Belize Blue Hole National Park Travel Guide

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

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

You may have seen images of from Belize famous blue hole: a perfectly round sapphire sinkhole embedded in the country’s magnificent coral reef. It’s a must-see scuba diving destination and major tourist draw, but it’s not the only blue hole worth swimming in the country.

Deep in the jungle, just off the Hummingbird Highway near the nation’s capital, Belmopan, lies 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 aquatic pit we are talking about, the exploration can begin.

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

There are many adventures to discover in the caves and on the trails, especially for wildlife lovers, but there’s nothing quite like heading to the blue hole on a typically 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 seafaring brother, but only by visiting this cenote can you tell people you need to go to the blue hole in the secret locale. Here’s everything you need to know about visiting this gem of Belize’s inland landscape.

Belize Cave
Summer and the dry season are the perfect time for aquatic adventures in Belize. | Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Jungle Lodge

Go during the best season

A car or guide is the best way to reach St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park, which is about 12 miles south of Belmopan. There are buses that cross the highway from the capital towards 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 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and costs 4 USD (8 BZD) for foreigners.

Although it is open year-round, rainy days or hurricanes can make the park too dangerous to stay open, especially if there is a risk of flooding. November to February are generally the best months to visit, as this is Belize’s dry season, but the country is also ideal during the ultra hot months of May and June, as the water comes from underground and stays cool in all the time.

person who climbs
Look 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 path, you will reach St. Herman’s Cave, a mile-deep cavern best explored with a flashlight (rental at visitors centre) or a guide. Ancient Maya artifacts have been found inside, but nowadays it’s mostly a place for caving – and one of the only places in Belize to do so without the presence of a guide. It can be hard to notice the cave opening at first, as it’s quite narrow and often hidden by vines, but once inside it looks quite cavernous. Some visitors prefer to start their exploration at the cave and then end with a dip in the blue hole, but either way is excellent.

And if wandering in the dark isn’t quite your pace, there’s also a loop trail and other smaller trails marked at the park entrance. It’s also fun to bring a snorkel for swimming in the cenote, as you can see the cavern from where the water flows more easily. In addition, you will also be able to spot the small fish that come to bite the dead skin of your feet (hey, you have to pay for this service in some countries).

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

Spot birds, iguanas and even wild cats

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 the jungle is ideal for bird development, which is why over 200 species can be found here. Trails inside the park are marked with information about the type of bird life that can be found here, in addition to other animals like jaguars, iguanas, and ocelots, which are small wild cats. Watch out for birds like the red-legged treecreeper, tody motmots, and even keeled toucans, Belize’s national bird.

Booking a birding tour with an ornithologist guide can be a great way to both enjoy the scenery and swim in the park, while being professionally pointed out to various animals in the area. Sometimes they can be hard to spot, but Belizean guides are great at finding out what’s flying. They can also provide binoculars in case you are not traveling with them. Check MayaWalk Tours for guidance options.

Hotel Belize
Luxury tree houses await you. | Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Jungle Lodge

sleep in the jungle

Belize’s small size means you can usually stay in one place and be able to do most of the country’s main activities, so while you can choose anywhere, it’s also worth being central of action. Ian Anderson Caves Branch is a nearby jungle lodge that is a great base camp for adventure as they are excellent at taking you where you want to go and ensuring you have a great time. Although this jungle lodge is known for facilitating adventure, the hotel itself is also a lovely place to rest at night. Accommodations include a deluxe treehouse, and delicious Belizean dishes can be found at the on-site restaurant.

A great budget option in San Ignacio, Belize’s gateway to the jungle, is Old House Inn, a Belizean-owned accommodation popular with backpackers and travelers crossing the country. They can help you get to the blue hole during the day and then make sure you have a fun and social time when you get back to town.

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Ali Wunderman is a contributor for Thrillist.

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