If at all possible, anyone and everyone that comes to San Ignacio Belize should try to get to Mountain Pine Ridge. It's an amazing place filled with pine trees for one, but also amazing views, caves, pools and rocks you can jump off.
Getting there isn't that much of a problem. If you have a 4WD car, or you want to rent one it works out pretty well. In fact it works out better that taking a tour. Tours run around 140bz - 160bz per person; a rental car will run 90bz - 135bz for as many as you can fit in the car. To drive there you head to Santa Elena and just before the DMV there is a road going up hill that is paved. The DMV is a complex on the right (if heading out of town) with a big chain-link fence around it. That's the road you want. Just stay on that one and you will get to a sign where you can take a right to head into Mountain Pine Ridge, or a left to get to Esperanza and the highway. The only thing you need to know is that there is a motorcade that goes in in the morning around 8:30 or 9:00. Before that the park isn't open. When you get in, there is something of a ranger station on the right and they should have maps for you of the area. And if all this is too much talk to any tour company and they can take you. For a map click here.Jump To Big Rock Falls, 1000 Foot Falls, Rio Frio Cave, or Rio On Pools
Big rock is a good time. The only problem is the path there - it's pretty much straight up and down. Meaning unless you have some solid knees and legs, don't go here. That said it is quite picturesque. From where you pull up, you'll see a trail straight ahead. Follow that and stay to the right. When you get to the super steep part there is a "not so sturdy" railing and a rope. It's best to use them. Once you get to the bottom, take a left and head to the waterfall. So when you get down there and you have had your fill of picture taking and swimming, it's time to jump off the rocks. It's not mandatory but it's worth it.
The basin under the waterfall it very, very deep. There really in no way you could jump and hit the bottom. To get up to where you can jump you'll want to swim to the right side. You can do the left side but it's really slick. So, on the right side at the front there are some rocks at the level of the water and if you head there and climb straight up you'll find all the hand and foot holds you'll need. You'll climb up over a little and down a few feet, onto a rock from which you can jump.
Now everyone calls this 1000ft falls, but it is closer to 1500/1600ft falls. It's currently thought to be the tallest water fall in Central America. If you like nice views this is a good one. There isn't much more than that though. Basically the picture you see here is you view there, and there is a little trail that will get you a nice view of the valley. The road isn't the best, but it's do able. When you get there you'll see a neat viewing platform and you can usually see some neat wild life. A lot of the tours no longer take guests here unless you ask for it specifically ask for it. The reason being is that it's pretty far from all the other sights and usually once you get to Big Rock or Rio On Pools you don't want to leave. None of this is to say that this isn't a perfectly beautiful spot for a picnic though.
Rio Frio Cave isn't so much of a cave as it is a really neat naturally formed tunnel. It has the largest entrance of any cave in Belize at right around 65ft(20m). Inside it is a quarter mile to the other side, so you are still going to need a flashlight. The cave has giant rocks (giant means larger than two elephants on each others shoulders) and some very nice formations. Rio Frio is very easy to get through and gets a anyone-who-can-walk-can-make-it-through rating.
Before you get to Rio Frio there are some trail markers that will lead you to some other caves if you are in the mood to hike a little more. They are "Tunnel Cave", "Closed Jaw" and "Twin Caves". They aren't really all that exciting, but it's a nice walk.
Honestly, between Rio On Pools and Big Rock Falls you have a full day in Mountain Pine Ridge. When you first arrive at the parking lot/gazebo the falls will be sitting across the valley from you, calling to you. You can either take the steps down and then walk up the other side near the waterfalls and overflows, or you can head back down the road a little ways and there is a path that takes you right to the pools. Once there you can lie on the warm rocks or go find things to jump off. There is also a little fall up top that you can stand under for something of a natural massage. This is somewhere you can easily spend the whole day and you wouldn't feel you missed anything.
All the Pine Ridge Photos are compliments of the Cookie Monster at MayaBelize.ca