Soaring 30,000 feet into the air above the jewel that is Belize, you’ll be greeted by a blanket of greenery as far as the eyes can see. Speck-like houses are peppered throughout the area as you land, but there’s one thing you cannot deny: Belize was made for eco-travel. With more than half of Belize being forested area, it’s unsurprising a lot of it is protected. In fact, Belize has more than 100 protected areas, a number the country and its people take pride in. The country’s efforts to remain at the forefront of sustainability has not gone unnoticed, either. In 2019, the Great Blue Hole was removed from UNESCO’s Danger list. Belize Barrier Reef is also classified as a World Heritage Site, and there are many other protected reserves travelers might not be aware are up for exploring.
Some of these national parks and protected areas only require a minimal fee to enter, which goes right back into the upkeep of the reserve. Many of them are frequented by nature lovers, avid hikers and adventurous souls. The best part? When venturing into one, you feel like you have the entire place to yourself. Here is a list of some of the most beautiful national reserves in Belize without the crowds.
Coscksomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
Known to be the world’s only jaguar preserve, Cockscomb Basin in the Stann Creek District never ceases to amaze. Home to some of Belize’s 5 big cats, including the elusive jaguar, the preserve also possesses exquisite hiking trails. Hikers make their way up a steep trail where a double-waterfall lies at the end as a reward. The densely forested area also houses peccaries, kinkajous, tapis and various species of birds.
Caracol Archaeological Reserve
Many may be under the impression that Xunantunich is Belize’s tallest Maya site due to the towering El Castillo temple, but they would be wrong. Deep in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve sits the tallest man-made structure in the region: Caracol. This Maya Site is more accessible than you may think, with it only being about two hours away from the town of San Ignacio. It’s tallest temple, Caana, rises up to a massive 136 feet high. It goes without saying the views from up there are incomparable.
Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary
This lesser-known protected area sits just inside the Belize district, about half an hour north of the international airport. Known as a birding paradise, the Crooked Tree also emcompasses a village sharing its name, with a swamp home to more than 203 species of exotic birds. Driving to the wetland, you’re bound to spot many waterbirds on the swamp flanking either side of the road. One of Crooked Tree’s well-known purposes is protecting the nesting site of the Jabiru Stork, the largest bird in the Western Hemisphere.
Laughing Bird Caye National Monument
A caye about 11 miles off the coast of Placencia, Laughing Bird is a wonder to behold. A small island named after the Laughing Gulls, the caye is not only great as a hub for snorkeling, but for bird watching as well. Here, you’ll encounter the ever-present brown pelican, the green heron and the melodious blackbird. When snorkeling off Laughing Bird, you’ll also be able to come face-to-face with coral nurseries, where the organization Fragments of Hope is working on coral reforestation. An exciting venture that many may not think to witness first-hand, these types of restoration efforts can make all the difference for new travelers.
Feature Image courtesy: Kevin Quischan Photography