Western Belize, from the capital city of Belmopan to the Guatemalan border, is a land of rolling hills, dense jungles, abundant waterfalls, clear rivers, extensive caves, and numerous Maya ruins. This region was the heart of the Belizean Maya world, with the major ruins of Caracol, Xunantunich, and El Pilar, as well as lesser sites like Cahal Pech. At the height of the Classic Maya Period, there were more residents in this area than in all of modern Belize.
Today, the area around Belmopan and extending throughout the Cayo District is the heart of Belize's ecotourism industry. There are a host of national parks and protected areas, including the Guanacaste and Blue Hole National parks, the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, and the Chiquibil National Park. The pine forests and rainforests here are great for hiking and bird-watching; the rivers are excellent for canoeing, kayaking, and inner tubing; and the dirt roads are perfect for horseback riding and mountain biking.
The cave systems of the Cayo District were sacred to the ancient Maya, and many of them are open for exploration by budding and experienced spelunkers alike. Some of the more popular underground attractions include Actun Tunichil Muknal, Barton Creek Cave, Chechem Ha, Crystal Cave, and the Río Frío Cave. Of particular interest is the Caves Branch River, which provides the unique opportunity to float on an inner tube, kayak, or canoe through a series of caves.
The Western Highway runs through the heart of the Cayo District all the way to the Guatemalan border, and serves as the gateway to side trips into Guatemala's Petén Province and the majestic Mayan ruins of Tikal.