Your guide will meet you upon your arrival at the Belize City airport. Head straight out of the city to Crooked Tree Village, just 30 miles out of town but a world apart from the urban center. The rural village got its name from the knotty logwood tree used as a navigation landmark by lumberjacks in the 18th century. Settle in for two nights at your lodge on the edge of Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, perhaps the spot with the most birds in all of Belize. If you plan to keep a list of species you see on the trip, you'll get a great start here.
The Vermilion Flycatcher is just one of the bright, beautiful birds you may spot at Crooked Tree.
Meals: Dinner Lodging: Crooked Tree Lodge
Day 2 Lamanai
Travel like the early explorers today as you head by boat from Crooked Tree to discover the ruins deep in the rainforest at Lamanai. The name "Lamanai" comes from the Maya word for "submerged crocodile," so you can tell the jungle river wildlife was very much on the minds of the Mayas who settled here. You are sure to see exotic birds and wily iguanas, but also keep your eyes open for the spider monkeys and howler monkeys that swing high in the trees. The ruins here are only partially excavated, giving you a sense of how hidden they once were. But you will still have access to the Temple of the Jaguar Masks and the High Temple. Also learn here about the dangerous Mayan ball game that was part sport and part religious sacrifice.
Can you spot the jaguar face on the wall of the temple? (Photo by Dennis Jarvis, 2007)
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Diner Lodging: Crooked Tree Lodge
Day 3 Tropical Education Center
Head out this morning for a full day at The Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center. The center was formed in 1983 as a home for wild animals that had been used in early rainforest documentaries. The staff, realizing how little Belizeans knew about their wild neighbors, made a commitment to educate people in the service of conservation. Over the past 30 years the Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center has grown to 29 acres of tropical savanna with over 150 animals representing over 45 species, all native to Belize. All the animals were orphaned, rescued, born at the zoo, rehabilitated, or sent to The Belize Zoo as donations from other zoological institutions. Their habitats mimic their wild environs closely. Your visit to the zoo will give you a thrilling, intimate and interacative introduction to the animals of Belize and the habitats they rely on.
The ocelot is hard to spot in the wild but thrilling to see at the Belize Zoo.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner Lodging: Tropical Education Center
Day 4 Bird Walk / Cave Tubing
Go out this morning for a bird walk in the forest near the Tropical Education Center. Your guide will be an experienced birder who can help you identify the many species in trees. In addition, this is a great opportunity to ask your guide about traditional communities' use of rainforest plants for medicine, cooking, and cleaning.
Then, get ready to get wet this afternoon on your cave tubing adventure. This underground river experience combines floating on the water and active cave exploration. Along the way your guide will explain the geology of cave formation. As you float downriver, marvel at the magnificient rock formations, cave bats and waterfalls. The deeper you get in the cave, the more you will rely on your head lamp (provided) to see the interior terrain. This trip is good for all ages and fitness levels.
Return to the Tropical Education Center for dinner.
Stunning cave formations abound in Belize.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner Lodging: Tropical Education Center
Day 5 Cahal Pech / Xunantunich
Head west this morning for the Cayo District. Once there, spend the day at the ruins of Xunantunich and Cahel Pech.
Cahel Pech was the hilltop estate of a wealthy Maya family, built over three thousand years ago. It sits high above the intersection of the Mopan and Macal rivers. You can imagine the children of the family running among the 34 buildings on the property -- but can you imagine what it would be like to live in these stone buildings yourself?
Nearby along the Mopan River lies Xunantunich, the ceremonial center for the farmers who lived in this region about 1,500 years ago. The main pyramid temple, El Castillo, rises 130 feet above the jungle floor. The view from the top shows you the whole ancient city stretched out below you. Also ask your guide about the haunting of El Castillo!
Overnight at the Crystal Paradise Resort, on the Macal River outside of San Ignacio. You can swim in the river right from the lodge! Perhaps consider a refreshing starlit swim tonight before bed.
Explore the ceremonial complex at Xunantunich (photo by cjuneau on Flickr)
You have several choices today from your base in the Cayo District, depending how much of an adrenaline rush you want.
The most intrepid travelers will love the spelunking adventure in the recently-discovered cave Actun Tunichil Muknal, or "ATM." In a small group, wearing life jackets, swim into the network of caves. The warren was a secluded ceremonial site for the Maya. Not only does ATM hold hundreds of ancient Maya artifacts that were used in various ceremonies, but it also contains burial chambers with calcified human remains. This is a fascinating and rare opportunity to see another aspect of Mayan life and culture.
Or, head into the mountains for a canoe trip through Barton Creek cave. Paddle into the dark cavern, which you'll illuminate with battery-powered spotlights. Your guide skillfully steers your canoe along the creek and through the cave so you can enjoy the beautiful rock formations and see remains from ancient Mayan rituals.
Of course, you can also choose to relax by the river at Crystal Paradise, or venture into San Ignacio to explore the town.
Alas, it's time to head back to the airport in Belize City today... Or, if you have more than a week available, consider extending on the coast. More activities await you on the cayes (islands) off Belize's coast!
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