General Information About Cayo District, BelizeThe Cayo District is Belize's westernmost district and a World Destination in Ecotourism. It borders Guatemala and contains the official western border crossing into Guatemala at Santa Elena. It is home to, among other communities, the capital city, Belmopan, and the western-most town, Benque Viejo del Carmen. The terrain is hilly to mountainous with rocky and limestone plateaus. Cayo is home to the Maya Mountains - an offshoot of the great mountain range which stretches from the Cascades to the Andes. From San Ignacio and Santa Elena also known as Cayo Belize, you can experience and enjoy what the Cayo District has to offer. With a majestic 880,000 acres of protected land in the form of nature reserves and national parks, this district is truly a nature-lover’s dream. While new experiences abound, the people of the Cayo District make you feel right at home. Cayo is full of winding rivers, majestic waterfalls, mysterious caves and breath-taking mountains that engulf a tiny national capital and grand Maya cities. With surroundings so intimate, you can be one with all these genuine experiences.
Main attractions in Cayo District, Belize
With challenging tours to the wild and wonderful places in the Belizean Rainforest, Cayo offers over a dozen combinations of tours to choose from. The adventure begins with the beautiful towns of San Ignacio and Santa Elena. Along with skilled guiding, trips involve learning and interaction with Belizeans, the rainforest, and the wildlife of Belize.
HISTORYWhen the first jungle lodges opened in the early 1980s in the Cayo, few thought this wild area would become a tourist magnet. The mountainous region was too remote. Roads were bad. Restaurants were few. What would visitors do, besides visit cattle ranches and orange groves? After three decades of thoughtful development, and remarkable growth in lodging, restaurants, and other infrastructure, more than half of those touring Belize visit the Cayo during their trip, making this the country's second most popular destination after Ambergris Caye. Cayo is populated by a wide variety of ethnic groups. The towns closer to the border are mostly Spanish speaking. The district is filled however with numerous towns and villages which vary from Mayan Indian to Creole. Due to a hurricane in 1961 the Government of Belize decided to move the country's capital to a new city called Belmopan in the center of the Cayo District.
San IgnacioSan Ignacio serves as the capital of Cayo District. It got its start from Mahogany and gum production during British rule. It began to attract different people from the surrounding areas, which led to the diverse population of the town at present day. San Ignacio is situated on the banks of the Macal and Mopan Rivers, about 68.5 miles (115 kilometers) west of Belize City.
Day Tours from Belize City or San Ignacio
Adventure - Nature
Belize is a rewarding, authentic destination for finding unique, intimate. Serenely situated in one of the last unspoiled places on earth, you can easily tour Belize’s rain forests or explore mystical Maya temples – all during the same adventure. Belize is renowned for both its preserved ancient treasures as well as its welcoming residents – often referred to as the country’s greatest natural resource. An enduring commitment to preservation of Belizean lands and waters inspires a genuine and intimate connection with Belize. All our half or full day tours and activities are private and specially designed to cater to the groups specific needs and wants, enabling you to enjoy Belize's beauty. Unless listed otherwise, each excursion departs daily. These are also only a sample of our most popular day tours, please contact us should you be interested in something specific.
*Recommended gear for all these tours: comfortable walking or hiking shoes, light clothing, bathing suite, sunscreen, sunglasses, drinking water.
- Caracol, where an estimated 150,000 people once lived in a metropolis covering nearly a square mile, is the most spectacular Mayan site in Belize. Enter the sleeping and burial grounds of ancient Mayan royalty. Imagine yourself playing on the ball in a fierce and threatening competition. As you drive through the Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, you will visit the Rio Frio Cave en route to Caracol. After lunch at Caracol, your final stop is the Rio On Pools, where you can opt to hike, photograph, relax, or take a swim in one of the continuous series of natural pools formed within granite boulders, connected by small rapids or waterfalls. *Please inquire for details and pricing Tour includes: Private transportation, entrance fees, English speaking tour guide & lunch
- Visit Tikal Maya ruins while staying in Belize. Travel into neighbouring Guatemala to visit a very important Maya site. This all-day tour leaving early in the morning and returning in the evening includes stops for buying Guatemalan textiles and weaving. Located in the Peten lowland of Guatemala, 1 ½ hrs from the Belize border, this huge Classic Period Maya site, rich in jungle flora and fauna, is considered one of the world's premier Archaeological Reserves. The park consists of 225+ square kilometers of jungle, the first reserve in Central America and a World Heritage Site.
- Pronounced shu-nan-tu-nich, it was a major ceremonial center across the Mopan River. Xunantunich is located in the Mayan village of San Jose Succotz, about 40 minutes by car from Crystal Paradise. A hand-cranked ferry takes you across the Mopan River followed by a mile drive uphill to the archaeological site. The partially-excavated and largest pyramid, El Castillo, stands at 130 plus feet above the main plaza floor, offering an impressive view of Belize's Cayo District and nearby Guatemala. El Castillo is known for its frieze, a banded stucco decoration which at one time extended around the entire structure. An impressive museum displays a three-dimensional model of the entire site and depicts the evolution of the Maya civilization. Cahal Pech situated on the hills above San Ignacio, was once the home of a royal Mayan family. Its Late Pre-Classic temples consist of 34 structures and two separate ball courts displaying fine examples of Maya craftsmanship. The site spreads over two acres. The site was occupied as early as 1,200 B.C and was abandoned around 800 A.D. Its complex structures and winding tunnels and fine architecture makes it a very interesting visit.
- For the less adventurous Belize explorer wanting to get a glimpse of the countryside, this expedition is less strenuous yet it presents a lovely neighborhood halfday. Barton Creek Cave and the Green Hills Butterfly Ranch. Barton Creek Cave is located about 20 minutes from our farm in the Mennonite valley of Barton Creek. The cave is geologically rich and diverse in formations. You access the site is by being gently paddled into the cavern using high powered lights while sitting in a canoe viewing large stalactites and stalagmite formations. Cultural evidence is limited and you can see the partial remains of an individual high above in an alcove. The Green Hills Butterfly Ranch is a stone's throw away from us where reserch of indigenous butterfly species takes place. It is an interesting location to learn about the life cycle of these lovely beauties of the tropics. We like to visit early in the morning when you can see the butterflies emerge to expand and dry their wings. We recommend that you do not apply insect repellant prior to visiting the Butterfly Ranch.
- Actun Tunichil Muknal (A.T.M.), Cave of the Stone Sepulchre, is the most spectacular natural and archaeological attraction in Belize. A natural museum, located in the district of Cayo in Western Belize, the A.T.M. Cave is an hour drive from the town of San Ignacio. The Western Highway takes you past the village of Teakettle for a 7 mile drive on dirt roads to the sites parking lot. There a 45 minute walk awaits you. Pack lunches, helmets, lights, dry bags, and water are shared and carried by guests and guide. You will hike forest trails and through water across the Roaring River at waist level, to an abandoned archaeologist camp, where you enter the cave. You need to be in good physical conditions for the A.T.M. Cave, able to traverse in water, rocks, boulders, climb cave walls on a ladder and you will be wet all day long. At the end of your day at the parking lot you will change into dry clothes for the ride back.
- Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve is a nature reserve in the Cayo District of southern central Belize. It was established in 1944 to protect and manage the native pine forest. There are small areas of grassland and wetland. The majority of the reserve is situated on a granite massif, with some areas of limestone in the west of the reserve. Sinkholes and caves are common in the limestone areas. The underlying soils are predominantly sandy. The elevation of the reserve averages between 400 and 700 m (1,312 to 2,296 ft) with the highest point being Baldy Beacon at 1,017 m (3,336 ft), and dropping to 120 m (394 ft) at the lowest point of the Macal River. The Macal River forms the boundaries of the reserve to the west and south and is fed tributaries including Rio Frio, Rio On, Privassion Creek and Piviol Creek. To the north-east some small streams feed into Barton Creek. The reserve is home to various large mammals: the Cougar, the Jaguar, the Ocelot, the Coatimundi, and Baird's Tapir. There is a small population of Morelet's Crocodile. Native species of bird include the Rufous-capped Warbler, Crossbill, Pine Siskin, Eastern Bluebird, Stygian Owl, King Vulture, Ocellated Turkey, Acorn Woodpecker, Blue-crowned Motmot, Plumbeous Vireo, Keel-billed toucan and Red-lored Parrot. Winter visitors include the Hepatic Tanager and Chipping Sparrow. Orange-breasted Falcons are more common in the area than elsewhere in Belize. The pine forest has been seriously damaged by the Pine Bark Beetle, Dendroctomus frontalis, with 80% of the trees showing signs of attack.
- Cave tubing is one of the most electrifying and rejuventating adventures you can experience in Belize, while becoming one with the country's natural and cultural aspects. Enter the exciting world of rivers disappearing into the underworld as you float on inner tubes with only your headlamp to light your way. Enjoy floating past side windows that filter the jungle light through the mist as you swirl around stalagmites jutting from the river and stalactites looming from above. Float past underground waterfalls then into the crystal cathedral, a spiritual center to the ancient Maya. The most exciting part of the river tubing is battling the small rapids that you will most likely encounter during the underground journey, but the most impressive is arriving at a huge opening in the middle of the cave system. Coming out of the underground cave system and into the bright green jungle with white cliffs is an incredible sight which people have to experience firsthand. (Some underground hiking and jungle trekking is necessary).
- The main entrance to the St. Hermanscave is clearly marked; it's about 180 feet wide with stone cut stairs believed to have been built by the Mayans. The trail in the cave narrows to about 60 feet and is marked for your safety. Once inside the cave you will see crystal clear water from an underground river that runs through the cave. You will see amazing rock formations and get a good feel for the Mayan Underworld. As you explore deeper into the cave, the trail gets a bit more rugged. Of course you may turn around and head back whenever you have enough. The Inland Blue Hole is located in the same (Blue Hole National Park) park as St Herman's cave. You can take a scenic walk from St Herman's cave through the rainforest to the Inland Blue Hole. The Inland Blue Hole was formed by a sunken underground river; it's about 25 feet deep and is perfect for a refreshing dip. The Blue Hole National Park is great place for a picnic, nature trail hikes, and bird watching.
- Take in the magic and beauty of the Mundo Maya as you journey from Belize City to Altun Ha (Rock Stone Water) on the Old Northern Highway. Here you will have the opportunity to discover the wondrous Mayan world as you explore this easily accessible ceremonial and trading site. Continue with a visit to the Belize Zoo, where you will encounter a wide variety of wild animals living in their natural habitats. From mammals to birds and reptiles, the Zoo features attractions for all ages. You can spot jaguars, eagles, Belizean snakes, spiders, and many more!
- Che Chem Ha Cave, located 16 miles from San Ignacio near Vaca Falls, is the 180-degree opposite of Barton Creek's peaceful caving experience. This is a full-power adrenaline rush, from the 45-minute uphill trek to witnessing the most amazing collection of Mayan pottery anyone has ever seen. Discovered by a local farmer, this cave is most notable for its unique collection of Mayan artwork and artifacts. Visitors with an interest in archaeology will appreciate the cave's entrance, which is decorated with Mayan motifs and the extensive assortment of ancient storage jars, called "ollas," that line the walls of its chambers. Inside Che Chem Ha, there are many ladders, each leading to chambers high within the cave, places where many ollas still contain maize and other staples of the ancient Maya diet. Because these antiquities are so distinctly representative of Mayan life, the cave is carefully monitored to prevent looting and visitors are only allowed to enter when escorted by an experienced resident guide.
Only Xunantunich Maya Ruins Tour: *Please inquire for details and pricing Tour includes: Private transportation, entrance fees, English speaking tour guide & lunch (only on full day tour)
Only Barton Creek Water Cave: *Please inquire for details and pricing Tour includes: Private transportation, entrance fees & English speaking tour guide.
*Please inquire for details and pricing Tour includes: Private transportation, entrance fees & English speaking tour guide
*Please inquire for details and pricing Tour includes: Private transportation, entrance fees, English speaking tour guide & lunch
Cave Tubing at Jaguar Paw & Belize Zoo Tour Please inquire for details and pricing Cave Tubing at Jaguar Paw & Canopy Tour (Zip Lining) Please inquire for details and pricing Tour includes: Private transportation, entrance fees, English speaking tour guide & lunch (only if full day tour)
*Please inquire for details and pricing Tour includes: Private transportation, entrance fees, English speaking tour guide & lunch (only if full day tour)
*Please inquire for details and pricing Tour includes: Private transportation, entrance fees, English speaking tour guide & lunch (only if full day tour)
Chechem Ha Cave & Xunantunich Maya Ruins Tour *Please inquire for details and pricing Tour includes: Private transportation, entrance fees, English speaking tour guide & lunch
Hotel Chaa Creek Lodge Cayo District Belize
As a private 340-acre nature reserve set along the banks of the Macal River in the foothills of the Maya Mountains, the lodge has provided a unique rainforest experience for thousands of people while maintaining an unspoiled ambience.
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