A Delightful Day Trip to Rio On Pools in Belize

Tucked away within the rugged Belizean Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, Rio On Pools is a series of small cascades along a tributary of the Macal River that create natural pools that are perfect for swimming and splashing on a hot day.

The clear pools and cascading miniature waterfalls are an inviting escape in the heart of untouched wilderness.

Whether you’re seeking a tranquil spot to unwind or an adventurous swim in nature, a day trip to Rio On Pools will feel like your own personal secluded paradise surrounded by lush vegetation.

small waterfalls cascading into still pools
The cascades at Rio On Pools form small pools that are perfect for sitting in or swimming. | Photo by Ronald Plett from Unsplash

About Rio On Pools

Rio On Pools is located deep inside the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve in the Cayo District of western Belize. This protected nature reserve is one of the best places to visit in Belize and remains virtually untouched and extremely rugged. Read that again… it is VERY rugged.

Rio On Pools is just a few miles away from the Rio Frio Cave, which is another popular, albeit secluded, place to visit when exploring Belize.

The area is known as a swimming spot for locals, but there are also some tour groups that stop at Rio On Pools on the way to Caracol, one of the best Mayan ruins sites in Belize.


What to expect on a day trip to Rio On Pools

Whether you are visiting this popular swimming hole as part of a group tour or on your own, there are a few things to know before you embark on a day trip to Rio On Pools that will make the experience more enjoyable.

How to get to Rio On Pools in Belize

The road in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve
The main road in Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve is unpaved, uneven, and very bumpy.

Most people who visit Rio On Pools will stay in the town of San Ignacio. This popular town in western Belize is often a stopover for those crossing from Belize to Guatemala to visit the town of Flores and Tikal National Park. But the town is one of the best destinations in Central America.

There are so many fun things to do in San Ignacio, Belize and the surrounding area – including a visit to the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve and the Rio On Pools. Visiting the natural swimming hole as a day trip is a fun experience. However, getting to Rio On Pools can be a bit difficult though.

The roads in Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve are not paved, and are very rough in spots. If renting a car and driving in Belize, I would recommend getting an all-terrain, high clearance SUV if you plan to visit Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. Additionally, plan to drive very slow through the reserve. It is almost impossible to drive more than 30 miles per hour on these rough roads.

Street and road signage is also not the best in Belize, especially inside the reserve. However, you will see a few signs pointing you in the direction you should drive, and letting you know where to turn off.

Walking down to the waterfalls

a wide shot of Rio On Pools looking down the path to the river cascades
The view from the parking lot at Rio On Pools looking down at the cascades.

Once you arrive, there is a small parking area with picnic tables near the top of the staircase that leads down to Rio On Pools.

The path down to the cascading pools could use some serious maintenance. The stairway is steep, uneven, and has some larger steps without a railing to assist. For this reason, if visiting Belize with kids, making your way to Rio On Pools with young children can be difficult – and a bit dangerous.

a mother holding a child walking down the path to Rio On Pools Belize
Walking down the path to Rio On Pools can be a challenge with babies or toddlers.

Older children who do not have to be carried should be able to access the pools without too much difficulty.

I would recommend any children under the age of seven hold the hand of an adult during the decent to the pools.

As you approach the end of the staircase, you will have to scramble across boulders to access the water.

Swimming in Rio On Pools

one of the pools at rio on pools
One of the pools at Rio On Pools | Photo by Weston Penner

During the dry season, or on a day when it hasn’t just rained buckets, Rio On Pools is a nice spot to stop and swim. The water is shallow and the small waterfalls flow into a series of small pools that all vary in intensity.

There are some that are flowing faster, and others where the water is calmer. Most are gentle enough to sit and relax in. It is a refreshing spot to spend an afternoon following a morning spent hiking in the national reserve.

Rio On Pools Belize from above
One of the cascades at Rio On Pools in Belize after a heavier rain.

I would advise life jackets as an extra precaution for young children who are going to get in the water at Rio On Pools, particularly if you visit right after a downpour, as the water will be flowing heavier and faster. A pair of tennis shoes or water shoes would be helpful for the hike down, as well as wearing in the water.

Keep in mind, this is a natural swimming hole, so the bottom is rocky in places, and can be slick. A small slip on the rocks could cause injury. While we were there, we had the area all to ourselves.

Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve is quite large, covering more than 100,000 acres, so visitors to the park often feel alone with nature. Which, shouldn’t surprise you. Belize is known for its vast jungles.

Tips for visiting Rio On Pools in Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve

a medium shot of Rio On Pools
You can hang out and swim in one of the shallow pools closest to the trail or work your way up the rocks to several other shallow pools.

The easiest way to visit Rio On Pools is to book a guided tour that will take you to the swimming hole, as well as Rio Frio Cave and the majestic ruins of Caracol. This allows you to leave the stress of driving down the rough roads through the reserve to someone else, without concern of messing up your rental car or getting stranded with no cell phone service.

However, if you prefer to spend the full day in Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, hiking and visiting some of the other waterfalls, like Big Rock Falls, you can definitely do this as a self-guided day trip. We did! It just requires a little extra preparation and a big sense of adventure.

looking down at Rio On Pools Belize with a pair of feet in the picture
Enjoying the view and drying off after a swim at Rio On Pools.

Here are a few tips if planning a self-guided day trip to Rio On Pools and the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve.

  • Rent a 4-Wheel Drive SUV instead of a car
  • Bring water shoes
  • Bring a dry pair of clothes and plan to change in or behind the car. There are no restrooms or changing facilities at Rio On Pools.
  • Walk down and swim with caution.
  • Enjoy the quietness and peacefulness of the cascades!

Do you have a question or comment about visiting Rio On Pools in Belize? We’d love to hear from you. Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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This Rio On Pools day trip guide was first written in June 2016, but was most recently updated in February 2024 for accuracy and current information.

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