Natural Attractions in Belize

Belize abounds with natural scenery

Photo credit: © Rebecca Picard | Dreamstime.com
 

Visitors often find that a trip to Belize is incomplete if they don't step outside and explore.  Luckily, many of Belize's resources are dedicated to protecting the country's natural habitats, making the experience all the more enjoyable.

Inland Conservation Areas

Eighty percent of Belize is covered in rainforests, which lends itself to housing many protected conservation areas.  Though many areas of the rainforests have yet to be explored, those that have are often sectioned off into various wildlife sanctuaries, where researchers set up to learn more about the species who make their home in the area.  These conservation areas preserve the livelihood of the regions plants and animals. 

There are two conservation areas in the northern region, Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary and Río Bravo Conservation Area.  The Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary is a swampy lowland that is best explored by rowing a canoe through the waterways.  Within the sanctuary there are howler monkeys and crocodiles among other animals, as well as 250 species of birds.  The Rio Brave Conservation Area, meanwhile, is a forested area that is home to 200 different species of tropical trees, 400 different types of birds, and a hearty population of wildcats.  On site is  La Milpa, an ancient Mayan city.

In Southern Belize there is a reserve that was created with the purpose of studying wildcats.  Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary & Cockscomb Basin Forest Reserve is home to the jaguar, 400 bird species, and numerous types of other animals such as tapirs. Victoria's Peak, Belize's tallest mountain is situated on property. 

One of the most easily accessible conservation areas for visitors who stay in Belize City is the Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.  There are trails, camp sites, and research stations, and bird watching is excellent here.

...a natural haven for the monkeys...

 

Just northwest of Belize City is the Community Baboon Sanctuary, which is home to over 1,000 howler monkeys.  A 20 mile region along the Belize River is a natural haven for the monkeys as well as a path and museum for visitors. 

Shipstern Nature Reserve is the only conservation area in Belize that features saline lagoons.  The reserve spans 22 acres, and is home to monkeys, birds, butterflies, wildcats, and much more.  Ten different ecosystems are present on site.

Fireburn Reserve has a number of different habitats that span its 1,800 acres.  There are swamplands, tropical rainforest, and savannah all within the reserve, and scientists work here to understand the lives of jaguars and pumas.

Marine Reserves

...protecting the Belize Barrier Reef...

 

When you are a country situated along the Caribbean Sea, it goes without saying that there will be numerous marine habitats in the region.  While beaches and recreational areas reside along the coast, there are also some protected habitats.  The purpose of designating protected areas is to conserve the eco-system of a particular area for future generations.  In Belize, many of the marine reserves play some role in protecting the Belize Barrier Reef.

The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest barrier reef in the entire world, and indeed a site to see.  The reef runs the length of the coastline, and is home to a variety of marine animals.  If you'd like to get an up close and personal look at the reef, consider planning a day of diving or snorkelingBacalar Chico Marine Reserve and National Park on Ambergris Caye is one of the areas along the reef specifically marked as a protected area. 

A half a mile east of the island of Caye Caulker is the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve, which was established in 1998.  Five different habitats are protected within the reserve including the coral reef, lagoon marsh lands, littoral forest, mangrove, and sea grass beds.  Entry to the reserve costs $10BZD, but is well spent as explorers often see a wealth of marine life such as manatees, star coral, and Christmas tree worms.

Set four miles south of San Pedro Town is the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, which was established in 1987.  Hol Chan translates to "little chanel," and covers three square miles of water that serves as the habitat for mangrove, sea grass, coral reef, nurse sharks, and sting rays.  This is a popular locale for snorkeling and diving, since the coral reef in the reserve is just 25 yards wide and 30 feet deep.   Hol Chan was Belize's first marine reserve.

About 27 miles east of Dangriga Town sits the second marine reserve that Belize designated, Glover's Reef Marine Reserve.  It is the southernmost of all of the country's marine habitats and spans 86,653 acres that make up a lagoon setting.  This reserve is important not only to the Beilze eco-system, but of the region and even international marine world.  Glover's Reef protects conch, lobster, and finfish, among other sea creatures. 

Near the center of the Belize Barrier Reef, off the coast of Placencia is the Gladden Split. The Gladden Split is a shelf between the Barrier Reef, Glover's Reef, and the eastern wall of the Cayman Trench.  This area is especially known for attracting whale sharks around the full moons between April and May who come to feed on the spawn of the snapper.  The area became a reserve in May of 2000.

Port Honduras Marine Reserve, which is located north of Punta Gorda Town runs along the coast of Belize.  Within the reserve, jungle-lined rivers run to the sea, the Great Barrier Reef snakes through, and 135 small mangrove islands (only 10 percent of which have dry land) float.  One of these islands, Wild Cane Caye is home to an important Mayan center of trade. 

Along the southernmost tip of the Belize Barrier Reef, 40 miles south east of Punta Gorda is Sopadilla Cayes.  Sopadilla is about 40 square miles in area and comprised of the reef as well as 14 sand and water cayes along Belize's coast.  The waters here are so clear and shallow, rarely reaching more than 15 feet deep, that it is a popular place for snorkeling.  Marine life to be on the lookout for includes sponge and lettuce coral.

Fifteen miles southeast of Dangriga Town is South Water Caye Marine Reserve.  South Water Caye covers 117,878 acres which are split up into three sections:  General Use Zone, Conservation Zone, and Preservation Zone.  This means that not only does the reserve protect the unique habitats that it encompasses, but there are also multi-use areas where visitors are welcome to snorkel and dive to enjoy an up close and personal look at what are considered to be some of the most biodiverse oceanic grounds in the Western Hemisphere.  Some of the top sites within South Water Caye include Man-of-War Cave which is one of only 10 nesting sites within the Caribbean for the Frigate Bird, and Carrie Boat Caye at which scientists have been studying the link between coral reef and mangrove ecosystems since 1972 -- well before South Water Caye became a marine reserve in 1996.

More Marine Habitats

Outside of the officially protected marine reserves in Belize are a few other habitats that vacationers may want to plan to visit.

If you've always dreamed of swimming in a cool, crystal-clear pond surrounded by the rainforest, it can be done in Belize.  The Blue Hole in Blue Hole National Park is 25-feet deep and a welcome reprieve from the hot days of Belizean summers.  You can also take a guided tube tour through the underground river caves. 

At 178,000 acres large, Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the largest protected areas in Belize.  It became protected in 1998 with the goal of preserving the manatee population.  Several critically endangered species reside in the sanctuary, including hawksbill turtles.

Nature Preserves
Name Location
Agua Caliente Luha Wildlife Sanctuary 6.1 mi. (9.8 km) South of San Pedro Columbia
Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve and National Park 5.7 mi. (9.1 km) South of Xcalak
Belize Barrier Reef System 31.3 mi. (50.4 km) East-Southeast of Dangriga
Bladen Nature Reserve 18.3 mi. (29.4 km) North of San Pedro Columbia
Caye Caulker Mini Reserve 1.8 mi. (2.8 km) South of Caye Caulker
Caye Caulker North Point Sanctuary Forest Reserve 9.4 mi. (15.1 km) South-Southwest of San Pedro
Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary 18.1 mi. (29.1 km) North-Northwest of Placencia
Columbia Forest Reserve 11.3 mi. (18.2 km) Northwest of San Pedro Columbia
Community Baboon Sanctuary 23.4 mi. (37.6 km) Northeast of Belmopan
Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary 6.2 mi. (10.0 km) East-Southeast of Sarteneja
Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary 5.5 mi. (8.9 km) South of Crooked Tree
Fireburn Reserve 11.6 mi. (18.7 km) East-Southeast of Chunox
Five Blues Lake National Park 14.0 mi. (22.6 km) Southeast of Belmopan
Gales Point Wildlife Sanctuary 23.6 mi. (38.0 km) South-Southwest of Belize City
Heris Nature Park 3.2 mi. (5.2 km) Northeast of Belmopan
Hol Chan Marine Reserve 5.7 mi. (9.2 km) West-Southwest of San Pedro
Laughing Bird Caye 12.8 mi. (20.5 km) Southeast of Placencia
Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary 25.7 mi. (41.4 km) West-Southwest of Belize City
Mountain Pine Ridge 47.2 mi. (76.0 km) West of Hopkins
Paynes Creek National Park 9.2 mi. (14.8 km) West-Southwest of Monkey River Town
Placencia Mangroves 0.4 mi. (0.6 km) Northwest of Placencia
Port Honduras Marine Reserve 15.0 mi. (24.1 km) Northeast of Hopeville
Rio Bravo Conservation and Management 12.3 mi. (19.8 km) South of La Union
Sarstoon-Temash National Park 6.6 mi. (10.7 km) South West of Barranco
Sarstooth National Park 6.7 mi. (10.8 km) South West of Barranco
Savannah Forest Station at Paynes Creek 8.0 mi. (12.8 km) West of Placencia
Shipstern Nature Reserve 5.9 mi. (9.5 km) South of Sarteneja
Silk Cayes Marine Reserve 29.6 mi. (47.7 km) East of Hopkins
St. Herman's Blue Hole National Park 9.4 mi. (15.1 km) Southeast of Belmopan
Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary 5.1 mi. (8.2 km) East of Belize City
Swasey Bladen Forest Reserve 15.6 mi. (25.1 km) West of Placencia

Parks and Gardens

To the north of Belize City is Bacab Ecopark, which is 36 acres along the Belize River featuring a butterfly house and garden.

Five Blues Lake National Park in the Maya Mountains is a popular camp site.  The main point of interest here is the kastic lake.  Once, the lake was filled with waters that were five shades of blue.  One day, the waters suddenly drained into the cave system below, leaving a vacant hole in the ground.

In Belmopan is the Guanacaste National Park.  The park sits on 50 acres of tropical forest, known for the abundance of guanacaste trees on property. 

Parks
Name Location Island
Blue Hole National Park 9.4 mi. (15.2 km) Southeast of Belmopan --
Boca Del Rio Park 1.4 mi. (2.3 km) Northeast of San Pedro Ambergris Cay
Guanacaste National Park 1.6 mi. (2.5 km) Northwest of Belmopan --
Memorial Park 1.5 mi. (2.3 km) East-Southeast of Belize City --
Botanical Gardens
Name Location
Belize Botanic Gardens 0.2 mi. (0.3 km) Northwest of San Ignacio
Gran's Farm 14.5 mi. (23.3 km) West-Southwest of Belize City
Toledo Botanical Arboretum 14.0 mi. (22.5 km) Northwest of Punta Gorda

Caves

Belize's network of underground caves is not only a series of natural attractions, but historical ones as well.  At almost every turn, discoveries of ancient Mayan camp sites, burial mounds, and alters have been discovered.  This cave system was called  Xibalba by the Mayan, and today they are widely accessible to visitors. 

The following is a list of some of the other caves in Belize:

  • Blue Creek Cave – Blue Creek Village
  • Blue Hole Cave – Blue Hole National Park
  • Chumpiate Maya Cave – Vaca Falls
  • Rio Frio Cave – Mountain Pine Ridge
  • Rio On Pools – Mountain Pine Ridge
  • St. Herman's Cave – Blue Hole National Park
Caves
Name Location
Actun Chapat Southwestern part of The vicinity of Belize City
Actun Tunichil Muknal 12.0 mi. (19.3 km) South West of Belmopan
Blue Creek Cave 24.2 mi. (38.9 km) South West of Orange Walk
Blue Hole Cave 8.8 mi. (14.2 km) Southeast of Belmopan
Chumpiate Maya Cave Northeastern part of Central Belize
Crystal Cave 9.4 mi. (15.1 km) Southeast of Belmopan
Hokeb Ha Cave Western part of Toledo District
Laguna Cave 7.3 mi. (11.7 km) Northwest of Punta Gorda
Rio Frio Cave 49.2 mi. (79.2 km) West of Hopkins
Rio On Pools 47.5 mi. (76.4 km) West of Hopkins
St. Herman's Cave 22.9 mi. (36.8 km) Northwest of Sarawina
Tiger Cave Northwestern part of Toledo District

Waterfalls

Waterfalls are always a sight to see, and there are plenty of them in Belize.  Most can be reached by hiking trail, and some fall into bonds or lakes that visitors can swim in.  Some of Belize's waterfalls are as follows:

Waterfalls
Waterfall Name Location
Big Rock Falls Western part of Central Belize
Bocawina Falls Northern part of Stann Creek District
Butterfly Falls Southwestern part of Central Belize
Clarissa Falls 4.3 mi. (6.9 km) South West of San Ignacio
Five Sisters Falls Southwestern part of Central Belize
Golden Stream Waterfalls Eastern part of Toledo District
Hidden Valley Falls 38.5 mi. (62.0 km) West of Sarawina
Pueblo Viejo Falls Western part of Toledo District
Rio Blanco Falls Western part of Toledo District
Rio On Pools Western part of Central Belize
San Antonio Waterfall Western part of Central Belize
Santa Cruz Falls Western part of Toledo District
Other Natural Attractions
Name Type Location
Belize Zoo Zoo 16.0 mi. (25.7 km) East-Northeast of Belmopan
Fallen Stones Butterfly Farm Farm 12.4 mi. (19.9 km) North-Northwest of Punta Gorda
Four Mile Lagoon Lagoon 4.9 mi. (7.8 km) North of Corozal
Golden Stream River 9.5 mi. (15.3 km) North-Northeast of Punta Gorda
Honey Camp Lagoon Lagoon 8.9 mi. (14.4 km) East of Orange Walk
Laguna Verde Lagoon 32.2 mi. (51.8 km) Northwest of Belmopan
Monkey River River 14.8 mi. (23.8 km) South West of Placencia
New River Lagoon Lake 27.9 mi. (44.9 km) South of Orange Walk
Progresso Lagoon Lagoon 10.4 mi. (16.8 km) South of Corozal
Punta Negra Lake Lake 21.2 mi. (34.0 km) Northeast of Punta Gorda
Ranchito Lagoon Lagoon 3.0 mi. (4.8 km) South-Southwest of Corozal
Rio Grande River 3.9 mi. (6.3 km) South West of Punta Gorda
Rocky Point Point 17.0 mi. (27.3 km) Northeast of San Pedro

The following table summarizes key information for some other popular natural attractions in Belize:

Belize's most precious resource is nature itself, with a natural environment that provides scientists with endless habitats to study, and tourists many places to visit.  Make sure you leave room in your schedule for exploration and you will surely find it to be a fulfilling experience.

 

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