5 Natural Wonders of Belize

November 17, 2011

Belize: Mother Nature’s best kept secret

or so says the tourist board of Belize. If you visit these five natural wonders (and choosing just five was tough), you’ll understand their claim.

Belize Barrier Reef

large, yellow brain coral backed by half a dozen tube coral in deep blue water

brain and tube corals in the Great Blue Hole, part of the Belize Barrier Reef
photo by: jayhem/flickr

The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef system – 300 km of which are along the coast of Belize, is the second largest barrier reef in the world. Here you can find 247 different types of marine plants and over 500 different fish species. There are also sponges, turtles, and what is, according to UNESCO, probably the world’s largest manatee population. And, of course, there is lots of coral (65 – 100 types, depending on who you ask). Whether walking the beach, snorkeling, or diving, don’t miss this hidden part of Belize.

Barton Creek Cave

tips of two canoes can be seen pointing toward the entrance of Barton Creek Cave. There's an expanse of green water between the canoes and the cave. The cave entrance is surrounded by trees and brush.

entrance to Barton Creek Cave
photo by: Tom Eppenberger, Jr./wikimedia

As you paddle along the 4.5 miles of river that wind through Barton Creek Cave, you’ll encounter cathedral chambers, pools, and rock flows. With a knowledgeable guide, you’ll see evidence of the ancient Maya. For them this cave was Xibalba – the underworld.

The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Preserve

yellow, diamond-shaped road-sign at the side of the road. Sign text is "Jaguar XING." There is a picture of a jaguar centered on the sign. The ground cover is low-lying greenery, and the background is bushy trees or tall shrubs.

Jaguar Crossing!
photo by: ambertq/flickr

This tropical forest is home to the world’s first jaguar preserve. Follow the trail a kilometer into the tropical forest, and you’ll be rewarded with the Tiger Fern waterfall. While seeing a jaguar is unlikely (they’re masters of watching others while hiding themselves), you’ll see evidence of them. As you hike, keep an eye out for their tracks. But it’s not jut jaguars that make Cockscomb Basin worth visiting. Other mammals, including puma, otters, and coatimundi; and birds, including macaw, keelbilled toucan, and the great curassow, all make their home here.

close-up of a crocodile lazing on a log

a crocodile suns itself along the Monkey River
photo by: Chuck Taylor/flickr

Monkey River

Take a kayak or canoe down the Swasey branch of the Monkey River, or go on guided boat tour. Stop along the way to hike through the rainforest, enjoying cedar, mangrove, and mahogany. All along the river are troops of black howler monkeys. You may also see crocodiles, herons, Hawksbill turtles, and armadillos, among other animals.

Thousand Foot or Hidden Valley Falls

Deep inside the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest you’ll find Hidden Valley Falls, more commonly known as the Thousand Foot Falls. While there’s a little dispute about how tall this massive waterfall is, everyone agrees 1,000 feet sells it short. It’s said to be the tallest waterfall in Central America. The roads in are dotted with orange groves and orchids. The best vantage points take committed hiking, but there is a view point that will give you a view of the falls from quite a distance.

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