The Heart of Adventure: The World's Top Jungles

Belize: Wild Creatures, Lost Cities

If the world had any ends, British Honduras would certainly be one of them, Aldous Huxley said. "It's not on the way from anywhere to anywhere." In 1981 this tiny country on the Caribbean, just south of the Yucatan Peninsula, gained independence as Belize. Unlike other Latin American nations, English is the official language.
The dense rainforests, subtropical pine-covered mountains, grassy savannah, and mangrove swamps are home to a great diversity of both temperate and tropical fauna. Belize also has the world's second largest barrier reef.

More than a thousand years ago Belize was the center of a vast Mayan empire; now only ruins testify to a time when the jungle was anything but still. Today, the country is a major archaeological center. New sites are still being rediscovered in the jungle. Xunantunich, near the border with Guatemala, is the most extensively excavated site. Located on a natural limestone ridge, the ancient city still offers a spectacular view down to the Mopan River and the surrounding forest. The 130-foot pyramid, El Castillo, is the tallest building in Belize even today. Another important site is Caracol, the Mayans' ceremonial center, a remote lost city located in the Chiquibil Forest Reserve, which can be reached only through guided treks. Lamani is another ceremonial center, which was in use for almost 3,500 years up until the 19th century.

Belize's natural resources make it an ideal jungle destination. Unlike many other tropical regions, Belize still has extensive tracts of virgin rainforest. In 1986, Belize established the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, the world's first jaguar preserve. Other cats protected in the preserve include the jaguarundi, margay, and ocelot. Spider monkeys, fox, coatamundi, kinkajous, peccaries, tapir, and white-tailed deer also live in the park.

A typical three- to seven-day trips explores rainforests, nature centers, and Mayan ruins, among other sites, using quaint, thatched-roof cottages along the riverside of Chaa Creek as a base. Popular activities include hiking, mountain biking, canoeing, and horseback riding. Archaeology and natural history tours plus more rugged camping itineraries are also commonly offered.
A new, less expensive camping facility on the Macal River has been developed to handle student groups and more adventurous visitors. Guests stay in tents set up on raised platforms built under the forest canopy a half-mile down stream from the cottages.

Practically Speaking
Located within the Tropic of Cancer, Belize is a warm, humid country, dominated by dense tropical rainforest and pine savannah. Daily temperatures average in the mid-80s year-round, dropping about ten degrees in the evening. Evaporation from the jungle vegetation creates a very humid environment once you get more than a few miles inland. Water temperatures are ideal for swimming and diving, ranging between 75-82 degrees. Belize gets far less precipitation than other jungle areas such as the Amazon, and when it does rain, the showers are relatively light, falling for short spans in the afternoon. No immunizations are required for travel to Belize, and malaria is not a serious problem, though taking anti-malarial medication is advisable. On most tours, you'll be staying in decent hotels or lodges with potable water. River water can be unhealthful, and should be avoided.

Paul McMenamin is the author, editor, and photo director of the original Ultimate Adventure Sourcebook.

Published: 30 Jan 2001 | Last Updated: 4 Dec 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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