is capped by 3 temples and rises over 140ft. above the jungle floor and still is one of the largest man-made structures in Belize. From the impressive site of Caracol, the Rio Frio Cave and Pools is one of Belize’s most photogenic places to visit. Whether you want to squeeze and crawl through tight gaps, climb and rappel or swim in the cool Rio Frio waters, there is a cave that suits every adventure need. While the adventure of the Rio Frio Cave and pools is the main attraction, this is one of most naturally beautiful places in Belize. With unrivaled rock formations and used by the Mayans, you will be able to take some of your best vacation photos from within this impressive cave and pool system.