Posted on Saturday, August 31st, 2013
The mist was slowly lifting from the valley as the first rays of sun warmed the air. Birds were chattering and howler monkeys were screaming in the distance. The air was heavy with floral scents from the hedges and bushes surrounding our cabana. Another glorious day in the Mayan Mountains of Belize was about to begin.
The base for the ride is a small lodge built within the tropical broadleaf forest at the edge of the pristine Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve. Cascading waterfalls, crystal-clear rivers, enormous caves and fantastic vistas of the rainforest are part of the riding adventure.
My home was a thatched roof cabana, decorated with woven Mayan tapestries. The center of action is the cantina where delicious home-cooked meals are served. Every morning breakfast started with fresh Belizian coffee and plentiful locally grown fruits such as watermelon, papaya and pineapple, followed by a full American style breakfast. Delicious picnic lunches were lavishly spread out on a tablecloth on the jungle floor. Dinners were served at the cantina while stories of the day’s adventures were shared.
The horses were groomed, tacked and waiting for us at the stable every morning. They are a mix of Quarter Horse and local breeds, and are adapted to the climate. They are well trained, have a gentle disposition, and are very surefooted and reliable when it comes to negotiating some of the slippery ascents and descents through the jungle. Yet they are always ready to pick up a canter or gallop when the terrain allows. My mount for the ride was a mare named Equis whom I came to love and trust over the next few days out on the trails.
The rides are generally guided by Mel, a Guatemalan man who was raised in this area. He is fluent in English and Spanish and readily shares his wealth of knowledge about the flora and fauna. Unforgettable is his skill with the machete, which he carried around at all times to keep the trails cleared, as well as his sharp eyes for spotting birds and wildlife. I was amazed by the diversity and the variety of ecosystems we passed through which were explained carefully by Mel while he pointed out plants and trees and identified their traditional uses. The forest canopy is home to many species of birds, and thanks to Mel we were able to observe toucans, motmots, orioles and parrots. We also saw wild pecarries – which we smelled before we spotted them in the thick underbrush.
The ride to Big Rock Waterfall took us through thick forest until we reached the Pine Ridge area. Sandy trails through pines and palm trees offered opportunities for canters and gallops. After experiencing the horses’ surefootedness on some of the steeper and slicker trails along the slopes of the mountains, horses and riders were eager to pick up the pace. For lunch the horses were tied in the shade of palm trees where they waited patiently for our return. We took a steep but short trail down to Big Rock Waterfall and were rewarded by its beauty and the warm water in the natural pools that had formed over the years. After our refreshing swim, lunch was served on the rocks along the bank of the river.
The next morning started with a visit to a nearby butterfly farm. Being a bright and sunny day we enjoyed the variety of butterfly species, including the Blue Morpho butterfly. On we went through Seven Mile Village and followed the trail to Barton Creek Cave through large farms of the Mennonite community. Arriving at Barton Creek Cave, lunch was served at the mouth of the cave before we launched canoes to explore the inside. Mayan pottery was visible within the cave and I was very impressed by the various shapes, forms and sizes of the stalagmites and stalactites. Leaving the river valley through groves of mango, avocado and citrus groves, we were intrigued by the primitive farming techniques with which the Mennonites turned this area into such productive farmland.
For the third all day ride May Cave was our destination, one of the many caves found in this limestone-karst area. After climbing through the tight entrance into the cave, two chambers of limestone formations opened up. Fragments of Mayan pottery were still visible in the more remote areas of the chambers. The coolness and darkness of the cave made it a somewhat eerie experience despite the flashlights we carried.
The half-day ride to a captivating Vega, a secluded river valley nearby, offered inspiring vistas of the sunken valley from the top of an unexcavated Mayan ruin. This was a wonderful preparation for our trip to the ruins of Xunantunich, Belize’s most accessible site of significance. From there we had outstanding views across the Macal River valley and into Guatemala.
On our way to the airport we stopped at the Belize Zoo, an oasis of ponds, forests and flowers among the savannas west of Belize City. This visit gave us a chance to see some of the tropical creatures we had heard about during our stay but had not seen as most of them are nocturnal.
The Mayan Jungle Ride is a wonderful adventure on horseback for the rider but also offers a great variety of activities for the non-rider, including hiking, bird watching and touring by vehicle to various points of interest.
Saying good-bye to our gracious hosts Aaron and Mel as well as the rest of the staff was not easy. They made us feel like part of an extended family and had shared the tranquility and peacefulness of the area with us. The time spent was very relaxing and rejuvenation for body and soul and I know I will return to this haven many times more.
Ride Review written by Biggi Hayes