Belize is an extraordinary country, with several "worlds" for visitors to explore. The cayes (pronounced "keys") hold the wonders of the barrier reef for scuba divers, snorkelers and fishermen.
The mainland contains miles of jungle that feature wildlife, rivers, caves and mountains. Belize travelers have an opportunity to find many adventures that suit their interests, and water-based tours and activities can easily be arranged from mainland resorts and hotels. Here are some of Belize's natural treasures.
Located 30 miles northwest of Belize City, Community Baboon Sanctuary was founded in 1958 to protect the black howler monkey, locally known as the "baboon". The monkey is an endangered species found in Belize, southern Mexico, and isolated areas of Guatemala. A visitor center at the 20-square mile sanctuary features an educational jungle exhibit. Hiking trails crisscross the sanctuary. Guided trail walks allow visitors to experience monkeys up close. Canoe trips down the river to see monkeys, birds, and other wildlife such as iguanas, crocodiles, anteaters and turtles can be arranged at the visitor center.
Started in 1983, when Sharon Matola adopted 17 animals left behind by a film crew, the zoo moved to its current quarters on Mile 29 of the Western Highway in 1991. Today there are 150 birds, mammals, and reptiles, all species indigenous to Belize. The zoo allows travelers to get memorable photos of the jaguar, tapir, scarlet macaw and jabiru stork. Mesh and wood enclosures resemble the animals' natural habitat. A special attraction is watching the morning feeding.
The sanctuary and forest reserve is located in southern Belize, near Dangriga, below the Maya Mountains' Cockscomb Range. About 150 square miles are set aside to protect the jaguar population, as well as other plant and animal species. The reserve is also home to 290 species of birds. Just inside the gate is the Mayan Center, with slate carvings, baskets and other craft items for sale.
The 3,000-acre sanctuary, located 33 miles northwest of Belize City, was established in 1984 to protect resident and migrant birds. One of the most noted residents is the jabiru stork, the largest flying bird in the Western Hemisphere. This sanctuary is also a refuge for other forms of wildlife such as black howler monkeys, crocodiles, coatimundi, turtles and iguanas.
This popular recreation spot is on the Hummingbird Highway about 12 miles southeast of Belmopan. The pool, about 25 feet deep, is filled with turquoise waters that originate from St. Herman's Cave. Swimming is excellent here.
This national park, located in southern Belize at the foothills of the Maya Mountains, about 22 miles from Belmopan off the Hummingbird Highway, contains a lake, hiking trails, and abundant wildlife. The lake is so named because it displays five vibrant shades of blue. The 4,000-acre park contains sinkholes, exposed rock faces and cave formations. It's situated close to St. Margaret's village and a few kilometers from Blue Hole National Park.
One of the most breathtaking of the natural wonders of Belize, the cave is open at both ends and arches to 65 feet at its center. A pool with a sand beach is also located inside the cave. Nearby, the Rio On Pools are formed by clear, clean water coursing downstream, wearing away the rocks to provide numerous small swimming holes. Rio Frio Cave and Rio On Pools are located in the Mountain Pine Ridge of the Cayo District.
A 50-acre protected area of the rainforest near Belmopan, the park is named for the huge guanacaste tree, which can reach a height of 130 feet. The Belize River cuts right through the park, which holds myriad varieties of wildlife. This is a good site for bird watching.
Located in southern Belize near Placencia, this popular tour takes guests down the lagoon to Monkey River, where they'll cruise up the river seeing many birds, tropical plants and trees. It might be possible to see a manatee or dolphin along the way. Then hike newly cut jungle paths to spot howler monkeys, iguanas, and more. It's an excellent combination of river life, rainforest, howler monkeys and a local village.
From its origin deep within the Maya Mountains, the Sittee River snakes its way to the sea with its mouth just south of Hopkins. Many resorts offer canoeing and/or kayaking excursions on this river. Green and orange iguanas can be spotted lounging in the trees, along with possibly a crocodile resting at water's edge. Parrots, toucans, motmots, herons, and egrets are often seen and heard. Sting rays, manatee, and crocodiles have also been seen far up river.
This cave, adorned with stalagmites and stalactites, lies just behind the Mennonite settlement of Barton Creek in the Cayo District. Most tours include a canoe trip through this remote cave that was once used by the Mayans as a burial site and for ceremonial purposes. Mayan pottery, skulls and skeletons can be observed with headlights (generally supplied by the tour).
The Temash/Sarstoon National Park is situated between the Temash and Sarstoon Rivers in the southernmost region of Belize. Being one of the most remote reserves in Belize, this 41,000-acre wildlife sanctuary provides habitat for a variety of wildlife including warries, tapirs, ocelots, and jaguars, and rarely seen birds and animals such as the scarlet macaw and the whitefaced capuchin monkey. Old red mangrove trees tower alongside the riverbanks of the Temash River, sometimes reaching more than 100 feet. Paynes Creek National Park is also in southern Belize, featuring incredibly diverse natural habitats.