With one foot in the Central American jungle and the other in the Caribbean Sea, Belize is a country rightly proud of its natural bounty. Home to friendly English speaking locals, fascinating Maya temples and idyllic sandy beaches, Belize is jam-packed with adventure and culture. Latin America expert Sinead gets up close with its unique flora and fauna.
Horse riding in the Cayo District
Where to stay: The Lodge at Chaa Creek
Waking to the sound of the Macal River flowing past my garden suite, I excitedly jumped out of bed, remembering what was in store for the day ahead: horse riding. As I headed out of my room and into the heat of the steamy jungle, I caught glimpse of a beautiful blue-crowned motmot eating berries on my veranda. Just one of the very many unique wildlife encounters from my trip.
When I arrived at the onsite stables, I was introduced to Neptune, my trustworthy steed, and after a quick introduction to the western style of riding, we set off into the jungle. It was a very pleasant and easy ride along the rainforest shrouded path as a hypnotising, melodic bird song resounded around the forest canopy. Along the way, we spotted the national bird of Belize, the keel-billed toucan, a dazzling, colourful bird with a huge bill – the perfect way to round off the day. Back at Chaa Creek, I visited the onsite butterfly farm, a major attraction at the resort which is home to an array of exotic and colourful butterflies including the iridescent blue morpho butterfly.
Bird watching in the Orange Walk District
Where to stay: Lamanai Outpost Lodge
As our speedboat glided along the calm New River en route to Lamanai Outpost Lodge, our experienced and knowledgeable guide, Ruben, pointed out a variety of different birds that we passed along the way. We spotted northern jacanas, also known as Jesus birds because they can walk across waterlilies, as well as flocks of snowy egrets roosting in trees, snail kites that have migrated from the Everglades and black collared hawks soaring through the clear blue skies above.
After a relaxing evening and an early morning wakeup call from the resident black howler monkeys, we set out on a full day of activities. Our day started with a tranquil, sunrise canoe trip on the New River Lagoon where we spotted a pair of yellow headed parrots, a subspecies unique to Belize. We returned to the lodge for a delicious breakfast of fresh fruits then took a short boat ride to Lamanai, a Mesoamerican archaeological site that was once a major city in Mayan times, home to the magnificent High Temple which is the third tallest building in Belize.
The Lamanai archaeological site is tucked away in nature, surrounded by the sights and sounds of the jungle. Our guide Ruben was very knowledgeable and passionate about birds and his ear and eye for spotting them was quite extraordinary. We were lucky enough to see slaty-tailed and violaceous trogons, scarlet tanagers and strong-billed wood creepers, as well as yellow-bellied flycatchers and hooded warblers. In the evening we set out on foot to seek out the creatures of the night. As we slowly walked along one of the lodge trails, I found myself relying on Ruben’s sixth sense to point out the bugs and creepy crawlies. We saw toads, a scorpion, and a very cute possum hiding in the trees.
Swimming with sharks on Ambergris Caye
Where to stay: Victoria House
As I jumped into the warm waters of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, I must admit I felt slightly fearful about swimming with nurse sharks averaging 1 to 2 metres in size, but the whole experience was quite exhilarating. The reserve is split into different zones. Hol Chan Cut, or Zone A, is known for its beautiful coral formations and is a rich habitat for marine life, populated with large schools of jacks, moody looking groupers, snappers and barracuda. We even encountered two eagle rays graciously gliding through the water.
Shark Ray Alley, or Zone D, has been selected as one of the seven best dives for spotting marine life in the Caribbean. For years, local fishermen cleaned their catch just inside the reef and soon noticed that the offal from cleaning the fish was attracting nurse sharks and southern sting rays. This soon become known to local dive operators and quickly became a popular snorkelling and dive site. Nowadays, sharks and rays hear the dive boats approaching and begin to school in anticipation of bait being thrown into the water, a sight to behold as it turns into a feeding frenzy.