BELIZE BARRIER REEF RESERVE
Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System lies about half a mile off the winward side of the island. It is the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere and the second longest in the world.
To the east of the Barrier Reef are three separate atoll reefs. There is also a fourth atoll reef, Banco Chinchorro, just to the north in Mexican waters, which will be of particular interest to wreck divers.
The three Belize atoll reefs are formed on two tiers of submarine ridges: Turneffe and Glover's on one ridge and Lighthouse on a separate ridge farther to the east. This accounts for their similar outlines and NE-SW orientations. Deep marine trenches separate the two ridges.
Flying south into Belize, you can see the reef as an unbroken chain of white surf running along the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan Peninsula and continuing south almost the whole length of the country to the Ranguana and Sapodilla Cayes.
Inside the reef the water is shallow, with a blue tinge; outside the reef the water is deep and from the air shows a dark royal blue. On very clear days the reef appears as a narrow yellow line dividing the two shades of blue. Only near Ambergris Caye does the reef run so close to a well-populated caye. Here it is an almost solid wall of magnificentcoral formation broken only by narrow channels called "quebradas". Here an observant diver can be kept entertained for hours on end by the unending variety, shapes and colors of the tropical coral.
But the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System is more than just a decorative sideshow. Without it the island would not exist for it serves as a natural break-water protecting the beach from erosion by the waves, and sheltering the caye and its inhabitants. The remarkably clear and shallow water inside the reef allows excellent viewing of the fabulous marine life of the area. Rainbow tinged tropical fish, delicate sea fans and majestic coral gardens abound. Outside the reef, the seabed drops sharply in a series of plateau to depths of thousands of feet. Out here in the blue are found the gamefish - mackerel, kingfish, wahoo, tuna, sailfish and marlin.
Hol Chan Marine Reserve & Shark Alley
Hol Chan is Mayan for 'little channel." This sanctuary was officially
established in 1987, and since then the return of all species of fish
has been quite dramatic. Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray
Alley is approximately 4 miles (6.4 km) south of San Pedro
Ambergris Caye. It is the single most popular day trip from San Pedro,
perfect for snorkeling or diving. The reserve covers approximately
three square miles (7.8 sq km) and is divided into three zones.
Each one is clearly marked by buoys. The entire reserve focuses
on a cut through the reef which is little more than 25 yards
(23 m) wide and 30 feet (9 m) deep.
The diversity of marine life encountered throughout the 4 zones
of the park, along with the excitement of swimming with large
numbers of nurse sharks and sting rays.
North Ambergris Caye Snorkeling
The Barrier Reef begins here, which is to say the reef touches the shoreline, which means there is great snorkeling right from the beach .... Snorkel the shallow waters of Mexico Rocks and Tres Locos and see a wide range of coral formations, including flower, elk-horn and giant brain coral. This area is protected from ocean currents and swells, which makes for easy snorkeling. Depth is around 6 to 12 feet, so you can see everything up close.
Lighthouse Reef & The Blue Hole
The subject of a documentary by underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau,
The Blue Hole continues to be the big draw for scuba divers to Belize.
In the lexicon of diving, Belize is synonymous with the Blue Hole, a circular
cave system which formed before the last ice age and collapsed when sea
levels rose 300 to 400 feet, forming a blue hole more than 400 feet deep and
nearly 1,000 feet in diameter. Dive down to a depth of 130 feet where you will
be awed by enormous stalactites the size of trees. This area is a favorite
hangout of Hammerhead Sharks and other exotic marine species. The Blue Hole
is about 2½ hours by boat from San Pedro and 2 hours from Caye Caulker.
This dive is for experienced divers only.
Turneffe Atoll offers spectacular diving at dozens of sites and pleasant sea conditions, making it suitable for divers of all levels. Visibility is excellent, ranging from 30m/100ft to 45./150ft on most days. Enjoy large rays, turtles, eels and schools of snapper, horse-eye jack, and permit. Due to its isolation, coral life flourishes.
Manatee Watch & Snorkel
First stop is Swallow Caye, home to the Manatees; bring your camera and take
close up pictures of the Manatees. Next stop is Goffs Caye, an Island which
sits right on top of the reef. You can snorkel along the reef here and after
snorkeling your guide prepares a BBQ lunch. Next stop is the Aquarium,
a snorkel site on the south point of Caye Caulker, where you can snorkel
with playful nurse sharks, sting rays and view sea horses. Excursions
from Ambergris Caye include a stop at Caye Caulker.
Night Dive or Sunset Snorkel
Hol Chan is a totally different world during the evening hours. It is great fun and you see a different underwater world during this time, as many creatures that are not visible during the day come out of their hiding places.
Whale Shark Snorkeling & Diving
Whale sharks sometimes aggregate during the full moon in March, too, but not as reliably as in April and May. Also, while whale sharks do fairly reliably aggregate at Gladden Spit during the June full moon, the seas in June are frequently too rough to get out to Gladden Spit. Whale sharks are often sighted in the Placencia area throughout the year, but singly and not in any one location as is true for March - June. The Whale Shark is a slow-moving filter feeding shark the largest known extant fish species. The largest confirmed individual had a length of 12.65 meters (41.50 ft) and a weight of more than 21.5 metric tons (47,000 lb), and there are unconfirmed reports of considerably larger whale sharks. Claims of individuals over 14 meters (46 ft) long and weighing at least 30 metric tons (66,000 lb) are not uncommon. The whale shark holds many records for sheer size in the animal kingdom, most notably being by far the largest living non-mammalian vertebrate, rivalling many of the largest dinosaurs weight. The whale shark is found in tropical and warm oceans and lives in the open sea with a lifespan of about 70 years. Whale sharks have a mouth that can be 1.5 meters (4.9 ft) wide. Whale sharks are grey with a white belly. Their skin is marked with pale yellow spots and stripes which are unique to each individual. Despite its size, the whale shark does not pose significant danger to humans. Whale sharks are docile fish and sometimes allow swimmers to catch a ride although this practice is discouraged by shark scientists and conservationists. Younger whale sharks are gentle and can play with divers.
Belize is considered a mecca for fishing, which can be experienced year round, and where the abundance of game fish guarantees excellent sport. Experienced guides will amaze you with their knowledge of the right baits and lures, when, how, and where to cast, and most importantly tips on how to make sure that the big one doesn't get away.
The estuaries, inlets and mouths to the many rivers are known for their tarpon, snook and jacks. The lagoons and grass flats are known for the bonefish, permit and barracuda. The coral reefs support grouper, snapper, jacks and barracuda while the deeper waters off the drop off are home to sailfish, marlin, bonito and pompano. The waters surrounding Ambergris Caye abound with a great variety of saltwater fishing and the island boasts some of the best fishing guides in the country. Most types of fish, including bone fish and tarpon, can be caught year-round. Within 15 minutes of leaving the dock, you can be fishing in tidal flats or in blue
water hundreds of feet deep. Fishing on Ambergris Caye has remained one of the Caribbean's best-kept secrets until recently. The extensive flats, a twenty minute boat ride from the lodge, are picture perfect. Shallow (2-6 feet) and with a whiter than normal sand
bottom, these tarpon feeding grounds stretch for over fifty miles and provide the dining room for almost unbelievable numbers of tarpon. Peak periods on the local flats are the months of May through November, though there are fish around 355 days a year, and Winter/Spring months (February, March and April) provide excellent opportunities when the weather cooperates. More importantly, it is uncommon to encounter other anglers
once you have left the harbor area. The immense size of these flats, and the lack of fishing pressure has left these tarpon with a very aggressive nature,
and they move readily to almost any properly presented fly.
The flats around Ambergris Caye are excellently suitable for Fly Fishing. The great advantage for fishing in Ambergris Caye is you can go either to the front or the back of the island. Shallow waters contains the only classic Tarpon Flats outside of South Florida. Fly Fishing is different in Belize than in other locations. A hooked fish will run off the flat, and it is essential to keep the line high out of the water to avoid wrapping the coral heads (always carry a spare line). The most famous Fly Fishing area is Savannah Flats, a shallow lagoon of open water, rimmed in the distance by numerous small cayes, famous for big Tarpon.
Belize has a resident population of Tarpons which makes tarpon fishing reliable. Tarpon fishing is all year round; April through September are very good.
Also the Bonefish are always present in our shore, April through November are very good for Bone fishing. They come to feed on the flats, mainly for shrimp. They need at least a foot and a half of water. The Bonefish have an average weight of three pounds, although you will see six to eight pound Bones, which is about the maximum you would want to have on your line.
February through November, March through May are very good. In February they migrate and come in our waters they run the channel. On average they are ten pounds, although you will see them in the twenty to twenty five pound range.
Jackfish, also Jack Crevalles, are mainly found on the flats, and in the surrounding mangrove lagoons. They move in big schools and follow smaller fish. Snook you will find mainly in the lagoons, where you will also find Barracuda and Cobia.
Belize is recognized as the center of the ancient Maya world. And it was here in
the "central lowlands" of western Belize and the Guatemalan Petén that the
ancient Maya flourished during the Classic Period from 300 to 900 AD.
Archaeologists now estimate that 2,000,000 Mayans once lived in what is now Belize.
Pyramids were erected by peasant farmers and slaves without the aid of
beasts of burden or the wheel. The cities they built were inhabited by the ruling
family, nobility, priesthood and warriors, while the masses lived in agricultural
villages in the hinterland.
The species-rich tropical forest supplied fruit, construction materials,
game and medicines. Good soils for cultivation yielded corn, beans, squash
and cotton. The river systems provided fish for food and transportation for trade. Extensive limestone formations supplied building blocks along with chert and flint for stone tools.
This was the environment that the Mayans adapted to their needs and way of life for a span of nearly 20 centuries during which they developed a rich cosmology, an arithmetic system that included the concept of zero, a complex
calendar system based on a solid understanding of astronomy, and a system of writing which included both hieroglyphic and phonetic representation.
Caracol Mayan Ruins
Caracol's ancient Mayan name was Uxwitza, or "Three Water Hill." Archaeological Commissioner for Belize in 1938, named the ruins Caracol, meaning "snail" in Spanish, because of the winding roads leading to the site. (Anderson first visited the site in 1937 after it was discovered by logger Rosa Mai in 1937)
Caracol is the largest Maya site in Belize covering about 75 square miles (larger than modern day Belize City). At its peak (approx. 650 AD), Caracol's epicenter, or town, housed about 15,000 people, with 120,000 - 180,000 living in the Caracol "suburbs" - settlements along the paved causeways radiating from the epicenter of Caracol.
Caracol was probably originally a client state of Tikal However, through urban planning and calculated warfare, Caracol became one of the most important city states of the Classic Period in the Maya Lowland region. Evidence also indicates that Caracol survived the initial collapse of the Maya civilization.
Caracol is located in the foothills of the Maya Mountains about 25 miles south of Xunantunich in Belize's Cayo District.
Latitude: 6°45'50.40"N/Longitude: 89° 7'8.76
Xunantunich Mayan Ruins
The Xunantunich core is about 1 square mile and includes 6 plazas and 26 temples and palaces. El Castillo, a 130 foot tall pyramid at the axis of the core of Xunantunich is the second tallest building in Belize after Caana at Caracol. Archaeologists believe that
these self-reliant villages in large part allowed Xunantunich to survive almost 100 years past the time when most other city states in the Maya Lowlands were collapsing. Xunantunich is located just outside San Ignacio in the Cayo District of Belize. Latitude: 17° 5'2.04"N/Longitude: 17.0839° N, 89.1339° W
Cahal Pech is located just outside San Ignacio Town in Belize's Cayo District and is sited high on a hill overlooking the confluence of the Macal and Mopan Rivers. The Cahal Pech site was first occupied in 1200 BC (Early Middle Preclassic Period) and abandoned in 900 AD (Classic Period). Archaeologists believe that Cahal Pech was the home of an elite Maya family and includes 34 structures, including a temple, ball court and acropolis. Excavation first took place in 1988 and was essentially completed in 2000. Cahal Pech is often paired with Xunantunich on Mayan ruins tours. Latitude: 17.1556° N/Longitude: 89.0611° W
El Pilar Mayan Ruins
The El Pilar Archeological Reserve for Maya Flora and Fauna is a legally declared cultural monument in both Belize and Guatemala. The Reserve is emcompasses 5,000 acres, half in Guatemala in the Peten Department and half in Belize in the Cayo District. The El Pilar archaeological site covers about 120 acres and includes over 15 plazas, one ball court and hundreds of other buildings. The focus of excavation and presentation at El Pilaris on Maya houses, Maya ways of life and traditional Maya agriculture.
El Pilar is the largest Maya site in the Belize River Valley and had a population of over 20,000 people during the Maya Classic Period. Construction of monuments at El Pilar were started by the Maya around 800 BC (Middle Preclassic Period) and by 250 BC, El Pilar housed large public works. El Pilar means "watering basin" because of the abundant supply of water in the area - unusual for Maya sites. Latitude: 17° 7'60.00"N/Longitude: 89° 4'0.00"W
ORANGE WALK DISTRICT
La Milpa Mayan Ruins
La Milpa is the third largest Maya site in Belize (after Caracol and Lamanai) and includes more than 20 courtyards, 19 stelae, 2 ball courts, 4 temple pyramids (the largest almost 79 feet high) and over 85 structures, with the Great Plaza being one of the largest public spaces constructed by the Maya. Archaeologists estimate that over 46000 people lived in La Milpa in its heyday in the Early Classic Period. La Milpa and Rio Bravo are located within the Three River region of Northwest Belize bordering Mexico and Guatemala. Programme for Belize operates La Milpa Jungle Lodge on the Rio Bravo property, and the La Milpa lodge is the best place from which to access the La Milpa ruins. Latitude: 17°48'0.00"N/Longitude: 88°58'60.00"W
Lamanai Mayan Ruins
The Lamanai site is one of the oldest continuously occupied Maya sites in Belize, from about 1500 BC when maize was being
grown at the site, to 1680 AD. Lamanai, located on 950 acres (the site's core is about a 12 square miles), is one of the largest Maya ceremonial sites in Belize, including more than 100 minor structures, a ball court and about 12 major buildings, most notably the Temple of the Mask, thought to be an Olmec God or Kinich Ahau, the Maya Sun God, the Temple of the Jaguar Masks and the High Temple (so-called because of its height). In addition to Mayan buildings and artifacts, the Lamanai site also includes the remains of a 19th century sugar mill, a brick-lined reservoir and the charred remains of two 16th century Catholic churches. The church remains are charred because the Maya burned each of them down after the Spanish built the churches in an attempt to convert the Maya inhabitants of Lamanai to Catholicism. The first church building particularly incensed the Maya -- the Spanish built the church on the foundations of a Mayan temple that they demolished to make way for the new church.
Lamanai continued to flourish in the Post Classic Period primarily because of its trade of metals, particularly copper objects, thought to have been produced on-site at Lamanai beginning by approximately 1150 AD. More copper artifacts have been found at Lamanai than at any other Mayan site, and the artifacts have included bells, rings, tweezers, various clothing ornaments, pins, axes, chisels, needles, and fish hooks. Access to the Lamanai ruins is by boat up the New River from Orange Walk. Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary is located 8 miles west of the Lamanai Archological reserve.
Latitude: 17°45'9.36"N/Longitude: 88°39'16.20"W
Cerros Mayan Ruins
Cerros is located at the mouth of the New River as it empties into Corozal Bay in the northern Corozal District of Belize.
Cerros was inhabited from about 400 BC (Preclassic Era) to 400 AD (Classic Era) when it was abandoned. At the height of its importance, almost 2,000 people lived in and around Cerros, working as farmers and as merchants in the trade between the sea coast and inland communities. Cerros includes stepped pyramids, an acropolis and two ballcourts, raised fields, a series of canals
for crop irrigation, and residential neighborhoods extending southwest and southeast from the core of the site. Although 4 temples, a war monument, two ball courts, several residential areas and burial caches have been excavatead, most of Cerros remains untouched. Latitude: 18°21'30.44"N/Longitude: 88°21'8.19"W
Altun Ha Mayan Ruins. Altun Ha was occupied from about 900 BC to 1000 AD, with the highest level of population in the Classic Period, from about 400 to 900 AD. Altun Ha appears to have been an important trade center, trading as far south as Panama and as far north as what is now Mexico City. Much of the archeological research conducted at Altun Has has focused on the
"Tomb of the Sun God," or the "Temple of the Masonry Alter," which is featured on the bottle of the Belize-made Beliken beer.
The Sun God's Tomb dates from about 600-650 AD and when excavated contained the tomb of an adult man, plus offerings including ceramic bowls, shell beads, Jadeite anklets, bracelets and beads, pearls, pyrite and hematite, and the carved jade head of what some believe is the Sun God, Kinich Ahau, and others believe is the Jester God, a symbol of Maya rulership. Altun Ha is located in the Belize District, 30 miles north of Belize City, near Rockstone Pond Village and 6 miles from the Caribbean Sea.
Latitude: 17°45'50.40"N/Longitude: 88°20'49.56"W
Lubaanatun Mayan Ruins
Lubaantun is located about 2 miles from San Pedro Columbia village and about 26 miles northwest of Punta Gorda Town in the Toledo District of Belize. Lubaantun was occupied in the mid to late Classic Period from about 730 to 890 AD when it was abandoned. Not much is known about Lubaantun although speculation is that it had a military purpose because it is
built about 200 feet above sea level, and the center of the site is on a large artificially raised platform between two small rivers.
Lubaantun is also believed to have been an administrative
center of trade regulation, with nearby Nim Li Punit functioning as a center of
religion, ceremony and ritual. One mystery involving Lubaantun is the complete absence of any carved stelae (carved stone monuments) in a city of its size and complexity of construction. Birding is also very good at Lubaantun.
Latitude: 16°16'0.12"N/Longitude: 88°57'0.00"W