During the four months of our trip, I have seen more waterfalls than in my whole life. All of a sudden waterfalls were everywhere. They were in national parks and in cloud forests. Some were separate destinations, others we encountered on the way to somewhere else. They came in all sizes and forms, from small falls to powerful cataracts, from ice cold mountain showers to hot cascades.
I have never been much of a fan of falling water. But every time I saw a waterfall, I was happy. Especially because it usually meant a swimming opportunity. So, here are some of our favourite waterfalls in Belize and Guatemala.
Big Rock, Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, Belize
The forest reserve that hid Big Rock in its interior welcomed us with a beautiful landscape. Dark green pine trees lined deep red roads.
Entering the thick jungle, we heard a euphoric scream- the kind I’d never heard before. We had not encountered howler monkeys yet, but something told me the voice didn’t belong to our hairy cousins. I was right. The screams came from a white young man accompanied by a handful of beautiful local girls and boys. The blond boy jumped from the waterfall, yelling out loud every time he dove. The waterfall was wide as a river and loud, but his screams were louder. I remember ecstasy, adrenalin and power from this picture-book waterfall. The strong current made it hard to get close to the core. Somehow I managed to swim next to it. I held on, terrified to be carried away by the wild water.
I was happy to be out and admire the waterfall from the muddy shores. Just in front of me, a big rock begged people to jump. I guess that was how the waterfall got its name.
Fish spa in Mayflower Bocawina National Park, Belize
Once we were out of the Stardust Sanctuary Farm, we discovered the Belizian coast. It didn’t take long until nature called again. This time, we checked out Bocawina National Park. Knowing nothing about the place, we stood in front of the map to pick a trail when our eyes fell on the most strenuous trail. Antelope falls. Apparently, it went upwards and had a rope section. No problem. Seasoned travellers as we are, it would be no big deal- we thought.
The first alarm went off in my head when we met a group of travellers returning from the waterfalls with grave faces. But hey- no problem! They were probably just this kind of people who hated nature. And yes, the steep stairs tired us quite a bit. But why should we complain when we can stop midway and admire a beautiful view of the Atlantic Ocean?
Soon, though, the real trouble started- the steep muddy parts where you had to hold onto ropes to secure yourself. Completely sweaty, we were finally rewarded with a lovely waterfall in the middle of nature. And luckily there was only one other person enjoying the water. A British guy with a long beard sat on the rock and soaked his feet in the cold water. “Guys, check this out, it’s a free fish spa!“ he said. Soon, we followed his example, dipping our feet in the pond and looking how little fishes ate the dead skin around our toes.
Double waterfall in Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
Many nature reserves in this part of the world were not easily accessible on foot. Cockscomb was one of them. Before the hike, we had to walk seven kilometres through the thick jungle to get to the entrance. Luckily, we got picked up on the way and so we still had some energy left to look for jaguars. Just like Bocawina, Cockscomb too offered so many trails that it felt impossible to choose. The park ranger suggested the Tiger Fern trail, famous for its double waterfall. Waterfall again! It started to sound like some kind of a joke.
But what to do, if there must be a waterfall at the end of every trail then let it be! Yes, the waterfalls started to feel like something very normal and marginal. But again, once we reached there, we were taken aback by its extraordinary beauty. The first waterfall was a modest swimming hole in the shadow. Climbing up, there was another bigger waterfall that sparkled in the sunshine. It was a little paradise and I couldn’t get enough of swimming and sitting on the nearby rocks.
We didn’t see any jaguars, but we were lucky enough to meet a huge snake on the road. An American couple picked us up on the way out. When they noticed the reptile, they jumped out of the car to investigate if the snake was still alive. After throwing a stick at the snake, it zigzagged away. We just stayed in the car and were happy that the Americans didn’t get bitten.
Walking on the Siete Altares waterfalls, Livingston, Guatemala
We crossed the border and stepped into a tourist agency to check out the things to do in Livingston. Of course, a picture of a waterfall greeted us. We put on our hiking boots and decided to check it out. The hike was different than the others. First, we were walking quite a lot in the city. After crossing a long suspension bridge, we reached a beach with a narrow strip of sand and cute palm trees leaning towards the Caribbean waves. Fishermen pulled out their nets and it would have been the perfect place to take a dip if only the weather would have been better. But thick white clouds covered the sky and somewhere in the distance thunder rumbled. The beach didn’t invite us, so we hiked on.
When we reached the waterfall, an unpleasant surprise awaited us. To reach the waterfall, we had to walk over another waterfall. Yes, you read it right- a rope stretched over the river and you had to hold on tight. Should you slip and let go- you’d be falling with the water towards the ocean. Fun! Well, what could we do? We didn’t come all that way to just turn back, did we? No. So we untied our bootlaces and tied the boots to our body- we didn’t really want to lose our boots either. I really hoped the scene would not end with me sliding down the waterfall on my butt. Luckily, that didn’t happen. But what welcomed us after the hike was not that great either- a couple of small waterfalls falling into a cloudy brown pond. Disappointing!
Back to the entrance, we stared at the picture of the waterfall on the wall to be completely sure we saw the right thing. Of course, it turned out we should have just continued to reach the real waterfall. Well, what to do, we walked all the way back. Again we walked over the nerve-wracking waterfall. But after that, there was not even a rope anymore and we had to cross many mini waterfalls on the river, hoping not to slip. Rocks were slippery and sharp and we stared at each other with one question in our mind- will it be worth all the suffering? The answer was: of course! The three-metre high waterfall was spectacular and finally, we could jump into the cold water.
On the way back, we stopped in a local shop and had a beer whilst enjoying the view of the Caribbean sea. But going back was no longer a peaceful walk on the beach. The water level had risen and now we walked in the water. It did sound nice, especially if you imagined us walking on the coast of Hiiumaa or near clear-water somewhere in the Mediterranean. Well, you shouldn’t. The sea was full of trash. Instead of admiring clear water, we admired plastic forks, toothbrushes, countless broken shoes and lonely purple Barbie legs floating in the ocean.
Hot waterfall Finca el Paraiso, Guatemala
After two weeks of waking up and going to sleep with Garifuna rhythms, finally, we had reached mainland Guatemala. We were relaxing in our hotel room when Tom read to me that there were three things to do around Rio Dulce and one of them was a waterfall. Of course, we decided to check it out.
It was a trip worth making. Walking towards the waterfall, we saw locals shampooing themselves in the river and the whole pig family crossing the waterway. The waterfall did not disappoint. This 12-metre high beauty in the middle of the jungle clattered down into a sunny pool. Next to the waterfall, the roots of jungle trees hung all the way down until the pool. Up, a lady was gathering the courage to jump.
For me, Finca El Paraiso marked the first time I saw a security guard with a machete in nature. I didn’t know then that it was not always safe to go to the forest in Guatemala, that national parks can be so dangerous that even guards didn’t want to go there.
Soon I forgot all about the security and dipped into the cold water. The special thing about Finca El Paraiso was the hot water coming from the waterfall. It felt pleasant, like the hot shower that we hadn’t had for three months…
The security guard tried to persuade us to climb up. But we were not interested in jumping from the waterfall and curled up on one of the big rocks to read books instead. Still, the guard wanted us to get up there. I guess we must have realised at one point that there were hot pools. Well, why not check them out.
We were not the only visitors on that day. A romantic local couple with their arms around each other ate chips and drank cokes while standing in chest-deep water.
We climbed to the top along the roots of the trees like little squirrels and up, a real spa waited for us. All we had to do was to lie down and enjoy the steaming hot Japanese baths. Really relaxing.
Biotopo del Quetzal, Guatemala
Sometimes we went to nature with no intention to see a waterfall. But waterfalls are not that easy to escape from. When we took a hike in the cloud forest Biotopo del Quetzal, our eyes were turned upwards. The only question was where the quetzal was hiding. Instead of the long green tail feathers of the national bird of Guatemala, we saw another waterfall. This surprise waterfall was narrow, water falling from high up. There was no pool down there to swim- so we continued our hike through the truly magic forest.
Reserva Natural Atitlán
In Panajachel, on the coast of Lake Atitlán, you can hike, hike, zip line, swim in the lake and observe spider monkeys and coatis in a piece of nature called Reserva Natural Atitlán. No worries about robberies – this park was protected. We crossed countless wonderful suspension bridges through the greenery, before reaching the waterfall. I think it’s the highest one I’ve ever seen, and narrow as a rope. Not a swimming spot, alas, but nevertheless beautiful to look at. In spite of the beauty, a local man at the viewpoint looked at videos on his phone instead.
Then again, 20 waterfalls from now, we might be the same.