Getting up close and personal with Belize’s vibrant animal world.
by Zoe Walker
As the sun breaks through the early morning mist, standing on top of the Caana temple at Caracol Archeological Site, a series of echoes travel across the tropical forest canopy. Belize’s loudest creatures, the Yucatan black howler monkeys, are roaring. The frog-like croaks of the keel-billed toucan and the raucous calls of scarlet macaws are thrown in, as they start the day in search of fruiting trees. Below, the muddy ground reveals where jaguars and tapirs stepped overnight—a reminder that whilst these species often avoid people, they remain hidden in the undergrowth, watching us as we walk past.
This is part of Belize’s beauty–the ever-present and audible wildlife. With a national network of protected areas spanning both land and sea, opportunites are rife for those interested in learning about its wondrous creatures. And when you visit these places, you’re actively contributing to their continued protection through your entrance fees, by hiring local tour guides, and sharing your experiences online.
Here’s where to begin exploring our unBelizeably wild outdoors, and meet new friends.
Hike in the Maya Mountains Massif
Boasting continuous forests, peaks, waterfalls, and caves, the large protected areas of the Maya Mountains Massif provide excellent opportunities to immerse in Belize’s tropical forest wildlife. In particular, the well-maintained trails at Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, Caracol Archaeological Site, and Mayflower Bocawina National Park provide easy access, opening up the forest to all levels of explorers. Fresh wild tracks are often spotted—signs of a jaguar, puma, or tapir passing overnight, but if you’re extremely lucky, you’ll encounter them in the wild. Among numerous other species present are the coatimundi, the agouti, black howler monkeys, the Ocellated turkey, and the Great curassow.
Wildlife spotting can also be enjoyed over a cup of coffee from lodges nestled deep within the jungle, as many have developed a reputation for bringing people closer to nature, with knowledgeable guides on staff.
Hop on river safaris
River boat trips—particularly on Monkey River, near Placencia, and the New River safari to Lamanai Archeological Site in Orange Walk—offer a different perspective on Belize’s wildlife. You’ll spot Morelet’s crocodiles sunning themselves on semi-submerged logs, or turtles slipping into the water as the boat passes. Howler monkeys, endangered throughout the Yucatan region of Central America, frequent the riparian forests of these river banks, along with the large green iguanas—the males develop a rich orange colour during the mating season.
As the rivers wind across the flat coastal plain and open to the sea, the chances of seeing slow-moving Antillean manatees and dolphins increase. These mammals inhabit our coastal waters—a reminder that there’s another vibrant world to explore below the surface.
Support wildlife conservation
Belize protects its wildlife, with guidelines in place to ensure that wildlife-visitor interactions are ethical and cause minimal behavior change in the animals being watched. Regulations such as not feeding monkeys and not touching whale sharks protects the health of species and people. You can make a difference for these animals when you visit Belize, by supporting wildlife conservation though your choices.
Aside from selecting ethical tours operators, you can get more actively involved—volunteer opportunities are available at national wildlife rehabilitation centers such as Belize Bird Rescue (www.belizebirdrescue.com), and Wildtracks (the Manatee Rehabilitation Centre and Primate Rehabilitation Centre). The Scarlet Six Biomonitoring Team and Friends for Conservation and Development also offer the option to help with the protection of the scarlet macaw nesting sites.
Whether you’re exploring our great outdoors as a visitor, volunteer, or student, being part of wildlife conservation means being a part of our culture.