Tropical Ecology Institute: Itinerary

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DAY 1 – Monday, July 17 – Raleigh / BELIZE CITY / CAYO

The annual program for North Carolina teachers in Belize begins early this morning as we fly to Belize City. Upon arrival we meet two Belizean teachers who are joining us along with our naturalist guide, Nathan Forbes. We will immediately travel to the Bermudian Landing Howler Monkey Sanctuary where in 1985 local farmers, the Belize Audubon Society and the World Wildlife Fund established this unique voluntary sanctuary. Black howler monkeys, locally called baboons, live in small, closely knit groups which are often quite accessible. We continue to Sweet Songs Jungle Lodge, our accommodation for the next three nights. We have an opportunity to explore and enjoy our new surroundings with our guide before our first Belizean dinner.

Day 2 – Tuesday, July 18 – BELIZE RIVER / MOUNTAIN PINE RIDGE 

After breakfast and early morning birding, we travel through the Mountain Pine Ridge to Domingo Ruiz Cave, where we’ll look for interesting cave dwelling species and spend a moment in total darkness. We’ll have a picnic lunch at Rio Frio Cave and take a walk through it – it has openings at both ends for easy daytime exploration. Afterwards we stop for a swim at Rio On Pools where a mountain river cascades over huge boulders. We are back at the lodge late in the afternoon but in time to freshen up before enjoying dinner. Every night possible we take an evening walk in search of nocturnal creatures. Not only will we spot interesting things, but the sounds are incredible.

DAY 3 – Wednesday, July 19 – MACAL RIVER

After more early morning birding, we travel to the western part of the Cayo District and ferry cross the Mopan River to reach the ruins of Xunantunich. This Late Classic site is the largest in the Belize River Valley and the longest established archaeological site in Belize. The hilltop location provides a panoramic view of house mounds, pyramids, palaces and three ceremonial plazas. The largest pyramid is decorated with friezes and masks in the Classic style. We will head back to the lodge for a Maya tortilla making lesson and lunch before boarding canoes. We will paddle leisurely down the beautiful Macal River, observing a variety of birds and animals including huge iguanas sunning themselves on overhanging tree branches. We stop often to collect or observe, all the way to San Ignacio where our vehicle is waiting. We return in time to work on journals or to enjoy the surroundings before packing our bags to change locations tomorrow.


This morning our packed bags should be ready to go before breakfast. We’ll head to the Belize Zoo where we will have the chance to get to know some of the more reclusive inhabitants of Belize. We’ll have lunch at the Belize Zoo before heading to a market in the capital city of Belmopan. Then we take a short hike through the forest at Blue Hole National Park. There is time for a swim in the refreshing water: an underground river that emerges for about 150 yards before disappearing into the limestone bedrock. Afterwards we continue our travel southeast on the Hummingbird Highway, the most scenic road in Belize. We are soon driving out of the mountains and back into coastal savannahs on our way to the village of Maya Center, the access point for the Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Preserve. Created by the Belize government in 1984, the Jaguar Preserve was the first protected area with the entire jaguar range that was managed specifically for this elusive cat. This unique sanctuary covers an area of about 150 square miles of tropical forest and is the culmination of many years of work and perseverance by individuals and organizations. There are four other wild cats roaming the Southern Maya Mountains – margay, ocelot, jaguarondi and mountain lion. Though it is very unlikely to see jaguar because they are primarily nocturnal, we will certainly see evidence of their presence. Our accommodations are simple and we spend the next two nights here as our base in order to fully explore the preserve and to visit the southern part of Belize.


We will spend much of the day exploring the Jaguar Preserve! We will have the opportunity to hike some of the trails looking for wildlife. We’re likely to see a large variety of birds, and though it’s unlikely, we can always hope that we’ll have the chance to glimpse one of the secretive species of wild cats that call the area home. We’ll take a dip in a waterfall pool to cool off before heading to Maya Centre for a tour and chocolate-making demonstration at Che’il Mayan Products. We’ll have the chance to get to know the owner, Julio Saqui, over dinner before stopping at a small pool for late-night amphibian explorations on our return to our lodging in the Jaguar Preserve


After an early morning bird walk in the Jaguar Preserve, we will load the bus and head back to Maya Centre, where we work on a service project to serve the community. We’re still working out these details, and will let you know more when we can! Then we drive up the Caribbean coast to the town of Dangriga where lunch is waiting at Pelican Beach. Afterwards our boat takes us to the island of South Water Caye. It is located directly on the Great Barrier Reef of Belize, second largest in the world and largest in the Western Hemisphere. South Water Caye is a small island of white sands and coconut palms and our accommodations are located right at the water’s edge. It is a choice location because there is great snorkeling right from the beach. Of course, our meals will feature fresh seafood along with home grown vegetables and fruits. This afternoon, we will have an orientation to the island and the barrier reef before practicing our snorkeling skills for as long as we like along the inner reef.


This morning we board our boats for a snorkeling excursion to some of the great sites in the calm, protected waters of South Water Marine Reserve, the largest marine park in Belize. The coral is fabulous and we are likely to see many species of fascinating fish, including rainbow parrotfish, Nassau grouper, and spotted eagle ray. The afternoon is free to relax and enjoy more snorkeling right from the beach. If conditions are right, after dinner we snorkel from the beach with lights in order to see how the colors change as the coral opens up. At night, we will set up a turtle watch because in the past we have seen both loggerhead and hawksbill turtles coming up to the beach at night to lay eggs as well as seeing baby loggerhead turtles climbing from their nests and entering the water to begin their life at sea.

DAY 8 –Monday, July 24 – SOUTH WATER CAYE

After breakfast we enjoy a great day on our tropical island as we go out snorkeling again by boat. First, we visit a caye commonly known as Bird Island where we find great frigate birds, brown boobies and brown pelicans. Next, we visit the mangroves on Twin Cayes where we divide into small groups to investigate the marine life there. Mangroves are nurseries for baby sea creatures. Here we see baby snappers, barracuda starfish, rays sergeant majors and sea urchins along with a large number of upside down jellyfish covering the sea floor. In addition to these wonderful snorkeling sites we also visit Carrie Bow Caye, the location of the Smithsonian’s marine research facility, to learn about the work going on there. The afternoon is completely free for more snorkeling or to just relax and enjoy the beach. Tonight, we have entertainment planned as a special treat.


Breakfast is early and then we say goodbye to our extended Belize family and travel again by boat to Dangriga where our vehicle is waiting to take us overland to Belize International Airport. Here we catch our flight back to the USA and home.