Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve – All You Need to Know Before You Go
Mountain Pine Ridge: One of Belize’s Biggest Secrets
Would you like to experience nature as it was before the industrial world began plundering forests and paving the earth with concrete? Plan to visit Belize’s Mountain Pine Ridge, a destination that’s a jewel in Belize’s crown. Set aside as a national treasure by the government in 1944, Mountain Pine Ridge is a tribute to the nation’s commitment to keep as much of Belize pristine and natural—and for as long as possible.
Mountain Pine Ridge: An overview
As the oldest and largest protected forested area in Belize, Mountain Pine Ridge (MPR) covers 300 square miles of area, but visitors are surprised to find a sharp contrast to the tropical landscape; here, pine needles rather than palm fronds, fill the landscape. This pine tree-dominated forest is more than just a vast wooded area: visitors find deep ravines, traverse dramatic granite expanses atop the Maya Mountains and observe meandering rivers, streams, waterfalls and pools amid the sweet fragrance of the evergreens.
A short history of the Mountain Pine Ridge
The Mayan people lived in and around Mountain Pine Ridge as evidenced by artifacts that date back to 1200 BC. Over time, the MPR was explored by the occasional tourist, scientist and government official, but it wasn’t mapped for purposes of tracking forestry activity until more recently. A huge portion of the Ridge was destroyed by fire in 1949, at which point, the area was officially reclassified as a “production forest” in 1952. Since then, a landing strip and roads have been built here, but as of 1978, hunting is prohibited to protect birds and animals who make their homes in the forest.
Why you should visit the Mountain Pine Ridge
Everything about Mountain Pine Ridge will fascinate you. Densely packed Honduras pine trees cover nearly 60-percent of the acreage, so no matter the weather or time of year, these conifers won’t shed like the broadleaf trees with whom they share the forest. You’ll see a mix of grasslands, granite and limestone deposits that date back to the Jurassic Period as well as caves. There are dramatic topographical extremes to see: the highest point, Baldy Beacon, reaches 3,336 feet into the sky, while the lowest points are located along the Macal River. Opportunities to spend time in unspoiled forests are fast disappearing, so this alone should prompt your visit.
How to get to the Mountain Pine Ridge
Make San Ignacio your starting point. You’ll need a 4WD vehicle to traverse the forest since roads can be daunting. Two roads will get you to MPR: Chiquibul Road from Georgeville or Cristo Rey Road from Santa Elena. Choose the first for a smoother ride. The reserve entrance is off the Western Highway. Sound difficult? This is why tourists prefer to let guides do the driving by booking all-inclusive tours that require one only to sit back, relax and enjoy the sensory experiences Mountain Pine Ridge offers.
When to visit the Mountain Pine Ridge
You can visit any time you like. It’s wetter from July to February than at other times of the year, so if you are averse to rain, avoid a September/October visit. On the other hand, creatures inhabiting the forest may make up for any dampness or discomfort you experience. You could spot cougars, jaguars, ocelots, crocodiles, magnificent birds and species of frogs and fish living here that won’t be found elsewhere in Belize. Since all of these creatures adore water, chances of spotting them are even better when it rains!
How to experience the Mountain Pine Ridge
The secret to an unforgettable MPR visit is to stay nearby. Inquire into eco-lodges along Chiquibul Road or find more luxurious digs in the Barton Creek area so you don’t miss creature comforts during your stay. Being this close to the forest means you’ll have ample time to see one-of-a-kind sites like Thousand Foot Falls (Central America’s tallest waterfall), the gorgeous swimming pools at Rio on Pools and Caracol, a Mayan ruin that’s home to Belize’s tallest pyramid. Visit the dig at Barton Creek, a river cave that’s still being excavated. There’s so much more of Mother Nature’s handiwork to see in MPR, where the landscape looks just as it did thousands of years ago.