Belize’s Mountain Pine Ridge covers a little over 1,000 square miles, and visitors will be exposed to a sharp contrast in the sub-tropical landscape; here, pine needles rather than palm fronds, fill the usual rainforest landscape. This pine tree-dominated forest, in recent years decimated by the pine bark beetle, is more than just a vast wooded area. Tourists and visitors find gorges and deep ravines, traverse dramatic granite expanses atop the Maya Mountains and observe meandering rivers, streams, waterfalls and pools amid. Image Above Mountain Pine Ridge Waterfalls IG 📸: lydeakraynak15 Belize Tourism Board.
It’s a landscape of sweeping pine forest sprinkled over granite hillsides, a majestic and cool area with stands of uniform pine sporadically dissected by fire breaks and broadleaf gallery forest. The Mountain Pine Ridge forest represents a distinct genetic provenance of Pinus caribaea var. hondurensis – the Caribbean Pine. Beginning in late 2000 the pine forest of the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve in the Maya Mountains of Belize has been heavily attacked by the Southern Pine Bark Beetle (Dendroctomus frontalis), an insect that is native to the pine areas of Central America and the United States. Established in 1944, the reserve has been logged on a carefully managed basis ever since.
The Ecology of the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest
The critical issue in the natural ecology of the Central American pine forest is the periodic burning of the understory of the pine forest. These pine forests regenerate naturally from seed when the ground litter and understory grass and hardwood species are burned so that their ability to suppress seedling growth is set back.
Fire, caused by man and lightning, is a common occurrence in the mountain pine forests of Central America. Grass is often the prime fuel by which wildfires are spread, particularly when dead grass material accumulates over a period of years.
A study of the frequency of fires outside of the managed area showed that all areas burned with a frequency of once in 18 years. Hutchinson (1976) considered this as “probably indicative of the regularity of fires over the entire pine savannah in the period prior to fire protection.”
History Of The Pine Forest At Mountain Pine Ridge
Prior to the 1950’s, the only recorded management of the forests was the beginning of fire control work. Fire was the controlling factor in the existence of the Mountain Pine Ridge forest before the institution of fire control plans. Lundell’s 1940 report on the Mountain Pine Ridge area noted “large expanses of open pine savannah with very little regeneration of either pines or hardwoods”.
Lamb (1950) recorded that about 60% of the 1200 square miles of the reserve was “open pine forest” while the rest was mixed pine and hardwood. A further 80% to 90% of the open forest was classified as “open pine savannah” with small amounts of third quality pine trees.
The reserve’s wildlife is very different from the lowlands. Birds can be quite hard to see secreted away in the scrub around the pines but there are exceptions. Acorn Woodpeckers are busy pecking at buildings. Their habit of storing acorns in tree stumps will be familiar to visitors from North America. Other reserve avian species include the Rufous-capped Warbler, Crossbill, Pine Siskin, Stigeon Owl and Eastern Bluebird. Between Autumn and Spring, visitors will see the Hepatic Tanager and Chipping Sparrow. Raptors prowl the valleys, and it’s the most likely place in Belize to see the Orange-breasted Falcon, Solitary Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk , Black-and-white Hawk-eagle, and the Crested Eagle.
A special part of the reserve is Baldy Beacon. Speculation continues on the cause of its infertility – soils are so poor they can’t even support trees. The most probable explanation for the infertility is that in geological history, while the rest of Central America was under water, protected from the elements, these parts were still above sea level and exposed to erosion and leaching for millions of years longer than anywhere else.
Another different part to Mountain Pine Ridge is the areas that did have limestone deposited on them. These now support broadleaf forest, and the most spectacular example is the Rio Frio caves area, the largest accessible limestone cavern in the country.
Things To Do At Belize’s Mountain Pine Ridge.
Visit the Thousand Foot Falls
The 1000ft falls in Belize is the tallest waterfall in the country and it is quite an impressive sight, especially being taller than any Belizean man-made building by about 90 floors! It easily accessible with upgraded roads and tourist facilities put in by the government.
Explore and Swim At The Rio On Pools
The Rio On Pools embrace a wide shallow stream cascading over the granite rock formations, forming pools in the deeper crevices and mini waterfalls on the overhangs.
The pristine spring water that runs across and down the mountain is always clear and pleasantly cool even on the hottest of days, this mountain oasis makes the perfect rest spot for any phase of a trip, you might even want to make it your entire trip! Scenic and serene yet perfect for an adventure this is a definite must stop at the Mountain Pine Ridge.
Explore The Barton Creek Caves
The Barton Creek cave system is part of a much more extensive limestone cave system in the region is a little over a mile and a half long and home to a host of wonders.
The ancient Maya believed that the limestone caves that dot Belize were entrances to Xibalba (which roughly translates to “place of fear), their ancient underworld and home to their death gods.
While canoeing through the mile long cave waterway the cave opens up into large high ceiling rooms which are reminiscent of old cathedrals and centuries old Mayan pottery can still be seen perched on the many ledges overlooking the water.