For those who like hiking, climbing, jumping off cliffs, exploring, getting dirty, and having an adventure, Southern Belize is meant for you.Toledo is the least populated district of Belize, and just a short drive away from Punta Gorda town will find yourself surrounded by dense jungle, unusual creatures, waterfalls, and unexplored caves.
This undeveloped, "last frontier" feeling is one of the many things we love about Belize, and we hope you will embrace it.If you find a river that looks appealing, go ahead and jump in.The water is clean and fresh here. When you follow our guides into the rainforest, don't be surprised if they casually clear a new trail with their machetes. This region is characterized by its karst topography, with limestone formations worn down by water over time.This leaves us with the steep Maya Mountains, underground rivers, and incredible cave systems to explore - some filled with ancient Mayan artifacts.
There is much to be discovered in Toledo by any adventurous spirit, and the trips in this section are meant to be challenging and memorable.They are all safe and accompanied by trained guides. However, we recommend that you be in good physical condition before you undertake them.See individual tour pages for more details about the physical demands of specific trips.
A tiny reserve which received just under 100 official visitors in 2008, Rio Blanco National Park is as remote as it is beautiful.The Rio Blanco River is a tributary of the Moho River that flows by Cotton Tree Lodge, and the park surrounds a spectacular waterfall.The nearby villages of Santa Elena and Santa Cruz organized the Rio Blanco Mayan Association in 1994 to protect this waterfall and 104 adjacent acres of sub-tropical forest.Jaguar, ocelot, margay, river otter, and many species of birds and fish live in the park.The RBMA hopes this area can become a viable ecotourism destination generating income for both villages. Men from Santa Elena and Santa Cruz rotate ranger duties at the visitors' center and local women will open the craft cooperative shop when tourists arrive.
After arriving at the visitors' center it's only a 20 minute walk on a gentle gravel trail to the falls.A small thatch hut with benches provides a spectacular view and picnicking spot. Thrill seekers can step out to the 20' cliffs and jump into the swimming hole (if they dare).Our guides can't resist, so you'll always have company.Limestone pools above and below the falls are perfect for wading and splashing, and the different levels of cliffs are connected by wooden and cement staircases.
A good trail network stretches along the same side of the river as the cliffs and picnic spot.Those who want to explore further can hike upstream, climb to an elevated platform, and cross a suspended cable bridge to the other side of the river.The trail network continues there as a hilly loop of dense foliage and small brooks.
This trip is appropriate for anyone who is reasonably physically fit.You may not want to jump off the cliffs or cross the cable bridge, but there are trails, a picnic area, and shallow pools to enjoy. You should feel comfortable navigating steep stair cases with railings, hiking fairly flat trails with occasional roots and obstacles, and climbing over some rocks to reach the water.
Tucked away in the hilly Mayan village of San Antonio are the lovely San Antonio falls. Though smaller thanRio Blanco, San Antonio Waterfall is a shorter drive and much more accessible, making it a better choice for some of our less active guests.The van will take you very close to the pools below the 10" waterfall here, where you can wade in or take a swim.Those looking to challenge themselves may climb the boulders around the falls to the pools at the top, and maybe even jump off the ledges there.
The wildlife near the waterfall is as beautiful as in any part of Belize, and a thatched picnic area is a perfect place to relax and watch for toucans and other birds.Because the waterfall is just off the road, this is also a great spot to observe the bustle of village life.San Antonio is one of the largest and oldest villages of Toledo, founded in 1883 by Mopan Maya fleeing forced military service in Guatemala.In August or September you may encounter the Deer Dance, performed in colorful costumes and celebrating the Feast of San Luis.
The hills around San Felipe afford beautiful views of the surrounding countryside, and a hike up to the top provides perspective you can’t get deep in the jungle. The hike up Jah’Wa Hill takes approximately 45 minutes to an hour to complete on a steep path. While the hike is steep, it goes quickly and the view at the top is a beautiful reward. Once you are on top, it’s a breathtaking view down over the surrounding area and out to the ocean on a clear day. Sit and enjoy the view before you begin the scramble down. Once you complete the hike, take the short van ride just upriver from the lodge. Here you’ll enjoy a picnic lunch under cacao trees before setting off on tubes down the river. Relax and enjoy the sights and sounds of the Moho River.
Season after season, this remains the must-do' trip for our guests.The village of Blue Creek is surrounded by towering karst limestone hills, offering challenging hiking and a network of dry and wet caves.The Mayan name for Blue Creek Cave is Hokeb Ha, or where the water enters the earth. The Moho River begins in its depths and flows out to Blue Creek Village in a clear, cool stream.
To reach the cave, you'll hike approximately twenty minutes over mostly easy terrain, through the jungle and upstream along the banks of the green-blue river. As you approach the cave, the river breaks into small waterfalls and beautiful clear pools for swimming.The last hundred yards of the journey are the most challenging, climbing over roots and rocks.
When you arrive at the mouth of the cave, you will step into the water and swim upstream towards the cave's interior and the river's source.We will provide headlamps, life jackets, and a trained guide to assist you.After you turn the first corner all natural light disappears.You will see stalactites, stalagmites, and other unique rock formations as you swim and hike upstream, hearing nothing but the echoes of water splashing around you. Archaeologists have found Late Classic ceramics and an altar inside this cave, leading them to theorize that Hokeb Ha Cave was used specifically for ceremonial purposes.
Keep going as far as you can, spending about an hour inside the cave.In the rainy season the current will be stronger and the swimming more difficult.This is certainly a challenging trip, but worth it.Guests as young as two and as old as eighty have participated in the past. And if this trip doesn't tire you out, you might consider combining it with the Blue Creek Hike.You can also kayak back from Blue Creek Village to Cotton Tree Lodge.
The ancient Maya believed that the limestone caves of Toledo marked entrances to Xibalba - the Mayan underworld. Caves were amongst the most sacred places and used for rituals, sacrifices, and communicating with the spirits.
When you enter Tiger Cave, an enormous limestone cavern just outside the village of San Miguel, it is easy to imagine the ancient Maya holding their ceremonies here. The towering entrance chamber, still illuminated by daylight, is strewn with shards of broken pottery and other evidence of Maya presence. Climb the walls to the right and left, discovering even more artifacts. At the time of writing locals estimated that fewer than 100 people had entered this cave in the last century.
As you step through the first chamber and further into Tiger Cave, turn your headlamps on and begin observing the undisturbed stalactites, stalagmites, and other unique rock formations that line the floors, ceilings, and walls. The karst topography of limestone rock worn away by water over time has carved huge chambers, narrow passageways, and underground rivers, all waiting to be explored. Each turn brings a new challenge. The final chamber, more than a mile into the cave, is filled with spectacular dripping rock formations and well worth the effort.
This excursion is only recommended for the very physically fit. From the road to the cave, visitors must navigate a steep drop down a dirt path. Inside the cave, expect to walk on slick clay floors, climb boulders, and navigate loose gravel slopes.
Your guide will saddle and prepare one of our horses for you and meet you at the entrance for an hour to an hour and a half ride to the dry cave. More experienced riders can speed up to a cantor, while beginners might want to keep things slow and steady while taking in the sights and sounds of the jungle surrounding you. You will head out of Cotton Tree on the road passing by farms and orchards before veering off into the jungle where you will have a chance to spot a variety of birds, plants, mammals, and reptiles.
Once you arrive at Santa Rosa Cave you will dismount from your horse and have a chance to stretch your legs on the short walk to the cave entrance. Here you will turn on your headlamps and explore the small cave. Inside, take in the stalactites and stalagmites and keep an eye out for a variety of bat species. After exiting the cave, you’ll mount your horse for the ride back to the lodge.
Cotton Tree Lodge has five horses and up to three guests at a time can ride with our guides (15 years or older unless experienced). Younger riders will be considered if they have had previous experience and can pass a 5- minute ‘test ride’ to the guide’s satisfaction. Please speak to the office to arrange horseback riding options.
This tour offers a chance to explore a large section of the Moho River by kayak. You will be driven upriver with your kayaks and a guide, into the foothills of the Mayan Mountains and Jordan Village. Here, the adventure begins as you start your kayak back to Cotton Tree Lodge. On the trip, you’ll make your way over many small rapids, and get to see amazing natural beauty along the river’s edge, passing through areas not often seen, a small canyon outcropping, huge trees and an abundance of bird life. You may go hours without seeing another soul on the river, and there are long stretches of completely wild and undeveloped shoreline. Stop along the way for a picnic lunch and a swim in the clear blue water. Once you arrive at the Santa Anna Bridge, the river slows and the last hour is a tranquil paddle as you approach the lodge.