Protected Areas

Discover the world of the ancient Maya as you pass through the hourglass-shaped opening of the beautiful Actun Tunichil Muknal cave located in the karstic limestone terrain of Roaring Creek Valley. Actun Tunichil Muknal- the Cave of the Stone Sepulcher is one of the most thrilling caving experiences Belize has to offer. The cave was first discovered in 1989, and was originally part of the 6,741 acre Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve, situated in the limestone karst at the northern limits of the Maya Mountains. The 455 acre site was excised from Tapir Mountain in January 2004 (SI 16 of 2004) to allow access for tourism. Globally threatened species protected by the forests of this Natural Monument include the Yucatan black howler monkey and Baird’s tapir. Cave dwelling species, such as bats, freshwater cave crabs, shrimps and whip scorpions are also protected within the cave system.

The Billy Barquedier National Park is located in the Stann Creek District just north of the Hummingbird Highway through the mountains of the beautiful “Emerald Valley”.  The closest community is that of Steadfast Villagewhich lies just south of the park. The National Park was legally established December 2001 after 7 years of lobbying for the protection of the Barquedier watershed which provides two communities with potable water.  The Barquedier watershed empties into the North Stann Creek and eventually into the sea in Dangriga.  The park contains approximately 1630 acres of tropical evergreen seasonal broad-leaved lowland hill forest and pristine watershed terrain, and extends from the Stann Creek Valley, and Billy Barquedier Waterfalls for approximately 4 miles northwards, over the mountains to the Mullins River Basin where it is bounded by the Mullins River and the Manatee Forest Reserve. The National Park designation supports the protection of the watersheds, and allows for low-impact non-extractive activities such as education, tourism and research activities. Signs of the keel billed mot mot, great curassow, jaguar, Baird’s tapir, and black howler monkeys are often encountered.

Park Information: Day-trippers looking for a quick dip at a scenic spot to cool off? Try BBNP waterfall located at 17 miles.  Have time on your hands?  Are you into roughing it? Try a trip into BBNP jungle. (Mile 16 ½)  Our licensed guide (a must) will show you the beauty of the park. We make your safety our priority.  A birder’s delight, a bird list is available by WCS ornithologist Carolyn Miller. The hike into the park is for the physically fit.  You’ve been warned!Belizeans/Residents 2.00, Tourist $8.00, Children/Students $ 1.00, Jungle-Camping 16 ½ miles 10.00 per person/night Guide is extra and a must.

The Bladen Nature Reserve, considered the crown jewel of Belizean protected areas, Bladen Nature Reserve (BNR) is a 100,000 acre, pristine natural forest in southern Belize.  It is considered to be one of the most biodiversity-rich, and topographically unique areas within the Mesoamerican “biodiversity hotspot”. BNR is the center piece of the Maya Mountain Corridor, creating a crucial link in the last remaining large, intact block of forest in the region.  Bladen harbours a total of twenty ecosystem types, ranging from broadleaf lowland hill forest to submontane forest, riparian shrubland and short grass savanna providing protection for at least 19 species of international concern. The wet forests of western Bladen and the contiguous north-west plateau of Columbia River Forest Reserve harbour the most diverse amphibian fauna in Belize with the high probability of several species being new to science. Harpy Eagles, Scarlet Macaws and five cat species, including the jaguar, all thrive in this large territory of old growth forest. Few other areas of Mesoamerica provide enough forest to support this wide array of species. Bladen Nature Reserve was established in 1990 following field expeditions indicating its very high biodiversity and the near-pristine condition of its forests.

Block 127 is managed as a private protected area by the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment.  Block 127, a 9,232 acre parcel of land provides a critical link within the Golden Stream Corridor, lying between the Golden Watershed Corridor Preserve, (managed by Ya’axché Conservation Trust), and the Port Honduras Marine Reserve maintaining connectivity and watershed functionality between the Maya Mountains Massif and the barrier reef. The lands are part of a block of large, unfragmented, moist tropical forest that serves as a biological corridor for important species such as jaguar, puma, margay, ocelot and jaguarundi, which require large units of forest for their mobility and survival.

The Blue Hole is a stunning jewel set in a ring of corals. Measuring 1,000 feet across and 412 feet deep, this ocean-floor sinkhole is believed to be the world’s largest blue hole. Divers descend into the Blue Hole’s tranquil abyss to see geological wonders and fascinating marine life. Giant stalactites, dripstone sheets, and columns are located in the Gallery at the southern rim of the Great Blue Hole. These structures formed in a dry cavern above sea level during glacial periods. It is part of Belize’s World Heritage Site and attracts divers from all over the world. Largely unexplored in terms of biodiversity, it is thought that it may protect unique crypto faunal assemblages, with as yet unidentified species.The 1,023 acre Natural Monument is a national protected area, designated as a Natural Monument in 1996 to protect the geological formations found within the sinkhole. It was designated by UNESCO in 1996 as one of seven protected areas that combine to form the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System – World Heritage Site.

The Caye Caulker Forest Reserve, the northernmost 100 acres of the island, was declared in May of 1998 and co-management agreement signed between the Forest Department and FAMRACC (Forest and Marine Reserves Association of Caye Caulker) on May 14, 2001.  The littoral forest on Caye Caulker has three kinds of mangrove, red, white and black, as well as a number of other trees. Other trees include buttonwood, gumbo limbo, poisonwood, madre de cacao, ficus, and ziracote. Coconuts and causarina (Australian pines) abound even though they are not native to this area. Mangroves grow in shallow water and accumulate decaying leaves and fish nurseries under their roots, as well as sponges, gorgonians, anemones, and other colourful sea creatures. Eventually some areas accumulate enough to rise above sea level, at least in the dry season. Between these areas are lagoons.  This is an excellent habitat for crocodiles, turtles, fish, and waterbirds. The reserve is home to many birds, including some birds rarely seen elsewhere, such as the white-crowned pigeon, rufus-necked rail and black catbird. Some birds remain year round, but many are transients that pass through in the Spring and/or Fall or spend the winter here. Mangrove warblers can also be seen flitting around in the mangrove all year long.

Caye Caulker Marine Reserve lies to the east of the tourism island destination of Caye Caulker and includes five habitats: mangrove, littoral forests, lagoon marsh-lands, sea grass beds and the coral reef. The Marine Reserve is focused on the marine areas, and is divided into the three zones of Preservation, Conservation and General Use. The reserve extends approximately a mile beyond the reef and is easily accessible from Caye Caulker, a popular tourism destination, and provides sheltered snorkeling and diving opportunities.

Caye Caulker Marine Reserve was established following lobbying by the Siwa-ban Foundation and other Caye Caulker stakeholders from the early 1990’s onward. The eventual designation of the area as a Marine Reserve occurred in 1998.

 

Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary encompasses 122,260 acres (49,477 ha) of the Maya Mountains Massif. It was established following research work in the area in the 1980’s, which highlighted its value for jaguars. Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is recognized internationally as the world’s first jaguar preserve. It is also known for its spectacular waterfalls, mountain views, nature trails, and rich diversity of neotropical birds. The tracks of wildcats, tapir, deer, and other wildlife are often seen on hiking trails or along the bank of South Stann Creek. It also provides access to Victoria Peak, the highest peak in Belize.

Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary contains a mosaic of wetlands and terrestrial habitats, which make it one of the best birding destinations in Belize. From the commonly seen Northern Jacana to the elusive Sungrebe, Crooked Tree offers an enjoyable experience for birders of any skill level. With 16,400 acres of lagoons, creeks, logwood swamps, broadleaf forest and pine savanna, you will be sure to see a wide array of wildlife. The Sanctuary protects globally endangered species including the Central American River Turtle (locally known as Hickatee), Morelet’s Crocodile, Mexican Black Howler Monkey, and Yellow-headed Parrot.

The Community Baboon Sanctuary is a community initiative that was established to protect the Yucatan black howler monkeys of the Bermudian Landing area, whilst also promoting sustainable tourism within the Belize River Valley communities. The Sanctuary was founded by Dr. Robert Horwich, an American primatologist and Fallet Young, a landowner in the village of Bermudian Landing, in 1985 with the initial participation of 12 landowners. As it has grown, it has helped ensure the protection of not just Black Howler Monkeys, but many species of flora and fauna in the area. Visiting the Sanctuary: The CBS promises a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the adventurous traveler and a unique and pleasant experience for the casual visitor. There are comfortable and welcoming places to stay right at the sanctuary and many opportunities for exciting tours of the surrounding rainforest, river, and wildlife. Tours range from casual nature walks to exciting nighttime crocodile expeditions. Park activities include: River Tours, Birding, and educating the local communities.

The Sanctuary is located just outside of Belize City approximately an hour drive. If you’re visiting Belize by car, it’s an easy and safe drive. If you don’t have a car, local tour operators in Belize City offer regular trips to the Sanctuary. You can camp, stay with a community member in a local Bed and Breakfast, or you can stay in one of the local lodges.

Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve lies offshore, on the Barrier Reef, 36km east of Placencia. Since the 1920s, fishermen have congregated at Gladden Spit on the Belize Barrier Reef to harvest mutton snapper and grouper. In 1997, a team of scientists and local fishermen found that for ten days after the full moon of each lunar cycle between March and June, the whale sharks gather, feeding on the spawn produced by thousands of fish that form the Gladden Spit spawning aggregation. In 2001, the site of the whale sharks was declared a protected area, Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve (GSSCMR). In 2002, a local NGO called Friends of Nature (now the Southern Environmental Association, SEA) signed a Memo Of Understanding with the Government of Belize to co-manage the Reserve. SEA Belize continues to study the spawning fish every month. Teams of divers go to the site twice a day for at least 10 days after the full moon. Over 20 different species of reef fishes come together at the site each with its own month and moon-timing, a biological clock.  

Golden Stream Corridor Preserve forms a strategic biological corridor that stretches from the Maya Mountains to the coastal mangrove forests of Belize’s southern coast; the Golden Stream Corridor plays a critical role in protecting the Golden Stream Watershed and reducing negative impacts on Port Honduras Marine Reserve. The 14,970 acre preserve is owned and managed by Ya’axché. In addition to its role as a biological corridor, it is itself home to and protects an impressive array of biodiversity which includes 17 major ecosystems, hundreds of plant species with 19 amphibian, 270 bird, 20 fish, 59 mammal and 54 reptile species identified to date. It is also important as an instrument of biological exchange between Belize’s terrestrial and marine ecosystems.

Guanacaste National Park is a popular recreational getaway only two miles from the capital city of Belmopan, at the confluence of the Belize River and Roaring Creek. The park’s small size allows visitors to experience the biodiversity of a tropical forest making this park a symbolic conservation site and an important educational resource for schools and all visitors. Facilities include a Visitors Centre, bird deck, swimming deck and a well maintained trail system. The Habitat consists of secondary broadleaf forest, which benefits many birds and wildlife, including the shy and secretive “tiger cat” or jaguarundi. TheGuanacaste National Park is a non-extractive protected area, with the primary management goal of promoting understanding of nature and the environment, in order to foster respect for the park and its personnel among local citizens and visitors. Research, educational and recreational activities are permitted, but no extractive use is allowed.

Half Moon Caye Natural Monument was the first protected area in Belize, and the first marine protected area in Central America. It was initially established as a crown reserve in 1928 to protect the large nesting colony of white-phase red-footed boobies and magnificent frigate birds. It was then extended to include a marine component in 1982. The protected area consists of both terrestrial and marine components, and is centered on Half Moon Caye, with its littoral forest and impressive bird nesting colony. Half Moon Caye is located at the southeast corner of Lighthouse Reef Atoll, the furthest of Belize’s three atolls from the mainland, and one of only four such atolls in the Western Hemisphere. The atoll is an asymmetric rimmed platform, entirely surrounded by a fringing reef rising virtually to the surface. Inside this fringing reef is a lagoon speckled with hundreds of coral patches. Snorkelers can access beautiful coral patches from the Western Beach of Half Moon Caye. The reef, including the spectacular wall where the atoll drops away into the depths, is highlighted for its density and diversity of both corals and fish. In the deeper waters on the south of the protected area is one of Belize’s internationally important fish spawning aggregation sites. Nassau groupers, once the second most commonly caught fish in Belize, have sharply declined because of unsustainable fishing.  Half Moon Caye protects the healthiest grouper aggregation in Belize. The diverse variety of marine life within the Half Moon Caye Natural Monument is considered to be some of the most pristine in Belize, and even the region.

Laughing Bird Caye National Park named for the Laughing Gulls that once nested there in large numbers, lies to the east-south-east of Placencia and is one of seven marine protected areas declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. The National Park is based around a long, narrow caye sitting on an elongated ridge of reef known as a faro. Its beauty, high diversity of coral habitats and associated marine life, sandy beaches and clear, shallow waters, combined with its proximity (11 miles) to Placencia, has made it a popular tourist destination for over 20 years.
The protected waters of Laughing Bird Caye National Park serve as an important source for conch, with high densities of reproductive adults being recorded within the park. Other species such as lobster and finfish also flourish within the park boundaries. The sandy beaches of the caye itself provide crucial nesting grounds for hawksbill turtles, and the remaining littoral forest and herbaceous beach vegetation supports a number of nesting birds and provides a stopping point for migratory birds.

Mayflower Bocawina, designated a National Park in 2001, is located in Stann Creek District14 miles south of Dangriga, and 4 miles off the Southern Highway. The Park contains 7000 acres of pristine lowland broadleaf forest, waterfalls and three archaeological sites, which have received significant attention under the Mayflower Archaeological Project.The park has miles of trails leading through jungle on the way to the waterfalls, Maya ruins and other natural features.The majority of the forest of Mayflower Bocawina National Park is Tropical evergreen seasonal broad-leaved lowland hill forest. Several threatened species have been recorded in the area, including the endangered Yucatan black howler monkey, spider monkey and Baird’s tapir and the sabrinus and Sanderson’s rain frogs. A number of vulnerable species also occur here including the Spanish cedar and mahogany, great curassow, crested guan and keel-billed motmot. Other species of note include the ocellated turkey and the water opossum.The National Park designation supports the protection of the watersheds, and allows for low-impact non-extractive activities such as education, tourism and research activities.

Park Information: On the hike up Bocawina Hill visitors will discover the Upper and Lower Bocawina Falls.  A hike to the upper falls can be rewarded with a swim in a cool pool at the base of a 50ft waterfall. For the most adventurous traveler, a hike up to antelope falls reveals a 100 ft water fall with an incredible view from the bluff all the way to the sea. The park also boasts several un-excavated Mayan mounds.

Payne’s Creek National Park is located in the Toledo District and protects approximately 37,680 acres of hypersaline, saline, brackish and freshwater wetland habitats, thick mangroves, broadleaf forest and savanna, and wildlife. The park forms a significant part of the Maya Mountain Marine Corridor, providing connectivity between the Maya Mountains and the reef. It was designated to protect distinctive physical features, including the Punta Ycacos Lagoon system itself, and the extensive sequence of coastal ridges and intervening pond systems formed from sediment discharged from Monkey River.  The National Park was declared as a protected area in May 1994. The park is home to jaguar, ocelots and howler monkeys to name just a few. The well known Punta Ycacos Lagoon is an important West Indian manatee breeding ground; though manatees are threatened with extinction, the species has continued to thrive in Southern Belize. 

Port Honduras Marine Reserve, located in the southern coastal waters of Belize, is a semi-estuarine system that stretches from Monkey River to beyond Rio Grande, extending approximately 8 kilometers out to sea. The crystal clear blue Caribbean waters of the Port Honduras Marine Reserve is home to the popular Snake Cayes where visitors can find white sand beaches, migratory birds and even boa constrictors! PHMR is a 160 square mile marine reserve recognized for its high biodiversity; with a robust belt of mangroves on the coast that provide the critical link between terrestrial and marine environments, the area serves as habitat for various endangered species including the West Indian Manatee, the American saltwater crocodile and the Morelet’s crocodile. The Reserve has also been highlighted for its relatively high value as a fish nursery area, and its role in maintaining the viability of local manatee populations.

 

Rio Blanco National Park, situated in Toledo District, encompasses an area of approximately 94 acres consisting of secondary broadleaf forest surrounding an impressive waterfall and plunge pool that has long been used as a local recreational area. It was designated as a National Park in 1994, under the Statutory Instrument 41, in response to lobbying for protection for its scenic values and ecotourism potential, by the Toledo Eco-tourism Association and villagers from the nearby communities of Santa Cruz and Santa Elena. The Rio Blanco National Park lies approximately 6km from the southern boundary of the Columbia River Forest Reserve, within a heavily human-impacted landscape. The main value of the Park is therefore the preservation of the scenic beauty of the Rio Blanco Waterfall.The National Park is under the administration of the Forest Department, with co-management by the Rio Blanco Mayan Association – established by community members from Santa Cruz and Santa Elena.

The Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area is its flagship project where Programme for Belize demonstrates the practical application of its principles. The business of PFB on the Rio Bravo is conservation of tropical forest.  To date we have secured 260,000 acres of forested land in north-western Belize, designated as the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area (RBCMA) that was otherwise destined for clearance.  Approximately half of this land is managed as a reserve for the protection of biodiversity and natural habitats.  On the RBCMA, PFB conducts research, conservation education, professional training and promotes environmental awareness amongst visitors.  National parks and reserves as islands in a sea of agriculture are not however adequate responses on their own to the issue of tropical forest conservation.

Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve is a part of Belize’s Barrier Reef World Heritage Site and is the most southern of the marine protected areas in Belize. It covers an approximate area of 38,595 acres and fourteen privately-owned palm-fringed sand or mangrove cayes.  Here, coral biodiversity is at its highest in Belize.

Sarstoon-Temash is named after the two rivers and watersheds within which it lies – the Sarstoon and the Temash. The Sarstoon-Temash National Park is Belize’s southernmost Protected Area bounded to the south by the Sarstoon River, the border with Guatemala, and by the Caribbean Sea to the east. Encompassing 41,855 acres, Sarstoon-Temash is one of Belize’s larger National Parks. The 41,855 acres consists of broadleaf, wetland and mangrove forest. The park encompasses 14 different natural ecosystems ranging from coastal fringe mangrove to swamp and lowland hill forests. The documented fauna of the STNP include 226 species of birds, 24 mammals species including Jaguar, Jaguarundi, Ocelot and Manatee, 22 reptile species including the Morelet’s Crocodile, 42 fish species and 46 species of Lepidoptera (the butterfly and moth family). The critically endangered Central American river turtle (hicatee) still occurs in the National Park. The endangered Yucatan black howler monkey and Baird’s tapir occur in the Park, and the vulnerable West Indian Manatee is recorded significant distances up the rivers. The park contains plant species and ecosystems found nowhere else in Belize and is said to house some of the best examples of undisturbed red mangrove forest in the region.Uses within the protected area includeNon-extractive – tourism, education and research; sustainable extraction of Non- timber forest products.  

Spanish Creek Wildlife Sanctuary, declared a protected area in June 2002, is 5,900 acres situated along 5 miles of Spanish Creek. The Wildlife Sanctuarylies within the Belize River watershed, along Spanish Creek, south of Rancho Dolores. This Wildlife Sanctuary forms an important linkthe Northern Biological Corridor. The protected areais considered to be a potential resource forlocal tourism, witha number of features of touristic value including high birddiversity, and the presence of prominent species suchas Morelet’s crocodileand the blackhowler monkey.

Spanish Creek Wildlife Sanctuary was established for the protection of local biodiversity, and to strengthen corridor connectivity between Rio Bravo, the Community Baboon Sanctuary and Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary. Uses within the Wildlife Sanctuary include Non-extractive – tourism, education and research.

The 574.5-acre St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park, conveniently located at mile 12 miles on the Hummingbird Highway southwest of Belmopan City, is a popular recreational site, attracting local and international visitors, with the clear waters of the karstic sink hole, and the accessible cave system, both characteristic of the karstic landscape, within a tropical forest known for its excellent birding. The park’s unique geological features and biodiversity also provides a variety of educational opportunities making it a key educational resource for schools across Belize. Flowing water emerges from the base of the deep, collapsed karst sinkhole, forming the pool from which the park receives its name. It then disappears once more into a second cave, eventually flowing into Caves Branch, a tributary to the Sibun River. The Park was officially declared in 1986, for the “protection and preservation of natural and scenic values of national significance for the benefit and enjoyment of the general public.” The protected area was established as the ‘Blue Hole National Park’, but was later changed in 2005 to ‘St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park’. St. Herman’s Cave is of archaeological importance, with Maya using it during the Classic Period, as demonstrated by the pottery vessels, spears, and torches found there. The Blue Hole and St. Herman’s Cave are linked by the water that flows through them. Two primary ecosystems are protected by St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park – Tropical evergreen seasonal broad-leaved lowland hill forest on steep karstic terrain and Tropical evergreen seasonal broad-leaved lowland hill forest on rolling karstic terrain – both are limestone-loving tropical broad-leaf forests. The park is also home to approximately 226 species of birds including species of conservation concern such as the Great Curassow, Crested Guan, and King Vulture.

Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary is comprised of approximately 8,972 acres of shallow waters and mangrove cayes ecosystems within the Northern Drowned Cayes and Swallow Caye areas. It was established in response to lobbying by Lionel “Chocolate” Heredia, along with Friends of Swallow Caye and tour guides from Belize City, Caye Caulker and San Pedro, to protect this important feeding and breeding area of the vulnerable West Indian manatee. There are numerous manatees in and around the Sanctuary as well as other species. Since being made a sanctuary in 2002, there is limited motorboat and anchor traffic which helps protect the manatee and their habitat. You can receive a guided tour of the manatees and often times they will swim right up to the boat.

Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve is one of the few areas protecting the biological diversity of the Maya Mountain northern foothills ecosystem. Subtropical and tropical moist forests provide important habitat for birds and other wildlife including the Baird’s tapir, Belize’s national animal. Located in the Cayo District of Belize, this 6,471 acre reserve is dominated by rugged limestone hills with numerous caves and sinkholes. Actun Tunichil Muknal Natural Monument, an impressive cave with Maya artefacts, borders the Reserve. Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve has been set aside as a scientific reserve for the protection of nature, be it biological communities or species, and to maintain natural processes in an undisturbed state in order to have ecologically representative examples of the natural environment available for scientific study, monitoring, education, and the maintenance of genetic resources.

Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve is one of the few areas protecting the biological diversity of the Maya Mountain northern foothills ecosystem. Subtropical and tropical moist forests provide important habitat for birds and other wildlife including the Baird’s tapir, Belize’s national animal. Located in the Cayo District of Belize, this 6,471 acre reserve is dominated by rugged limestone hills with numerous caves and sinkholes. Actun Tunichil Muknal Natural Monument, an impressive cave with Maya artefacts, borders the Reserve. Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve has been set aside as a scientific reserve for the protection of nature, be it biological communities or species, and to maintain natural processes in an undisturbed state in order to have ecologically representative examples of the natural environment available for scientific study, monitoring, education, and the maintenance of genetic resources.

The 4,847 acres of the Victoria Peak Natural Monument lies within the Maya Mountains – a landscape of ridge crests, rolling hills and river flood plains, cloaked in tropical broadleaf evergreen forest. Victoria Peak is the highest mountain in the range at a height of 3,675 feet and the second highest elevation in Belize. The Victoria Peak Trail is open during Belize’s dry season, February 1 – May 31. The out-and-back Victoria Peak Trail, which is 24 kilometers or approximately 15 miles one-way, is a 3-4 day hiking adventure in the great wilderness of Belize. All hikers must be accompanied by a licensed tour guide (experienced tour guides can be hired from the local communities buffering the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary).Victoria Peak Natural Monument, as an integral component of the Cockscomb area, is home to a very significant percentage of the species found in Belize. It is also particularly important for the protection of upper elevation species, including threatened amphibians, keel billed mot mots and orchids.As a Natural Monument, Victoria Peak is a non extractive protected area, with the management goal of protecting and preserving natural resources and nationally significant natural features…for the benefit of current and future generations.