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Belmopan and San Ignacio offer a similar lineup of outdoor activities, and since they're only about 20 miles (33 km) apart, even if you are staying in San Ignacio you can enjoy the activities near Belmopan.
Although there's good birding in many areas around Belmopan, Pook's Hill Lodge, 5½ miles (9 km) off the Western Highway at Mile 52.5, is in a league of its own. The birding list from Pook's Hill includes the Mealy Parrot, Spectacled Owl, Aztec Parakeet, and Keel-billed Toucan.
The Belize River, wide and mostly gentle (Class I–II) offers good canoeing and kayaking. It was once used by loggers to transport mahogany to Belize City and hosts the annual La Ruta Maya Mountains to the Sea Canoe Race. The multiday race is held in March during the Baron Bliss holiday. You can also canoe or kayak portions of the Caves Branch River (also Class I–II). Many hotels and lodges arrange canoe or kayak trips, including Caves Branch Adventure Co. & Jungle Lodge (822/2800), off the Hummingbird Highway. Full-day canoe or kayak trips start at around BZ$120 per person.
You may feel a little like Tarzan as you dangle 80 feet above the jungle floor, suspended by a harness, moving from one suspended platform to another.
Jaguar Paw Zipline. Jaguar Paw has eight zip line platforms set 100 to 250 feet apart. At the last platform you have to rappel to the ground. There's a 240-pound weight limit. Zip line tours often are combined with cave tubing in the Caves Branch River. The cost for the zip line is around BZ$120–BZ$200, depending on the tour and whether lunch and transportation are included. Off Mile 37, George Price Hwy., Belmopan. 223/4438; 877/424–8552 in U.S. and Canada. www.chukkacaribbean.com.
The area around Belmopan, with its karst limestone topography, is a paradise for cavers.
Actun Tunichil Muknal. The Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave system runs some 3 miles (5 km) through the limestone of Cayo, just a few miles from Belmopan. ATM is the resting place of the Crystal Maiden, a Maya girl who was sacrificed here, along with at least 13 others, including seven children, hundreds of years ago. If you visit Actun Tunichil Muknal ("Cave of the Stone Sepulcher" in the Mayan language), you will experience what many say are the most awesome sights in all of Central America. You'll see amazing limestone formations, thousand-year-old human calcified skulls and skeletons, and many Mayan artifacts including well-preserved pottery. As long as you are in adequate physical condition—you have to hike almost an hour, swim in neck-deep water, and clamber through dark, claustrophobic underground chambers—this is sure to be the most memorable tour you'll take in Belize. Cameras are banned from the cave, and the tour is not suitable for young children. Although you can drive on your own to the staging area for ATM, you must have a licensed guide to visit it, as you'll be up close and personal with priceless Maya artifacts. It's easiest to do an all-day tour from San Ignacio or Belmopan. These tours run around BZ$200–$240, including lunch and the government admission fee. Off Mile 52.5, George Price Hwy., road entrance at junction of Price Hwy. and Teakettle Village, Belmopan. 822/3302 National Institute of Culture & History (NICH). BZ$50, plus required guide fee. Daily 8–4:30.
St. Herman's Blue Hole National Park. At St. Herman's Blue Hole National Park, at Mile 42 of the Hummingbird Highway, there are two large caves, St. Herman's and the Crystal Cave. Both require a guide to explore (guides are available at the national park visitor center), though you can go without a guide into the first 300 yards of St. Herman's. Mile 42, Hummingbird Hwy., Belmopan. www.belizeaudubon.org. BZ$10.
An activity you'll find in few places outside Belize is cave tubing. You drift down a river, usually the Caves Branch River in the Cayo District, in a large rubber inner tube. At certain points the river goes underground, and you float through eerie underground cave systems, some with Mayan artifacts still in place. The only light is from headlamps.
In the last decade since Jaguar Paw Lodge (now no longer operating as a lodge) and Caves Branch Adventure Co. & Jungle Lodge (673/3454, 866/357–2698 www.cavesbranch.com) first introduced it, cave tubing has become one of the most popular soft-adventure activities in Belize. It's the number one mainland shore excursion of cruise-ship passengers, and on days when several large ships are docked in Belize City you should expect inner-tube traffic jams.
Caves Branch River has two main entry points: near the former Jaguar Paw Lodge (Off Mile 37 of Western Hwy.), at Nohoch Che’en Caves Branch Archeological Reserve, and near Caves Branch Adventure Co. & Jungle Lodge (Off Hummingbird Hwy. 822/2800). The Jaguar Paw access attracts more people, and when several cruise ships are in port at Belize City the river here can be jammed. There's a parking area about ½ mile (1 km) from Jaguar Paw, and here you'll find a number of independent tour guides for cave-tubing tours, which vary in length, generally costing from BZ$50 to BZ$70. Cave-tubing tours from Belize City, Belmopan, and San Ignacio, including transportation and perhaps lunch, cost more, generally BZ$120–BZ$180. Cave-tubing trips from Caves Branch Lodge are longer, require more hiking, and cost more. For example, the "River of Caves" trip, through 7 miles (12 km) of underground caves, takes much of a day and costs BZ$190 per person.
Cave tubing is subject to changes in the river levels. In the dry season (February–May or June), the river levels are often too low for cave tubing. Also, after heavy rains, the water level in the river may be too high to safely float through caves, so in the rainy season (June–November) cave-tubing trips may occasionally be canceled. Always call ahead to check if tours are operating.
Nohoch Che'en Caves Branch Archeological Reserve. Nohoch Che'en Caves Branch (sometimes still referred to as Jaguar Paw) is the most-visited archeological site in Belize, mainly because of the number of cruiseship daytrippers who come here. However, that doesn't diminish the grandeur—and just plain fun—you'll experience when you float on inner tubes in the Caves Branch River through caves that the ancient Maya held sacred. Many Belize City, Belmopan, and San Ignacio tour companies offer cave tubing tours that include transportation, equipment, and a guide, typically for a charge of BZ$150 to $250 per person (more expensive tours include the zipline), although you can drive to the park and do cave tubing on your own with a guide for lower cost. The site, now fairly commercial with a large paved parking lot, changing rooms, concession stands, bar, and shops, is at the end of a paved road off Mile 37 of the George Price Highway, near Jaguar Paw (which is no longer operating as a hotel). Tour operators at the site including Caves Branch Outpost (www.cavesbranchoutpost.com; 671–0987) provide guides and equipment, and independent guides wait to offer tours. With an independent guide you'll pay around BZ$50 to BZ$80, depending on how many caves you want to go float through. Tours start with a 30-minute hike to the cave entrance, and then you float back to a point near the parking lot. There is also a zip line at this site. Cave tubing is not recommended for young children—some operators have a 12-year-old age requirement. At times during the rainy season water may be too high for safe tubing. There is a weight limit for the zipline. Nohoch Che'en Caves Branch, off Mile 37, George Price Hwy. (formerly Western Hwy.), Frank's Eddy Village. From Belize City, follow the George Price Hwy. to Mile 37. Turn south (left) on a paved road and follow about 6 mi (10 km) to Nohoch Che'en Caves Branch Archeological Reserve parking lot. 226/2882. www.nichbelize.org. BZ$20.
Roaring River Golf Course. The only public golf course on the mainland is Roaring River Golf Course. This 9-hole, 1,933-yard, par-32 jungle course (watch out for the crocs in the water traps) with double tees that let you play 3,892 yards at par 64, was the pet project of an expat South African, Paul Martin, who found himself with some extra time and a lot of heavy earth-moving equipment on his hands. Before long, he'd carved out the greens and bunkered fairways. It's not Pebble Beach, but it's fun, and affordable, too, as fees are only BZ$35 for 9 holes or BZ$50 for 18 holes. After a round of golf, you can sip a Belikin at the clubhouse. Roaring River Golf Course also has air-conditioned cottages for rent, and a restaurant, The Meating Place, for guests and groups. Off Mile 50 1/4, George Price Hwy., near Camalote village, Belmopan. Turn south at Camalote village at Mile 50¼ of Price Hwy. and follow signs. 820/2031. www.belizegolf.net.
Banana Bank Lodge & Jungle Horseback Adventures. The largest equestrian operator in this part of Belize is Banana Bank Lodge, off the George Price Highway near Belmopan. Run by John Carr, a former Montana cowboy and rodeo rider, Banana Bank has more than 90 horses, mostly quarter horses, a large round-pen riding arena, stables, and miles of jungle trails on a 4,000-acre ranch. They offer occasional agricultural tours that introduce visiting farmers or others interested in agriculture to Mennonite and other farm operations in Belize. A two- to three-hour ride costs BZ$120, and a five-hour ride is BZ$180. Night rides are available also (BZ$120) as are horseback riding vacation packages. Banana Bank, Belmopan. 832/2020. www.bananabank.com.