The unspoiled jungle and rivers near San Ignacio, Belize

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The unspoiled jungle and rivers near San Ignacio, Belize

Photo by: Matt Champlin

Matt Champlin

Belize's Jungles are Wild, Mysterious and Full of Discovery

By: Lucy Sherriff

More than half of Belize, a Central American country with as many as 2 million indigenous Mayan inhabitants, is covered in dense, sprawling jungle – meaning the region has adventures galore for any traveler wishing to explore.

June 29, 2022

Sitting on the coast of the Caribbean, emerging from the lush green rainforest, sectioned by fast-flowing vibrant rivers, and against the backdrop of dramatic mountains is Punta Gorda, a town reached by a small plane and the gateway to Mayan villages, jungles, and waterfalls.

Peini is the Garifuna word for Punta Gorda, located in Belize’s Toledo district, and the town itself is packed with colorful markets selling fresh local produce, tasty food, and cool beers. But the real adventure lies outside the town. For a truly Belizean experience, head to the small Mayan town of Santa Cruz, where you can experience true Mayan life.

Photo taken in Punta Gorda, Belize

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Visitor diving off waterfall in Punta Gorda, Belize

Photo by: Tim Hester / EyeEm

Tim Hester / EyeEm

Visitor diving off waterfall in Punta Gorda, Belize

Learn how to make a freshly-ground corn tortilla, discover the medicinal uses of plants that grow in backyards, and learn about protecting indigenous land rights. Visitors should use a tour guide, such as Toledo Cave & Adventure Tours, as indigenous culture is in need of protection from outside influences. It is frowned upon to simply turn up unannounced. The village was at the center of a landmark ruling against the Belizean government to protect their land, and its residents are stewards of an ancient culture.

If you are interested in exploring Mayan culture further, then take a step into the past by visiting Nim Li Punit. Discovered in 1970, it is well known for its large number of stelas – or monuments – found in one of its plazas, eight of which are carved with hieroglyphs. Or go to Lubaantun, where one of the “crystal skulls” were found – stunning skulls made from clear quartz from Maya and Aztec times. (Others theorize that they are paranormal.) Maya people lived at Lubaantun from 700-900 AD, building large pyramid structures, on top of which human sacrifices were likely made.

Keel-billed Toucan - Ramphastos sulfuratus also known as sulfur-breasted toucan or rainbow-billed toucan, Latin American member of the toucan family, the national bird of Belize.

Keel-billed Toucan - Ramphastos sulfuratus also known as sulfur-breasted toucan or rainbow-billed toucan, Latin American member of the toucan family, the national bird of Belize.

For more jungle adventures, strap on your hiking boots, throw on long pants to protect against mosquitoes, and hike up Cerro Hill, in the Garifuna Reserve. The trail is rough and steep in places, but the summit is well worth it – views over the town and Gulf of Honduras. Keep watch for toucans, howler monkeys, iguanas, and other stunningly colored native birds.

Another adventure option is caving. Toledo has some of the most extensive caving systems in the country. With many caves in remote areas, part of the fun is the jungle hike to get there. They should be visited as part of an organized tour with specialist-trained guides and safety equipment. One highlight is the Tiger Cave, with its wide chamber lit by skylights, or the incredible Yok Balum Cave with its 30 feet high chamber with some amazing cave formations.

Rio Blanco National Park is located in the deepest south of Belize, between Santa Cruz and Santa Elena.

Rio Blanco National Park is located in the deepest south of Belize, between Santa Cruz and Santa Elena.

Finally, head to Rio Blanco Falls, located in the 500-acre Rio Blanco National Park. A series of waterfalls that culminate in a plunge pool at the bottom, dive in for the perfect cooling off to a long day’s exploration.

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