A Day Trip from the Island: In the Heart of the Maya Mountains, Climbing Waterfalls

One of most incredible traits of Belize is that there are so many different ecosystems and climates (from savannah to rainforest to coral reef and white sand cayes) all within a country smaller than the state of Massachusetts.

Yesterday, I passed over and through quite a few after snagging a sweet invite from Balaam Eco Tours.  Beach to jungle and back.  The itinerary:  a Tropic Air flight to Belize City – a drive across Belize to the heart of the BEAUTIFUL Maya Mountains, a pontoon ride on the Macal River, waterfalls and a trip back.

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I was SO close to the border, that my phone told me that it was roaming in Guatemala.

It was SO much more exciting than I anticipated.  I wasn’t even planning to get in the water but in the end, I was scaling a 130 foot waterfall in my jean shorts.  Super fun.

As usual, it’s best just to show you.

I was up at 5:30am – MIRACULOUS FOR ME – to meet the group at the Tropic Air San Pedro air strip for the 7am flight.

It was a beautiful time to catch the sunrise and quite a few mosquito bites.

The easement at 7 miles north, Ambergris Caye.

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And boarding the plane a bit later.

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A beautiful morning as we headed over to the newly named Barry Bowen Municipal Airstrip.

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And off for a two hour drive due west – through a bit of Belize City, across the savannahs and up into the hills around San Ignacio.

We drove along Belize’s western-most town of Benque and down to the Macal River.

There waiting was our guide Robert and our pontoon boat.  It confirmed my totally uninformed opinion – this was a put-put pontoon tour.  I would not be swimming.

I was WAY wrong.

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Gratuitous group shot.  Me, Jessica from Xanadu Resort on Ambergris Caye, Dennis from Grand Caribe and Oscar, our guide from San Pedro.

Robert in the tan shirt and Celvin, his extremely proficient first mate and little brother, pushed us off.

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And down through the Maya Mountains we floated.

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We passed a tiny Morelet crocodile catching some sun.  A bit smaller than our salt water crocs on the island, these guys can grow quite large.

But this guy, about 1-2 feet long was the perfect size for me.

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We saw a toucan and heard some howler monkeys barking in the distance.  It was time to see our first water fall.

Called Rio Frio Falls, it cascades down into a huge deep pool.  About 70 feet tall and absolutely gorgeous.  The water is frio compared to the ocean…but super refreshing.

I just dipped my feet in at this one…but those with suits on went for the swim, under the falls and jump off experience.

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We climbed back on the boat…a short hike from the falls.

Super super pretty.

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Robert chopped up potatoes and put them, and marinated chicken on the barbie.  The boat has a built in counter and grill.  Nice ride.

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We headed down to the Vaca Dam.  Finished 6 years ago, you can see that the river is now still.  Before the dam, this was an active white water river where companies like Slickrock used to bring down guests.  You can see their post about “the lost river” here.

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Though the river and some of the valley was flooded the water falls are MAGNIFICENT.

Here is #2…the one that got me in the water, The Falls with No Name.

What was so super cool about these falls was the mineral coating on everything.  It had smoothed the rocks and left an almost sandpaper finish- it made climbing easy, fun and extremely refreshing.  All along the way are magical pools circled by vines and jungle plants.  Algae and mineral deposits make the pools a mint green.

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I left my camera at the bottom but Oscar took this picture closer to the top…

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The photos do not do justice to how pretty these cascades are.

At one point a bright blue morpho butterfly flitted by…it was almost ridiculous.

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We ate lunch – which was SO good.  I love eating on a steady boat/floating dock and this super calm river.

Dennis took a brief nap before we hit the last falls.

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Called Twin Falls for obvious reasons.

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These falls were REALLY coming down…so instead of stopping our guide thrust us into the heavy spray.  COLD.

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After about 3 hours, lots of swimming, climbing, EATING and lounging in the sun, our tour was over.  We headed back to land, thanked Robert for the amazing tour and headed back to Belize City…the three of us dozing off in the back seat.

This tour is also offered as a dual package.  Horseback riding through the mountains, or a trip to the beautiful Xunantunich Maya site (where a royal tombs was JUST discovered) or cave tubing.

It is a FULL day.  We boarded the very last plan to San Pedro.  I’ve never been on the sunset flight and it too was gorgeous.  Especially with the super moon on it’s way.

Here’s a picture I took out the window over Caye Caulker – this view alone was totally worth the trip.

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I love a trip to a place that seems all yours – like you are discovering water falls for the first time.  Totally pristine, this area is amazing.  And a tour unlike any other I’ve been on.

The second waterfall – the one with No Name – is the really special experience.  One I’d like to climb again and again.  Especially on a hot sunny day.  It made me feel brave 🙂

For more information on this tour, check out Oscar’s site for Balaam Eco Tours.  Now I KNOW the answer to this question that I get a few times a month:

“I am staying on Ambergris Caye and I want to see waterfalls…can you help?”

Why yes…yes I can.







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  • Awesome!

  • Mike Mitchell

    My kind of boat! We met Jessica the last few times we were at Xanadu, she is very passionate about her country!