Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, Belize

Photo: Gaïa Riverlodge
Photo: Gaïa Riverlodge

Bound for Belize? Your mind automatically zeroes in on the white-sand beaches, the tiny islands, and some of the best scuba diving spots in the world. But don’t rule out the tropical forests west of Belize City. The Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve is full of pine trees, rare orchids, and hidden waterfalls. Plus three of the most relaxing resorts in the country.

You wake up at the Gaïa Riverlodge to the sound of an acorn woodpecker and rushing water. Your cabana has Belizean hardwood, a bay leaf thatched roof, and Mexican tiles in the bathroom. From the hammock on your veranda, you watch the Five Sisters Waterfall cascade into freshwater pools just out of sight. Later, you’ll hike down the side of the falls, and then ride the hydro-powered tram back up. You’ll explore caves behind the waterfalls, cave tube along the Macal River, and rappel through Honduras pines. And you’ll eat dinner by lamplight on the wrap-around veranda overlooking the falls. But for now, you’re stuck in your hammock.

Do you prefer nights to mornings? So do jaguars. Sleep in late at the Blancaneaux Lodge, then go hiking to see their tracks, Keel-billed Toucans, and black orchids. Eat a picnic lunch after horseback riding to Big Rock Falls. Relax during a papaya body polish on the banks of Privassion Creek. Eat salpicon, jocon, and rellenitos at Guatemaltecqua. Sip jaguar juice with craboo liquor at the Jaguar Bar. And then search for jaguars on a moonlight quest at the edge of the forest. You may not catch a glimpse of a big cat, but one will surely be watching you.

Photo: Hidden Valley Inn
Photo: Hidden Valley Inn

Your final option is all about relaxation, as if the others weren’t. The Hidden Valley Inn was once a family retreat. You’ll feel right at home with the mahogany and leather furniture, terra-cotta floors, and fireplace in your cottage. Lilies and bromeliads surround the pool terrace. Do yoga in the peaceful Mantra Room. Or better yet, at Om Shanti, a platform along the Motmot Trail. Release built-up tension with a hand massage, followed by a deep-tissue massage, at the spa. Eat a picnic lunch along the Cascade Trail, and then a four-course dinner by candlelight. End the night in the jacuzzi, while looking up at the starry sky.

By now, you’re relaxed and well fed. You’re supposed to travel to the coast—what lured you to Belize in the first place—soon. But you’re just getting used to the nonstop sounds of the jungle and the surprises found behind every tree and under every waterfall. For the first time ever, the beach may have to wait.

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