Central Sites

Guanacaste Park

GuanacasteGuanacaste Park is a fifty acre parcel of tropical forest is located in the Cayo District, at the junction of the Western Highway and Hummingbird Highway, about 2 miles north of Belmopan.

The park was founded in 1973 and was established as a national reserve in 1988. It derives its name from the giant Guanacaste (tubroos) tree, one of the largest trees found in Central America. These trees can reach a height of over 130 feet, with a diameter in excess of six feet. Sadly, there is only a single mature guanacaste tree within the park itself. Violaceous TrogonIn addition to the guanacaste there are many other species of trees growing in the park including the Rain Tree, Mammee Apple, Bukut,violanceous trogon Quamwood, Cotton Tree, Cohune Palms and Mahogany, the national tree of Belize. The park area encompasses a superb area of lush tropical forest. There are four trails that pass throughout the parkland along the Belize River. The park offers a glimpse of the Belizean forest, as well as some attractive pools for a swim.

Over one hundred species of birds have been recorded here, including Blue-Crowned Mot-Mot, Black-Faced Ant-Thrush, Smoky-Brown Woodpecker, Black-headed Trogon, Squirrel Cuckoo, Bright-rumped Attila and more. Some of the wildlife can be seen in the park includes Jaguarundi, Kinkajou, Paca, Armadillo, Agouti, White-tailed Deer, iguana, and several species of bats and opossum.

El Pilar

Emerald ToucanetEl Pilar is a 100 acre Middle Pre-Classic and Late Classic Mayan site which is currently being excavated by the University of California. Continuing work at the site occurs between February and June. The site is situated 12 miles northwest of San Ignacio in the Cayo District. The rare abundance of natural water sources in this vicinity is possibly the origin of the name El Pilar (“pila” being Spanish for watering basin).

A particularly intriguing feature is a causeway that extends from the eastern part of the ruins across the country border into Guatemala. Thus far, 12 pyramids and 25 plazas have been found at El Pilar. This is triple the number found in nearby sites such as Xunantunich and Cahal Pech. The site was occupied between (500 BC) and (1000 AD) periods. A variety of residential structures were discovered during excavations, in addition to elite household compounds and ceremonial structures.

In contrast to other nearby sites, El Pilar remains virtually the same way today as when it was discovered. Most structures are in the early stages of excavation. Currently there are five trail systems at El Pilar, three archeological and two primarily nature trail intended to provide insight into the agro-forestry of the ancient Maya. This provides the visitor with a sense of what the site looked like before archeologists began their research on the area. The site and its surrounding vegetation make a perfect birding destination.

Scarlet MacawEl Pilar is a Maya flora and fauna reserve. It is excellent for birding, hiking, and provides an insight to Belize’s sub-tropical forests. Tours to this site leaves early morning or late afternoon with stops along the way to view such birds as the Collared Manakins and Honeycreepers an array of flycatchers etc.

We return to our jungle lodge after witnessing a Cayo sunset atop one of the pyramids. Being at an elevation gives us the opportunity to see the birds that inhabit the canopy as we look down on them from the summit and enjoy all the birdcalls. Birds such as toucans, Mot-Mots and large numbers of parrots frequent the area during the early mornings and late evenings.

Caracol

Caracol Maya RuinCaracol sits high on a plateau, 500 meters above sea level on the western edge of the Maya Mountains. It is nestled deep in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve within the Mountain Pine Ridge area.

Caracol is famed as the most extensive Maya center in the country.

Cutting across the hilly terrain, remnants of vast agricultural field systems give evidence of an extensive farm industry that once provided sustenance for a large population. Caracol has an internal road system made up of 60 kilometers of Sacbeob (roads) and causeways, which served as routes for transportation and communication.

This site is home to the tallest man-made structure in Belize, Canna, standing 143 ft above the plaza floor. The discovery of Alter 23, which shows bound captives, indicates that Caracol was an extremely fierce and war like center. It is believed that Caracol defeated Tikal in war in 562 A.D.

The scenic drive to Caracol traverses through the Mountain Pine Ridge area. The road travels over a series of creeks, through lush tropical forest and pine forest, habitat for a variety of bird species. The highest canopy rainforest is home to several species of cats, as well as rare birds such as the Keel-Billed Mot Mot, Crested Guan, Great Curassow and the Ocellated Turkey. A wide variety of orchids, vines and trees are also found in the area. This tour can be combined with a visit to the Rio Frio Caves and the Rio On Pools.

Mountain Pine Ridge

The area known as Mountain Pine Ridge is a 300 sq. mile reserve that consists of mostly pine trees, broadleaf forests shrubs, grasses and sedges. This type of habitat renders it a good birding destination for unique species.

Here we have the opportunity to view Yellow Faced Grassquits, the Rufous-Capped Warblers, Acorn Wood Peckers, Yellow Backed Orioles and Golden-Hooded Tanagers. In this area Black Headed Siskins can often be seen flying in flocks. There is also a strong possibility of seeing Orange-Breasted Falcons and King Vultures by the 1,000 foot falls (Hidden Valley).

King VultureEven with its recent bout of forest devastation due to the Southern Pine Beetles, the attractions of Mountain Pine Ridge are still captivating and worth a visit. The reserve is home to some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the country such as Big Rock Falls, Hidden Valley Falls, and Butterfly Falls. The Rio On Pools is a popular place for swimming, relaxing, sliding around in the cascades and little falls, or simply admiring the granite rock formations dating back 300 million years. A common visitor to the Rio On Pools is the Hepatic Tanager.

The Rio Frio Caves, a large cavern with openings on both sides, has a creek flowing and echoing through the cave. The picturesque jungle trails leading to the cave has a trail provide a chance to see birds an Orange-Billed Sparrow, White-Throated Robin, an array of Red-Throated and Red-Crowned Tanagers.

The Macal river

Canoeing the Macal riverThe Macal River is one of the most sparkling clean rivers in Belize. Canoeing the Macal River is a memorable experience and highly recommended. The shoreline is covered with a lush tree canopy, which is the natural habitat for tropical birds, butterflies and iguanas. Take along a guide or set out on your own for an easy and rewarding float down the river. Just remember to take it slow and enjoy the view. Common scenes along the river are Belizeans hand-washing laundry using biodegradable soap and fishing with hand-lines from dugout canoes crafted from Guanacaste trees.

Grey Necked WoodrailWhile canoeing, you can see an array of birds that frequent the river banks and iguanas sunning them-selves on the rocks. Some of these birds include Black Phoebe, Social Flycatcher, kingfishers, Mangrove Swallows, and occasionally the Gray Necked Wood Rails.

For a relaxing canoe trip, we can take you 4 1/2 miles upstream by car allowing you to float down stream with the final destination being Crystal Paradise. There are several optional stops between the drop off point and Crystal Paradise, such as the Butterfly Farm and the Natural History Center at Chaa Creek.

Laguna Aguacate /Spanish Lookout (Mennonite community)

Spanish CreekThe modern Mennonite settlement of Spanish Lookout lies about 45 minutes north of Crystal Paradise. The area provides excellent bird watching, as well as an opportunity to witness the unique Mennonite way of life.

Mennonites are a Protestant evangelical religious group, which originated in Switzerland and the Netherlands at the time of the Protestant Reformation, among the different groups are the Amish of Pennsylvania in the United States. In 1958 the first two groups of Mennonite settlers left their farms in northern Mexico and made the migration to Belize, then a strange and unknown land called British Honduras. The settlements planted corn, beans, and other crops, and started raising chicken and dairy cows.

In the 1960’s, agriculture made great strides at Spanish Lookout. Unlike the more traditional Mennonite settlement at Barton Creek that does not use mechanized technology, the Spanish Lookout Mennonites brought old, inexpensive machinery to use on the fields. Their economy improved rapidly, and now there are paved roads, feed mills, a dairy, huge stretch of farmland and modern machinery. Spanish Lookout now provides a large portion of the food in the country.

Tiger HeronSpanish Lookout is accessed by a beautiful drive through rolling hills. Several different habitats it in the area makes it a favorable birding destination. The area consists of savannah, open farmland, and subtropical forest around the lake.

In the open land and pastures it is easy to find Vermillion Flycatchers, Fork-Tailed Flycatchers, Yellow-Rumped Warblers, White-Tailed Kites, Laughing Falcons, Eastern Medowlarks and Northern Rough-Wings Swallows.

Aguacate Lagoon Reserve is located about 20 minutes beyond the community, and provides a birdwatcher’s paradise. In the forest around the lake common sighting may include jacamars, trogons, Puff-birds, guans, Great Curassows and a variety of hawks and falcons. The lake itself attracts water birds such as the Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Night Herons, Anhingas and Neotropic Cormmorants.