Explore the Maya Mountains of Belize
By Larissa Obolensky
Beyond its beaches, Belize is a country brimming with natural splendours, ancient ruins, and stories of bygone rulers. Many of these are nestled in the highlands and can be discovered on foot. Whilst the eastern coastline of Belize boasts white sands and crystalline waters, the Maya Mountains soar in the west and exude a different kind of energy altogether. The mountains themselves are home to a handful of magnificently conserved Natural Parks, which constitute half of their total area. Each is abundant in wildlife, natural pools, creeks, waterfalls, jungles and Mayan relics. In other words, prepare for some soul-stirring hikes... Swap your flip flops for walking boots and retrace the trails of kings and jaguars as we show you our top picks for hiking in the Maya Mountains.
This reserve is considered one of Belize’s leading hiking spots. Despite the boundaries being slightly ambiguous, the park is estimated to cover a whopping 300 square miles and contains the largest pine forest in Central America. Here, you have ample opportunities to sink your teeth (or feet) into the wilderness. Stay there for weeks and you’ll barely scrape the surface, so we’ve picked out a couple of highlights.
If you’re seeking the most breathtaking views of the park, then trekking up to Baldy Beacon never goes amiss. Exalted high above the treetops is a cluster of hilltops. All are peculiarly bare, hence their christening of ‘Baldy’. The infertile soil means your sight-line is unobstructed by trees so once you have conquered these steep peaks the 360 degree panoramic views of the forested pine valleys below are a satisfying reward.
Huddled in the depths of the reserve is the Mayan city of Caracol, home to the largest Maya temple in Belize. The crumbling stones of Caana pyramid skyrocket 140ft above the jungle floor and rival their famous Guatemalan neighbours. In fact, you can see the Guatemalan jungles from the top - only four miles away. Encircled by some fantastic walking trails, this ancient city gives you a sneak peek of what life could have been like in 650 BC.
The enchanting forests of Mountain Pine Ridge are comprised of epic waterfalls. Valley Falls, for instance, may be part of a private lodge but its 1,000 feet of thundering torrents are well worth the visit. On your hike to and from this viewpoint, keep an eye peeled for larger jungle mammals such as cougars and ocelots. If you fancy a rejuvenating rest, you can walk to the Five Sisters Falls; awaiting you are five rolling plumes of fresh mountain water, streaming over terracotta boulders into a picturesque pool. Take a revitalising dip, drift along the water’s surface in sunshine, and have a picnic in this fantastic haven. It is also the most likely place to see endangered orange-breasted falcons, so as you take a pause be sure to cast your eyes to the misty skies above.
The Mayflower Bocawina National Park is a sanctuary for nature-lovers and trekkers, with over 7,000 acres of cascading creeks, pristine pools and emerald jungle set across a semi-mountainous plateau. A lattice of jungle trails can be found throughout the Park, promising an abundance of flora and fauna - keep your eyes peeled for colourful parrots, toucans, anteaters, and tapirs (to name a few). The Antelope Falls walk takes you past a tumbling waterfall and up a fairly jagged ascent of 800 metres - be sure to make use of the manila ropes tied to the tree roots! Awaiting you at the top is a spectacular vista of the jungle below, alongside a freshwater pool to take a cooling dip in.
Beyond the beauty of your surroundings lies a rich past. No trip to Mayflower Bocawina is complete without exploring its Mayan heritage - the paths here are clearly waymarked. Long ago, a prosperous Mayan civilisation retreated to the mountains to settle (before the Spaniards) which would explain the array of historical delights. The scattered ruins of Maintznun and T’au Witz are a sight to behold and archaeologists believe they were once part of a thriving ancient city. As you tread along the ancient stones, see if you can trace out the urban landscapes of yesteryear.
Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Victoria’s Peak
This National Park is a sanctuary in every sense of the word. A natural nirvana brimming with waterfalls, creeks, jungle and biodiversity, the Cockscomb Basin is also the world’s only jaguar preserve. It features the largest concentration of these wild cats in the world - but fear not, it is unlikely you will run into one as they are renowned for their stealth. Instead, keep your eyes peeled for their unmistakable paw prints below your feet. The preserve has miles of clearly way-marked trails, which are huddled within 150 square miles of perfectly conserved landscape.
The hiking difficulty ranges from light morning strolls to five day expeditions. Our shorter favourites include a sunrise amble around the Wari Loop, wherein you’ll most likely spot some rare flora and fauna (the buttress roots of the kaway swamp trees are incredible), and the tougher Tiger Fern Trail. Though the elevation gain here is challenging, the inviting double waterfall awaiting you is well worth the sweat.
For the more adventurous mountaineers, Victoria Peak is the second highest mountain in Belize and involves a four to five day excursion. Towering 3,675 feet into the sky, the limestone is strewed with dense tropical rainforest. The round trip is 40 miles, and it’s safe to say this hike is not for the faint-hearted. There are plenty of unforgettable camping spots along the way where you will nod off to the chorus of the jungle after a strenuous day. Over the course of three days the incline increases, the terrain toughens, and the wildlife becomes all the richer. Clasp onto hanging trees and roots to hoist you to your goal, and stay alert for the odd cat’s tail ducking into the foliage. On the third day you will reach the epic summit. The final 7km are demanding, but your heart will be pumping from the climb and captured by the vistas at the top. The Victoria Peak Trail is open during Belize's dry season, February 1 - May 31, and you will be accompanied by a licensed guide.
Make it happen
Hiking certainly offers new ways of discovering history and nature all at once, and the Maya Mountains provide a wealth of uncharted landscapes in which to do so. Our local experts know these gems better than anyone, and can build personal trekking itineraries tailored to your every need. So what are you waiting for? Get in touch with our local experts to start planning today. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.