This reserve is a highlight of any journey to Belize and an adventure to reach and explore, although the scenery may remind you more of the piney woods of the far southern Appalachians than of tropical jungle. The Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve is in the high country of Belize—low mountains and rolling hills are covered in part by vast pine forests and crisscrossed with old logging roads. Waterfalls and streams abound, and there are accessible caves, such as Rio Frio. The higher elevations, up to near 3,400 feet, provide cooler temperatures and outstanding views. The best way to see this area, which covers more than 106,000 acres, is on a mountain bike, a horse, or your own feet, not bouncing around in an SUV. But it's not bad from an SUV, either, which you'll need to get you through the Pine Ridge to the Chiquibul wilderness and the magnifent ruins of Caracol. Aside from the Honduras pines, 80% of which were damaged in recent years by the Southern pine beetle but are now recovering,
you'll see lilac-color mimosa, Saint-John's-wort, and occasionally a garish red flower appropriately known as hotlips. Look out for the craboo, a wild tree whose berries are used in a brandylike liqueur believed to have aphrodisiacal properties. Birds love this fruit, so any craboo is a good place to spot orioles and woodpeckers. You may not see them, but the Pine Ridge is home to many of Belize's large mammals, including tapirs, cougars, jaguars, and ocelots. In the streams are a few Morelet's crocodiles. Admission is free, but check in at the entrance gate (if you are asked for a "contribution" entering or leaving, politely decline as it's just a scam).