memorable, comfortable, affordable ... Punta Gorda, Toledo, Belize

blue creek rainforest preserve, and cave swimming

Blue Creek is a mixed Kek'chi and Mopan village, formed by families moving from San Antonio and Aguacate attracted by the fertile land and crystal clear waters of it's namesake creek, and a small Mennonite community nearby. The Blue Creek 200-acre rainforest preserve and wildlife sanctuary is a short 15-minute hike along a beautifully planted trail leading to the Research Centre and a deep pool of clear water perfect for swimming.

Limited refreshments are available from the Centre and, for a small fee, you are welcome to make use of their deck jutting over the river. It gives a wonderful view of the rainforest canopy, and the antics of the iguanas dropping in the river only to clamber ashore and laboriously climb the trees only to repeat the process all over again! The crystal clear waters of the creek are perfect for a refreshing swim, and you will instantly make friends with the small fishes which come to investigate.

The Preserve's lush rainforest is home to enormous bromeliads, orchids, cohune palms, and heliconias, with vines a-plenty weaving their way through the jungle and a guided hike will reveal numerous medicinal plants. There are hundreds of birds here - including the keel-billed toucan - and the roar of the howler monkeys can be heard nearby.

Hokeb Ha cave
Blue Creek is also home to the Hokeb Ha Cave, with its large entrance carved from the summit of a hill where the Creek gurgles up from underground. Many Late Classic Maya ceramics have been found inside the cave, as well as an altar, and archaeologists believe the cave was used specifically for ceremonial purposes.

Continuing upstream from the Centre's dock, you clamber over the rocks of a dry creek bed to reach the river emerging from the cave. Blue Creek's limstone caves are full of pristine crystal-clear mineral pools and lagoons, with a water temperature of a constant 75 degrees. With life jackets and headlights you swim into the cave to visit one or more waterfalls, and view the impressive stalctites and stalagmites.

It is possible (though not recommended) to visit the cave on your own, and while the calm water at the main entrance is perfect for swimming for most of the year, heavy rains can cause a sudden rise in water levels. You must be accompanied by a guide if you venture inside the cave system, and you can arrange this either in the village or at the Research Centre.

Do-it-yourself! Blue Creek is located approximately 25 miles north-west of Punta Gorda Town. A village bus leaves PG around 11.30am on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Get off the bus at the low cement bridge spanning the creek, and take the trail from the car park on your right for a 15-minute hike to the research center. Silvano is an excellent local caving guide. Your return journey can be made by either hitching a ride or negotiating a fare back to 'Dump' at the Southern Highway, and then catching one of the regular James Line busses to PG.

Combination tours of Blue Creek are available from PG Town for US$90 per person (minimum 2 persons) including lunch, entrance fees, and guide fees. Choose from Blue Creek and Aguacaliente Wildlife Sanctuary, or Blue Creek and the Cacao Trail. Tours operated by IBTM Tours from the Toledo Travel Center.