Intro to Belize:
For such a small country, the diversity of both culture and landscape in Belize is incredible. Nestled within Central American rainforest and Caribbean reef, Belize draws cultural and physical beauty from both regions. We were lucky enough to travel through the various regions of Belize and spend time in the communities learning about the diverse flora, fauna and people of the country.
The Cayo district of Belize is home to Caracol, one of the most important Mayan sites in the area. At its peak, Caracol was home to 180 000 people – pretty amazing considering Belize’s current population is around only 350 000! A long and bumpy drive through small villages, rainforests and pine forests brought us to the ruins, where we spent the afternoon learning about this ancient Mayan city. One of the most impressive structures is Caana, or Sky Palace, and remains to this day one of the tallest structures in Belize. It was no small feat climbing to the top, but once we made it we were rewarded with beautiful views stretching to neighbouring Guatemala.
The Sibun River is one of Belize’s largest rivers, flowing from the Maya Mountains to the Caribbean Sea. We spent a half day paddling down a section of the Sibun in sturdy two-man canoes. Between our several swim breaks and dodging the thorny bushes that line the shores, it was an incredible opportunity for bird watching and observing some of the wildlife in the area. It’s not uncommon to see an iguana dive off a tree into the river in front of you! On our way out, we stopped at one of the many citrus groves along the river to enjoy some fresh oranges. I’ll tell you – nothing tastes better on a hot day than an orange picked straight from the tree!
The final portion of our trip took us off of the mainland to the tiny tropical paradise of Tobacco Caye. One of Belize’s smallest islands, Tobacco Caye can be circled on foot in less than 10 minutes, and is protected from the Caribbean’s swell by the barrier reef to its east. The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef is the world’s second-largest barrier reef, stretching from Mexico down to Honduras, and makes for some fantastic snorkeling.
After an introductory snorkel lesson off the island, we were ready to hop into the boat to explore other snorkeling spots around the reef. The colourful fish and coral were an incredible sight for all of us, but the sighting of the day was the nurse shark* some of the students were lucky enough to see! We also visited Man-O-War Caye – a mangrove island where hundreds of booby and frigate birds go to nest – and the manatee lagoon where we managed to catch a glimpse of a manatee coming up for air. The sun, saltwater, and full days of activity made for tired students and deep slumbers in our beach huts.
*Disclaimer – nurse sharks are docile and generally harmless!
There is, of course, plenty more of Belize to explore. Whether you’re a birder, an archaeology nut, a diver or just love beautiful beaches, you will be captivated by Belize’s pristine nature.
By Tessa Lewis