Belize is a small Central American country that should be on everyone’s bucket list. Inland, thick jungles hide magnificent Maya ruins and exotic wildlife, and the coastlines are equally spectacular, bordered by pristine barrier reefs and the sparkling Caribbean Sea. Nowhere else can you find such a dazzling blend of nature and history!
Though most travelers make their way to Belize in search of fabled white-sand beaches and colorful coral reefs, the swaths of lowland rainforest and greenery-shrouded mountains are just as enticing.
With the country’s land covered in rainforest, it’s no wonder Belize is home also to some of the tallest and most majestic waterfalls in Central America. Many falls offer deep, cool pools of water to swim in, while others are nestled among ancient ruins. Wouldn’t you love to explore a multi-level waterfall you won’t find in any guidebook? So go on, jump in!
The Most Romantic: Big Rock Falls,
Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve
To whet your appetite and introduce you to Belize’s array of waterfalls, Big Rock Falls is a hidden gem on the Privassion River in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. Its jaw-dropping 150-foot cascade is surrounded by lush greenery, and drops into a small pool at its base, which flows over large rocks into a bigger cenote.
The waterfall is easily accessible along a well-tended trail that winds into the gorge, down wooden stairways to the foot of the falls, and despite it being an ideal place to swim or catch some rays, is rarely crowded, and chance are you will have it all to yourselves. Wade into the cool water to beat the tropical heat, or find a spot near the rocky walls, and let the cascade pummel your back for a massage the way nature intended!
The reserve is open from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm daily.
Insider’s Tip: the trail down is steep. Take your time, and pick up a strong stick to support you as you hike down.
Best for Rappelling: Antelope Falls,
Mayflower Bocawina State Park
Antelope Falls is located in Mayflower Bocawina State Park on the eastern end of the Maya Mountains in the southern district of Stann Creek. The three-kilometer hike to the 250-foot waterfall can be challenging due to steep sections that become slick after rain, but the beautiful vista that awaits visitors from the top of Antelope Falls is worth the trek – spectacular panoramic views stretch out over the surrounding jungles, reaching all the way to the Caribbean Sea. As an added bonus, at the base of the lower falls, an emerald-colored freshwater swimming hole is the perfect place to take a dip before you embark on the hike back down the hill.
Entrance fees to Mayflower Bocawina State Park are USD $5 ($10 BZE) per person, and the park is open from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm daily. For visitors looking for an even bigger thrill, local tour company Bocawina Rainforest Resort & Adventures offers waterfall rappelling tours down the face of Antelope Falls, starting from $125 per person, and zip line tours in Mayflower Bocawina State Park from $75 per person.
The Hidden Gem: Davis Falls,
Stann Creek district
Hidden deep in the hills off the Hummingbird Highway near the town of Dangrea, Davis Falls is Belize’s second-tallest waterfall, featuring a 500-foot cascade that drops into a deep natural pool surrounded by pristine jungle. The trek to get in is tough, requiring a four-wheel drive to ferry you across seven river crossings (or, you can opt for a strenuous half-day hike instead), but you’ll have the waterfall basically to yourself. Pack a picnic and a swimsuit and spend the day lounging. You won’t regret it.
There is a USD $5 (BZE $10) entrance fee to enter the Davis Falls area. Due to the remote nature of the falls, one of the most popular ways to see the falls is with an ATV tour, offered by several local tour operators.
The Tallest: Thousand-Foot Falls,
Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve
Sometimes known as “Hidden Valley Falls”, the Thousand-Foot Falls cascades nearly 1,600 feet, a great deal taller than its name suggests. It’s reckoned to be the tallest waterfall in all of Central America, and due to its sheer height, can be seen from afar, particularly when driving through the valley below.
Located in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, ten miles off of Chiquibul Road, the views of the falls are magical, but most visitors only have the opportunity to see it from a distant viewpoint. The turnoff to the viewpoint is easily visible with clear signage from the road. Once you leave the highway, the road continues about 6.5 kilometers to the viewpoint and a picnic area where you can view the falls from across the gorge through breaks in the mist. The viewpoint is open from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm daily.
If you’d like to get a closer look, you’ll have to commit to a long and moderately difficult descent through the park; it will take several hours to descend and then return from the base of the falls.
If you’re keen to see the falls and feel like splurging, Astrum Helicopters offers a breathtaking aerial tour, soaring through the Maya Mountains above five waterfalls, including the Thousand-Foot Falls.
Best for a Rainforest Rush: Bocawina Falls,
Mayflower Bocawina State Park
Like Antelope Falls, Bocawina Falls is also located within Mayflower Bocawina State Park. It’s an easy two-kilometer trek from the visitor’s center to the base of the waterfall, and as it’s fairly easy to get to, Bocawina Falls is one of the most popular tourist destinations around Hopkins.
The falls are impressive, standing 100 feet tall, with a deep pool at their base that’s great for swimming. At less than half the height of Antelope Falls, Bocawina Falls is a great place to try waterfall rappelling if you’re new to the sport.
Entrance fees to Mayflower Bocawina State Park are USD $5 ($10 BZE) per person, and the park is open from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm daily. For visitors looking for a thrill, local tour company Bocawina Rainforest Resort & Adventures offers waterfall rappelling tours down the face of Bocawina Falls, starting from $65 per person (Antelope Falls starts from $125 per person), and zip line tours in Mayflower Bocawina State Park from $75 per person.
Insider's Tip: bring your binoculars! In addition to the five waterfalls within the park, Mayflower Bocawina State Park is an excellent place to do some birdwatching, with nearly 300 species of resident and migratory birds calling the park home.
The Private Escape: Butterfly Falls,
Hidden Valley Inn property near Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve
Nestled in 2,915 hectares (7,200 acres) of private forest reserve, Butterfly Falls is a stunning cascade on the private property of Hidden Valley Inn in the Maya Mountains. The falls, arguably one of the prettiest in Belize, is accessible by hotel guests only. From the lobby, it’s a three hour hike into the forest, but for easier access, drive to the Butterfly Falls parking area, and follow an easy 30-minute hike down a jungle trail to the waterfall, which plunges 80 feet from its crest into an emerald green pool. It’s a spectacular hidden gem, and you can almost guarantee you’ll be the only one around. If you’re looking to get lost in paradise, this is the place to do it.
The Southern Stunner: Tiger Fern Waterfall,
Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
Located in the heart of the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary – commonly known as the “Jaguar Preserve” – Tiger Fern Waterfall is an impressive double waterfall that drops into a large pool at its base. It’s a steep and strenuous two-kilometer hike through the rainforest to get here, but your reward will be generous. Not only is Tiger Fern Waterfall stunning, but the area is alive with wildlife, including four species of wild cat, tapirs, kinkajous, armadillos, red-eyed tree frogs, howler monkeys and hundreds of bird species. And though you probably won’t spot large cats roaming during the day, it’s still a thrill to see their prints and other evidence of them – and to know that even if you don’t see one, you may be seen by one as you pass through.
Plus, the waterfall’s remote location means there are rarely other visitors around, so bring a swimsuit and jump in!
The entrance fee to enter Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is USD $5, and can be paid at the Maya Center Women’s Group Gift Shop or at the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary Office. From here, the park is ten kilometers (six miles) down an unpaved road. Visitors can drive, hike into the park (roughly two hours), or hire a local taxi from the village. The park is open daily from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm.
Best for a Laid-Back Afternoon: Five Sisters Falls,
Gaïa River Lodge property near Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve
Near the central Belize town of Sarawina, Five Sisters Falls is located on the private property of Gaïa River Lodge. Access is exclusive to hotel guests and diners at the lodge, by descending a steep flight of steps, or riding a hydro-powered cable tram down the mountainside – and back up again, that’s the hard part, right?
Made up of five separate streams, hence the name Five Sisters, the waterfall has two enticing natural swimming pools – one at the top, and one at the base, and its gently sloping rock face makes it the perfect place to catch a few rays. With thick pine forest and the backdrop of Belize’s beautiful Maya Mountains all around, Five Sisters Falls is a great place to find some inner peace.
Insider's Tip: Make a lunch reservation at Gaïa River Lodge and spend the afternoon lounging in the falls.
The Slip & Slide: Rio On Pools,
Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve
The alluring Rio On Pools and their surrounding falls are located near Cayo, in Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. It’s not the typical waterfalls that you might imagine, but instead, a slow-moving river that winds its way over large granite rocks, spilling into a series of pools connected by natural waterslides as the river makes its way downstream. And the whole thing is surrounded by a lush expanse of pine forest. It’s breathtaking. The reserve is open from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm daily.
Insider's Tip: Open to the public, the falls and pools often get busy, so the best time to visit is in the morning, before the crowds arrive.
The Village Beauty: Rio Blanco Waterfall,
Rio Blanco Waterfall is located in the south of Belize, ten kilometers (six miles) south of the village of San Antonio in the Toledo district. Surrounded by a 200-hectare (500-acre) protected reserve, to reach the falls, visitors need to hike for about a kilometer and a half (roughly a mile) up a narrow trail, and then climb a series of stone steps.
The waterfalls run in a series of gentle cascades through wide, shallow pools and over smooth slabs of sandstone, before pouring over a 20-foot ledge into a deep pool. Adventurous visitors can climb to the top of the falls and jump off the ledge into the plunge pool at the base.
The park is managed by the local Maya indigenous community, and visitors can also visit the on-site crafts shop with gifts made and sold by local Maya women. Daily park hours are from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm. Park admission is USD $5 per person.
If trekking through dense rainforest, clambering over rocks and spotting exotic birds and howler monkeys in the lush green canopies overhead sounds like a perfect day to you, then a hunt for Belize’s hidden waterfalls is a perfect addition to your Belize bucket list. Picture-perfect Instagram shots, here we come!