Travel is a luxury, but it’s also an investment in the communities and ecosystems that make our world possible. Conservation projects, in particular, need us more than ever, and helping them look after their ecosystems will prove beneficial for all. While in the short term this downtime is helping to renew natural life, the significant drop in Belize’s ecotourism also means a loss of revenue for conservation. However, choosing to explore a protected area leaves a lasting impact on the environment and nearby close-knit communities, while offering an incredibly authentic and exciting travel experience. Belize currently has 103 protected areas as sanctuaries where flora and fauna thrive, almost entirely undisturbed. Boisterous wildlife, pristine tropical birding, intrepid hikes, invigorating waterfalls, vividly colorful corals, and more await. Here’s why Belize’s protected areas should be your new vacation destinations.
The Association of Protected Area Management Organizations (APAMO) is comprised of 28 protected areas (PAs) that collectively helps to conserve 1.29 million acres of Belize’s biodiversity, and through this, improves the lives of thousands of people. Of the twenty-eight Protected Areas, eight are engulfed by azure hues of the Caribbean Sea, while the remaining twenty make up portions of Belize’s lush forests. Notably, these sites are co-managed by Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) on behalf of the people and Government of Belize – a unique relationship for protected areas. However, co-managers of these parks have evolved to use tourism as a tool for conservation; forging the parks into bucket list destinations themselves while sustainably securing funds for vital maintenance, surveillance, community outreach, research, and education.
With 103 protected areas in Belize, the possibilities for adventure and enticing education are endless.
Belize’s protected areas: an epic cross-country adventure
Plan an epic cross-country adventure and challenge yourself to hike to at least five of the seven waterfalls at Mayflower Bocawina National Park. Land a catch-and-release grand slam while fishing at The Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve, the largest true atoll in Belize and Mesoamerican Reef System. Or, snorkel the Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve.
Spend a night at Shipstern Nature Reserve or at Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area for some of the best birding in Belize. Camp in the highlands of the Maya Mountains at the world’s first jaguar reserve, Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. Or, enjoy untouched spoils of Half Moon Caye Natural Monument – Belize’s national Tourism Site of the Year in 2019.
Travel and make an impact
Authenticity is easy to spot in Belize. Besides checking off your bucket list adventures, your visit to each park leaves a meaningful impact on both co-managing organization and community. For instance, the Community Baboon Sanctuary (CBS) in Belize District’s Bermuda Landing is co-managed by the CBS Women’s Conservation Group. Individuals from surrounding villages lead with job opportunities for locals; whether it be hiring a tour guide, bringing overnight tourism, or employing those with an ongoing project. Entrance fees collected are reinvested right back into the park, as do all NGO, non-profit PAs.
Protection also means intrinsic and ecological value – preserving these safe havens as wild spaces for wildlife. Some may be protecting endangered species such as the West Indian Manatee; that’s the core cause for the Friends of Swallow Caye at Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary. In some cases, it is not wildlife that needs to be protected, but watersheds. For example, the Sustainable Tourism and Conservation Association was established to protect the watershed at Billy Barquedier National Park; because of this, potable water is secured for seven nearby communities! Luckily for Belize, our protected areas come in many forms; wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, natural monuments, marine reserves, and more. At the top of popularity for Belize’s bucket list destinations are protected areas; showcasing the best of our collective natural, cultural and national inheritance.