In Belize’s wetlands, rivers, jungles and reefs, you’re only a few moments away from a wildlife encounter.
Amongst Belize’s coral reefs, Maya history, swirling sapphire seas and dense rainforest, you’ll find some of the most incredible wildlife encounters in Central America. The marine life that resides within its Meso- American reef is some of the most diverse and plentiful in the world – second only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. On an Explore trip to Belize you’ll get the chance to spot howler monkeys, toucans, parrots, crocodiles and much more in their natural environment. Here's our definitive guide to wildlife spotting in Belize.
The ‘other’ barrier reef
Belize is home to the longest reef in the Western Hemisphere – in fact, only Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is longer. Don a snorkel for a fish-eye view of the underwater highlights; a boat trip out to the nearby Hol Chan Marine Reserve gives you the chance to spot stingray, colourful shoals of fish and many different species of coral. At Caye Caulker you can swim in waters swirling with harmless nurse sharks and rays at a diving spot appropriately named as Shark Ray Alley. A full-day excursion Swallow unveils creatures of the deep of a different kind: manatees, which glide serenely through the turquoise waters of their natural mangrove habitats under a sun-kissed Belizean sky.
Big cat habitat
Wildlife-watching trips to Belize aren’t complete without a visit to the world's first and only jaguar reserve at Cockscomb Basin. Once hunted as big game, the magnificent cats are now a protected species, growing up to six feet in length and weighing around 159kg. While it’s the best place to view the big cats in their natural habitat they are incredibly elusive, so you would need to be extremely fortunate (and quiet) to spot one. As well as jaguars, there are a variety of other species including jaguarondi, peccary, brocket deer and iguana. The resident birdlife is a further draw: toucan, king vulture and scarlet macaw are regularly spotted. During your visit you’ll have time to walk the trails and experience the forest first hand.
Meet the troops
Deep in the jungle the whoops and calls of the troops of monkeys follow you everywhere you step; stay in a rainforest lodge and you might even wake to the sound. For the best way to see Belize’s primates we visit the Community Baboon Sanctuary project. The initiative aims to protect the habitat of the endangered Yucatan Black Howler Monkey – he of the piercing cry. During your visit you can observe troops of monkeys swinging acrobatically through the trees. Ironically, no real baboons inhabit the country, but many locals use the name to refer to the black howler. The sanctuary is a community-run operation, which is all the more impressive when you consider the increases they have made in the local primate population.
Monkeys of the Maya metropolis
Tikal in neighbouring Guatemala is one of the finest Maya ruins, once a fantastic metropolis that was settled in around 600BC. Once abandoned, the city lay in ruins until it was rediscovered in 1848 – now, monkeys and colourful birds have moved in and made the surrounding jungle their home. You’ll usually have two opportunities to explore Tikal – in the afternoon and then the following morning – so an early start affords the chance to explore the ruins with the sounds of the jungle coming to life as your backing track. If you’re up early enough for sunrise you can watch the sky lighten from atop the site’s highest structure, some 200ft above the forest floor.
The early bird
Another early start provides the best way to explore the birdwatcher’s paradise of Crooked Tree Bird Sanctuary. Travelling by boat through the wetland habitat, your guide will point out the feathered residents; you may get to see wood stork, boat-bill heron, vulture, kingfisher, grebe, hawk, snail kite, jacana and, perhaps most notable of all, the rare jabiru – the tallest flying bird in the Americas with a wingspan of up to four metres. There is an excellent chance of spotting a number of different species of birds.
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