Tropical Ecology Institute: Itinerary
DAY 1 – Tuesday, July 24 – 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 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 DuPlooy’s Jungle Lodge, our accommodation for the next three nights. We have an opportunity to explore and enjoy our new surroundings with our guide, and learn about local conservation projects and the environmental education work sponsored by them.
Day 2 – WEDNESDAY, JULY 25 – BELIZE RIVER / MOUNTAIN PINE RIDGE
After breakfast and early morning birding we travel through the Mountain Pine Ridge to Domingo Ruiz Cave which is spectacular. The cave is almost completely unknown to those who aren’t native Belizean or researchers. Afterwards we stop for a swim at Rio On Pools where a mountain river cascades over huge boulders and then visit Rio Frio cave on our way out. 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 – THURSDAY, JULY 26 – MACAL RIVER
This morning 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 visit the craft market along the river then return to duPlooy’s for lunch. Afterwards we board our canoes on the Macal River and paddle leisurely down this beautiful tropical river observing a variety of birds and animals including huge iguanas sunning themselves on overhanging tree branches. We stop often to collect figs along the way to San Ignacio where our vehicle is waiting. Before dinner we do an investigation of fig natural history and reproduction.
Day 4 – FRIDAY, JULY 27 – BELIZE ZOO / Blue Hole /COCKSCOMB BASIN JAGUAR PRESERVE
After breakfast we head the the Belize Zoo to visit with Director Sharon Matola and see the native wildlife. After lunch we make a stop at the market in Belmopan, the capital. Then we head to Blue Hole National Park. There is time for a swim in the refreshing water and investigate an underground river where it emerges for about 150 yards before disappearing into the limestone bedrock. Afterwards we continue our travel southeast across Belize 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.
DAY 5 – SATURDAY, JULY 28 – COCKSCOMB BASIN JAGUAR PRESERVE / MONKEY RIVER
This morning we travel out of the preserve and down the Southern Highway to Monkey River. The museum has been a supporter of the school here at Monkey River Town for many years and we have the opportunity today to visit the school and learn about their current activities and future projects. Students range in grade level from pre-Kindergarten to eighth grade. Lunch is prepared for us at Clive’s and then we return to Maya Center for a tour and dinner at our friend Julio’s and perhaps visit with some of the students from the area. In the evening we take another walk in the forest searching for nocturnal creatures.
DAY 6 – SUNDAY, JULY 29 – COCKSCOMB BASIN JAGUAR PRESERVE / DANGRIGA / SOUTH WATER CAYE
Before leaving the Jaguar Preserve this morning we have time for a hike to the Cockscomb Basin waterfall where we have sometimes seen jaguar tracks in the past. 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 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.
Day 7 – MONDAY, JULY 30 – SOUTH WATER CAYE MARINE RESERVE
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 some of fascinating fish we are likely to see include 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 then after dinner we snorkel from the beach with lights in order to see how the colors change as the coral opens up. Tonight we might 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 – TUESDAY, July 31 – 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 from the station manager and researchers 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.
Day 9 – WEDNESDAY, August 1 – SOUTH WATER CAYE / DANGRIGA / BELIZE CITY / RALEIGH
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.