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.
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.
...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 snorkeling. Bacalar 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.
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.
|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|
|31.3 mi. (50.4 km) East-Southeast of Dangriga|
|Bladen Nature Reserve||18.3 mi. (29.4 km) North of San Pedro Columbia|
|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|
|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|
|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|
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.
|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||--|
|1.5 mi. (2.3 km) East-Southeast of Belize City||--|
|Belize Botanic Gardens||0.2 mi. (0.3 km) Northwest of San Ignacio|
|14.5 mi. (23.3 km) West-Southwest of Belize City|
|Toledo Botanical Arboretum||14.0 mi. (22.5 km) Northwest of Punta Gorda|
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:
|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|
|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|
|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 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:
|Big Rock Falls||Western part of Central Belize|
|Bocawina Falls||Northern part of Stann Creek District|
|Butterfly Falls||Southwestern part of Central Belize|
|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|
|Western part of Toledo District|
|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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