Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve
After you steadily ascend along the Chiquibul (Pine Ridge) Road for 21 miles, a gate across the road marks your entrance to Belize’s largest and oldest protected area, established in 1944. The 300-square-mile area (126,825 acres) features Caribbean pine and bracken ferns instead of the typical tropical vegetation found in the rest of Belize.
It also features a massive granite uplifting; the exposed rocks are some of the oldest formations in the Americas (they make for amazing swimming holes and waterfalls). In fact, some geologists think that the Mountain Pine Ridge (whose highest point is 3,336 feet above sea level at Baldy Beacon) was one of the few exposed islands when the rest of Central America was underwater.
Cycles of Disaster
Shortly after the reserve’s creation, the Pine Ridge experienced a huge forest fire, which, combined with the cycles of logging, left an unnaturally uniform population of trees, making the forest further susceptible to disease and insects.
In the 1990s, a three-year drought helped establish a disastrous infestation of the southern pine bark beetle (Dendroctonus frontalis), which has wreaked havoc throughout Central and North America.
Today, the forest is coming back wonderfully—thanks to both naturally rich seed sets and a massive replanting campaign (24 million seedlings are required for reforestation of 70,000 acres over four years). It will be another 10–15 years before the new generation of pines fully matures, however.
Check out www.reforestbelize.com for an update and to find out how you can help.
Visiting the Reserve
Most San Ignacio tour operators offer day trips to the Pine Ridge’s attractions, often combined with a trip to Caracol ruins. There are way more sights than can fit into a day, but a number of lodges can put you right in the thick of it all.
You can pitch your tent at Old Mai Gate Village (US$17.50), a barebones site on the road, just a few turns beyond the reserve entrance and gate. There is a well-kept picnic area and they sell drinks and beers.
The forestry station at Douglas de Silva Reserve (formerly Augustine) used to be a small village of loggers and forestry workers before the pine beetle and massive layoffs. You can now camp on the mowed grounds of the old school, but the blackflies can be horrendous here.
Those interested in camping must get permission from the forest guard at the entrance.
© Joshua Berman and Avalon Travel from Moon Belize, 9th Edition