Blue Hole National Park

The *other* blue hole. | Photo courtesy of Visit Belize

The *other* blue hole. | Photo courtesy of Visit Belize

You may have seen images of Belize’s famous blue hole: a perfectly round, sapphire sinkhole embedded in the country’s beautiful barrier reef. It’s a bucket-list scuba diving destination and major tourism draw—but it’s not the only blue hole worth a swim in the country.

Deep in the jungle, just off the Hummingbird Highway near the country’s capital city of Belmopan, is the lesser-known blue hole, which is a cenote in a national park. Originally called Blue Hole National Park, the name was changed to St. Herman’s Blue Hole to avoid confusion with the one found in the sea, which is called Blue Hole National Monument. Now that we know which watery pit we’re talking about, the exploration can begin.

Unlike the blue hole of the sea, the inland one is a little trickier to find. The cenote is tucked away inside 575 protected acres of national park land, which also includes two cave systems and several hiking trails. Reaching this blue hole involves walking down a short but steep section of stairs, which has a landing where visitors can leave their clothes and other items. The cold, clear water is surrounded by moss-covered limestone cliffs studded with jungle plants. Though overall it’s very quiet, there’s usually a symphony of birdsong in the background.

There’s plenty of adventure to be found in the caves and on the trails, especially for wildlife lovers, but there’s nothing like heading to the blue hole on a characteristically hot Belizean day for a dip in the cool water. It’s a large enough pool to accommodate plenty of swimmers, though it rarely feels crowded. It’s just as beautiful as its sibling at sea, but only by visiting this cenote do you get to tell people that you got to go to the secret local’s blue hole. Here’s everything to know about visiting this jewel in Belize’s inland landscape.

Belize cave
Summer and the dry season are the perfect time to have water adventures in Belize. | Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Jungle Lodge

Go during the best season

A car or a guide is the best way to reach St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park, which is roughly 12 miles south of Belmopan. There are buses that traverse the highway from the capital on the way to Dangriga, Placencia, or Punta Gorda, and they will drop you off at the park if you ask the driver nicely. The park is open daily from 8 am to 4 pm, and costs $4 USD ($8 BZD) for foreigners to enter.

While it’s open throughout the year, particularly rainy days or hurricane weather can render the park too dangerous to remain open, especially if there’s a flood risk. November through February are generally the best months to visit, since that’s Belize’s dry season, but the country is also ideal during the ultra hot months of May and June, since the water comes from underground and remains cool at all times.

person rockclimbing
Look out for the cave. | Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Jungle Lodge

Explore ancient Mayan caves and trails

From the entrance, if you were to walk for ten minutes along a forest trail, you’d reach St. Herman’s Cave, a mile-deep cavern that’s best explored with a flashlight (rentable from the visitor’s center) or a guide. Artifacts from the ancient Maya have been found inside, but these days it’s mostly just a place to get some spelunking in—and one of the only places in Belize to do so without a guide’s presence required. It can be tricky to notice the cave opening at first, as it’s quite narrow and often hidden by liana vines, but once you get inside, it feels quite cavernous. Some visitors prefer to begin their exploration at the cave and then finish with a dip in the blue hole, but either way is excellent.

And if wandering in the dark isn’t really your speed, there’s also a loop trail and other smaller trails indicated at the entry to the park. It’s also fun to bring a snorkel for the cenote swim, since you can see the cavern from which the water flows more easily. Plus, then you could also spot the little fish that come to bite dead skin off your feet (hey, you gotta pay for that service in some countries).

ocelot
Keep your eyes peeled for an ocelot. | Flickr/marco

Spot birds, iguanas, and even wildcats

St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park is managed by the Belize Audubon Society, a passionate and active organization of bird lovers. This protected section of jungle is ideal for birds to thrive, which is why over 200 species can be found here. The trails inside the park are marked with information about what kind of avian life can be found here, in addition to other animals like jaguars, iguanas, and ocelots, which are small wildcats. Look out for birds like the red-legged honeycreeper, tody motmots, and even keel-billed toucans, the national bird of Belize.

Booking a birding tour with a birdwatching guide can be a great way to both enjoy the scenery and swimming the park offers, while having a professional point out various animals in the area. Sometimes they can be hard to spot, but Belizean guides are excellent at finding out what’s flying around. They can also provide binoculars in case you happen to not be traveling with those. Check out MayaWalk tours for guiding options.

Belize hotel
Luxury treehouses await. | Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Jungle Lodge

Sleep in the jungle

Belize’s tiny size means you can typically stay in just one place and be able to do most of the country’s top activities, so though you could pick anywhere, it’s also worthwhile to be at the center of the action. Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch is a nearby jungle lodge that is an ideal basecamp for adventure, since they’re excellent at getting you where you want to go and making sure you have a great time. While facilitating adventure is what this jungle lodge is known for, the hotel itself is also a lovely place to lay your head at night. Accommodations include a luxury treehouse and you’ll find delicious Belizean fare at the on-site restaurant.

An awesome budget option in San Ignacio, Belize’s gateway to the jungle, is Old House Hostel, a Belizean-owned accommodation beloved by backpackers and travelers who come through the country. They can help get you to the blue hole during the day, and then make sure you have a fun, social time when you get back to town.

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Ali Wunderman is a contributor for Thrillist.





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