Trip Number: 13515A
Staff: Barry Morenz
- Explore ancient Mayan ruins
- See dramatic tropical birds
- Visit small Caribbean islands
- All lodging and transportation
- All guides and gratuities
- All meals
Photo: Barry Morenz
As you stand on top of a temple and hear the howler monkeys roar and see brilliantly
colored parrots flying in to their evening roosts at sunset, you’ll be
transported to another time, and a world that is a source of mystery and awe.
Belize is home to an amazing variety of scenery, flora, and fauna. This small
English-speaking democracy is well known for its commitment to environmentalism
and the conservation of its precious natural and cultural assets. The tropical
rainforest of the interior is home to more than 300 species of birds, exotic
plants, flowers, and animals. Offshore lie the turquoise waters of the Caribbean
and the 150-mile-long barrier reef -- second largest in the world -- dotted
with beautiful islands called cayes. In these crystal waters are fantastically
colored fish, dolphins, manatees, sea turtles, and ornate coral formations.
Belize, formerly British Honduras, is largely covered by tropical forests,
and the country teems with wildlife: jaguars, pumas, ocelots, tapirs, iguanas,
manatees, howler monkeys, hundreds of species of birds, including Jabiru stork,
toucans, herons, macaws, parakeets and more! Though only 8,800 square miles,
Belize is a place of rich and diverse heritage; Mayan, African, Hispanic, Caribbean,
Located in Central America, Belize and Guatemala are both part of the Yucatan
Peninsula and the region called "La Ruta Maya," which has been home
to the Maya for 3,000 years. In neighboring Guatemala we find a colorful, dynamic
country reemerging from a long political struggle into a bright and optimistic
future. In the easternmost area of Guatemala is found the greatest Mayan religious
center yet uncovered, the mysterious ruins of Tikal. Situated in El Peten, a
wild, remote, low-lying lush jungle province, Tikal is the most awe-inspiring
site in the entire country, and the least visited by tourists. It is also home
to a wondrous variety of exotic animals, particularly birds.
Our visit to Belize and the Tikal area of Guatemala will combine learning about
the many different cultural groups of the region with hiking, swimming, canoeing,
bird watching, visiting Mayan ruins, or just relaxing in one of the most pristine
corners of the world.
Photo: Barry Morenz
Day 1: You will be picked up at your hotels in Belize City
in the morning and taken to the Belize Zoo. This zoo is an important environmental
education institution in Belize, teaching thousands of students a year about
the wildlife of Belize. After lunch we will be transported to the Hill Bank
Station of the Programme for Belize, the country's premier environmental organization.
Hill Bank is a working field school for environmental studies. We will be staying
at their on-site lodge. This is a superb place to hear about the local studies
that Belizean environmental scientists are currently involved in. After dinner,
an evening presentation about their program will give us a fine overview of
this organization that has achieved remarkable success in protecting a corner
of pristine lowland jungle. The evening will end with nighttime animal spotting.
Day 2: We'll start with an early morning birding walk before
breakfast with our expert local birders. We'll then take a boat trip to Lamanai,
an ancient Mayan site. There are 700 buildings in this complex that is believed
to have supported at least 35,000 people at its peak around A.D. 200 to 900.
Only five percent of these buildings have been excavated. On the river trip
we may see many different birds, orchids, and other flowering plants. We will
enjoy lunch before returning to our lodge at Hill Bank in the early afternoon.
Before dinner we will do an additional bird walk and then after dinner go night-spotting.
Maybe we will be lucky and see a kinkajou, a small mammal that lives in the
trees in the area.
Day 3: After early morning birding and breakfast we will travel
to the Macal River area nearer the Guatemalan border. Traveling on dirt roads
through the rainforest we will make our way to San Ignacio, stopping for exotic
birds and any interesting mammals we might be lucky enough to see. After lunch
in San Ignacio and a tour of the Botanical Gardens we will check into our lodging
where we will spend the next three nights.
Day 4: After some early morning birding and breakfast we will
take a guided canoe tour down the Macal River, where we will see Green Iguanas
in the treetops and many different and spectacular birds. After lunch we will
visit an impressive Morpho butterfly farm and exhibit. We will round out our
day with late afternoon birding and maybe a stroll along the Macal River.
Photo: Barry Morenz
In the morning we will be transported to the Pine Ridge
area where we will take a short canoe ride to visit a Mayan cave. Our journey
today will continue to the Green Hills Butterfly farm, where we will have a
picnic lunch and tour the butterfly exhibits before returning to our lodge.
Before dinner we will take a bird walk and enjoy the Macal River.
Day 6: Getting an early start we'll cross the Guatemalan border
to Tikal and stay at a nearby lodge. Tikal was a powerful, large Mayan city
for about a thousand years. Stunning Mayan temples and hundreds of other stone
structures rise from the middle of this tropical forest. Tikal was built between
A.D. 250 and 900 and is the best embodiment of the extraordinary accomplishments
of the Maya. After lunch we will tour the site with a guide who is well versed
with the archaeological and natural aspects of the area.
Day 7: We will take a dawn walk through the grounds of Tikal
and climb a pyramid to greet the sun and the morning birds and jungle animals
and then return to our lodge for breakfast and rest. After lunch we will tour
the local museum that documents the history of this special area and look at
other displays in the area. The remainder of the afternoon will be free for
shopping, relaxing, or touring additional sites in Tikal.
Day 8: We will leave Tikal to cross back into Belize in the
morning. We will travel the Hummingbird highway as we head toward the Cockscomb
Jaguar Preserve. In the afternoon we will check into our lodge near the Jaguar
Preserve. Before and after dinner we can hike around the grounds, looking for
birds and animals and enjoying the relaxed ambience of the area. There is a
healthy population of jaguars in the area, and if we are very lucky we might
get a rare glimpse of one.
Photo: Barry Morenz
Day 9: We will drive to the tropical rainforest of the Cockscomb
Jaguar Preserve and hike along trails with our guide, enjoying and learning
about the incredible web of life in a rainforest ecosystem. Our destination
will be a lovely waterfall and pool for those who want to swim. We will enjoy
a picnic lunch at the preserve. In the afternoon, weather permitting we will
do some low-key tubing on a small quiet river in the preserve.
Day 10: This morning we will leave the jungle and travel to
Dangriga on the coast. Along the way we will stop at the Garifuna ethnic museum
and Marie Sharp’s Habanero Sauce factory. After lunch we take a boat ride
to the pristine Southwater Caye where we will spend the next two nights. This
half-mile-long sand atoll sits directly on top of the Barrier Reef and offers
superb snorkeling. Our accommodations for the two nights are eco-efficient and
simple, yet quite comfortable and have wonderful views.
Day 11: We’ll enjoy a morning boat excursion to the
Smithsonian Research Station on a nearby caye and learn a little about island
ecology. We will also do some snorkeling from the boats. After lunch we can
snorkel right from the shore or curl up with a book on the beach or in a hammock.
Day 12: A boat will return us to Dangriga where vans will
transport us back to Belize City.
It is relatively easy to fly to Belize City from the U.S. There are a number
of non-stop flights from Miami, Atlanta, Houston, and Dallas. Belize is relatively
close -- the flight from Houston is only about 2.5 hours. Most flights arrive
in the afternoon or evening so you will need to plan to arrive on Monday, January
Accommodations and Food
Photo: Barry Morenz
Our rustic, eco-lodge style accommodations are completely screened with rain-proof
roofs; offering a comfortable, dry and bug-free environment, while remaining
wide open to the symphony of the many creatures that inhabit the jungle. Hot
showers and bathrooms will be available each night, but we will sometimes have
to share. The food can be very good, but is often basic with rice, beans, chicken
and fish in addition to many tropical fruits. A vegetarian alternative can be
prepared at most of the places we will be eating, but may be very basic.
We will be walking and hiking virtually every day, but the hiking is mostly
level on good trails (occasionally muddy) with an occasional hill or set of
stairs. Sometimes there will be an opportunity to walk to the top of a Mayan
ruin, but this is not required. Our walking and hiking is at a slow pace, as
we often stop to look at birds or discuss the Mayan ruins we are visiting. Nevertheless,
the better shape you are in, the more you will enjoy the trip. We will do some
canoeing, snorkeling, tubing, and swimming so comfort with the water is desirable
but not necessary. The canoeing in the Macal River is for about three or four
hours with a gentle current. The Macal River where we will be canoeing is a
foot or two in depth. You will not have to get in the water if you don’t
Equipment and Clothing
The climate in Belize is mild and pleasant in February, with daytime temperatures
in the 70s and 80s. Offshore on the cayes, moderate trade winds usually blow.
With evening temperatures in the 60s, a light jacket or sweater may be needed.
Since we'll be on the cusp of the rainy season, please bring some rain gear.
The tropical sun is always strong, so bring sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses.
Insect repellent is also a must. Good walking shoes or lightweight hiking boots
are needed, as well as water or Teva-type sandals. You'll also want to have
swim-fins, a mask, and snorkel, or you may rent them on the caye. A snorkeling
vest offers added security and comfort for people who are not good swimmers.
A good pair of binoculars is a must for this trip, as we will do quite a bit
of bird watching. A more detailed packing list will be sent to each participant
prior to the departure date.
- Eltringham, Peter, The Rough Guide to Belize, 4th ed. 2010.
- Kricher, John, A Neotropical Companion.
- Jones, Lee H., Birds of Belize.
- Barcott, Bruce, The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw. 2009.
- Demarest, Arthur, Ancient Maya: The Rise and Fall of a Rainforest Civilization.
- Coe, Michael C., The Maya, 8th ed. 2011.
- Coe, Michael C., Breaking the Maya Code.
- Martin, Simon, Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya.
Photo: Barry Morenz
Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity. We are concerned about conservation
and sustainability of resources both locally and globally. Our work is accomplished
by volunteers, aided by a salaried staff, encouraging grassroots involvement.
Our outings seek to empower participants toward environmentally understanding
parallel concerns at home and abroad. An overview of the several environmental
topics we will discuss on this outing are described below. Belize is struggling
to balance environmental protection and development, especially tourist development.
Our visit to Belize will provide economic support for its ecotourism industry,
thereby helping to support local conservation efforts. We will experience how
development necessary to house visitors can be achieved with minimal impact
on the environment.
We will learn about the history and success of conservation projects of the
Programme for Belize and the Cockscomb Jaguar Preserve. The ecological importance
of mangrove trees and the health of the coral reefs will be considered during
our visit to Southwater Caye.
This trip requires a $200 per-person deposit. An additional payment of $300 per person is due six months prior to trip departure. International trip prices are subject to change and are based on double-occupancy or group accommodations as described above. Single rooms may not be available or may cost more than the listed price. If you have any questions regarding double occupancy, please contact the trip leader.
See the How to Apply for an Outing
section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the
trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing
up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing
approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical
Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on
the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to
the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and
notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
The Sierra Club accurately and fairly budgets and prices our trips. However, unforeseen costs such as devaluation of the dollar compared to other currencies and fuel surcharges assessed by our international providers may necessitate adjustment in trip price. We will make every effort to mitigate and absorb these fees. If a price increase is necessary, however, you will have 14 days after announcement to cancel without penalty.
Barry Morenz has lived in Tucson for over 30 years and loves to travel in the nearby mountains and canyons, as well as
throughout the American West. He has led Sierra Club trips for many years, and travels regularly to the Caribbean where he
enjoys the varied cultures, Mayan history and magnificent coral reefs of the region. A lifelong student, Barry enjoys studying
the natural and cultural history of the areas he visits, and experiencing with others the wild and historically significant places
of the world. The camaraderie of sharing adventure travel with other Sierra Club trip members is especially rewarding, as it
provides a way to educate people about the need to protect these fragile corners of our planet and leave an environmentally
sound legacy for generations to come.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips