After nearly four months in Belize, Greg and I had yet to take a road trip. So we rented a car, packed up the dog and headed south from San Ignacio. Our intent was to visit the Mayan ruins at Caracol in the Cayo District. We were not aware, however, that a military escort is strongly recommended for the last 45 minutes of that drive. It seems that illegal logging operations by rogue Guatemalans has resulted in gunfire and even the murder of a Belize policeman at the archeological site. Since we missed the departure time for that escort, we turned around and headed back the way we came. Luckily, that drive took us past Rio On Pools in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve.
How to Get to Rio On Pools
Like many developing countries Belize doesn’t do a very good job with road signs. That made me a little nervous as I was scouting out the route the day before our trip. Luckily, there aren’t that many roads, so navigating turned out to be a piece of cake. However, you might want to take a 4WD vehicle, as the road conditions are just a little less than treacherous. The majority of our drive was spent at speeds between 25 and 30 mph. If you fill up with gas before you leave San Ignacio you won’t have to worry about gasoline, but if you need it, there are a couple of small stations in the San Antonio area.
From San Ignacio head east out of town on the Western Highway. About .2 miles past the suspension bridge into St. Elena there will be a gravel/broken pavement road that goes to the right. Turn right there onto Cristo Rey Road.
Continue for about 12 miles. You will pass through the small towns of Cristo Rey and San Antonio. Shortly after leaving San Antonio turn right (south) onto Chiquibul Road. Rio On Pools will be on your left, and the signage is good there so you can’t miss it.
About the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve
I wish I could say that this forest itself was beautiful, but logging and fire have taken their toll. Luckily there is more to see than just the pine trees. The Macal River has several tributaries that run through this area and those, coupled with its many sinkholes and caves, make up a very interesting mix of topography. Beautiful waterfalls and breathtaking cascades make the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve well worth a day of exploring.
Rio On Pools – A Destination in and of Itself
The name – Rio On Pools – refers to pools formed by cascading falls on the River On. (“On” is the actual name of the river.) The area surrounding these pools has been minimally developed to include a parking lot, changing room, covered picnic area with tables, and a fire pit.
Although the temperatures here will likely be a bit cooler than in San Ignacio, it’s still plenty warm for changing into your swim suit/trunks and hanging out in the pools. From the parking lot there are concrete stairs leading down into the pools, but that access is very rough and steep. I recommend accessing the pools from the opposite side, which is where the changing room is.
To access from the opposite side, walk down the hill from the parking lot just past the spot where the road widens and curves. You’ll see a hanging sign saying “Rio On Pools” at the trailhead. A dirt trail takes you down some old, uneven stairs and then over a small wooden bridge. The changing room will be straight ahead and the pools access is right there as well.
Greg and I visited Rio On Pools on a Tuesday afternoon in September. We didn’t see another soul the entire time we were there.
Additional Tips for Visiting Rio On Pools, Cayo District, Belize
- If you plan to soak in the pools, wear sturdy shoes that can get wet. The terrain can be slippery and rough.
- If you plan to picnic, bring a table covering as the picnic tables are pretty grimy.
- There are no trash receptacles in the area so be sure to bring a garbage bag to carry out all your trash.
- The area wasn’t buggy when we were there, but as always in Belize, bring your insect repellent just in case.