From Reef to Ruins to Rain Forest, Explore the Heart & History of This Caribbean Paradise
Day 1: Belize City, Belize / Chan Chich Lodge
Our Belize adventure begins in Belize City, where you're met on arrival at the airport before boarding a short flight to Chan Chich Lodge on the Gallon Jug Estate in northwest Belize. This private estate lies within the heart of La Selva Maya, the largest contiguous rain forest north of the Amazon, and an extraordinary destination for wildlife encounters. Chan Chich is a premier ecolodge located in an unexcavated ancient Mayan city and surrounded by unspoiled rain forest laced with hiking trails. This evening, enjoy a welcome dinner and orientation with our Expedition Leader.
Days 2 & 3: Exploring the Gallon Jug Estate
No hunting has occurred on the Gallon Jug Estate for more than 20 years, and we may see species that have vanished elsewhere, including large birds like the crested guan and great curassow. All five Latin American cats—jaguar, puma, ocelot, margay and jaguarundi—live here, and Chan Chich is renowned for having the highest rate of jaguar sightings in all of Central America. These elusive nocturnal creatures are difficult to spot, however, so we’ll be on the lookout for signs of their presence. Though jaguars may escape our notice, it is fairly certain we will not escape theirs. On game drives and jungle walks, we hope to see tapir, peccary and red brocket deer as well as coatimundi, tayra, agouti and kinkajou. Birding is fabulous, too, with 350 resident species.
Day 4: Xunantunich Mayan Ruins / Hidden Valley
An early morning wildlife drive affords us the opportunity to see animals that are more active at dawn. After breakfast at the lodge, we take a private chartered flight to the Central Farm airstrip. Then we visit the dramatic Mayan ruins of Xunantunich. Our Expedition Leader unveils the intricately carved stone temples of this ancient civilization, including the 130-foot-high pyramid of El Castillo, as we learn about Mayan culture and history
Our destination this afternoon is Hidden Valley, a 7,290-acre private reserve in the Maya Mountains. Thousand-foot waterfalls and more than 90 miles of trails lace the area. We’ll look for wildlife that might include howler monkeys, peccaries, soaring raptors and colorful butterflies on an afternoon nature walk along the private trail system. The surrounding pine forest is home to diverse animal species including five of Belize’s native cats, plus threatened and endangered birds such as the orange-breasted falcon, solitary eagle and stygian owl.
Day 5: Green Hills / Canoeing in Barton Creek Cave / Hidden Valley
This morning we visit Green Hills Butterfly Ranch and Botanical Collections, dedicated to the research and conservation of Belize's native butterflies and plants. Flocks of brilliant butterflies fly among passionflowers, bromeliads, cycads, heliconias and orchids in a landscaped 2,700-square-foot flight area, the largest live butterfly display in Belize.
A unique adventure is in store this afternoon: a canoe trip into Barton Creek Cave. Belize’s limestone landmass is riddled with subterranean chambers that the Mayans viewed as a sacred portal between the human world and the realm of the gods. As we glide through the caverns, we’ll see rock formations, skeletal remains and cultural artifacts left by the Maya centuries ago. We return to Hidden Valley for a meeting with a local biologist, followed by dinner al fresco on the hotel’s beautiful grounds.
Day 6: Macal River Canoeing / Botanical Gardens / Chocolate-Making
From Hidden Valley, we paddle and float to San Ignacio on the Macal River, an environment that is home to numerous tropical bird species and giant green iguanas. Then, we visit the Belize Botanical Gardens, a 45-acre riverfront complex resting in a valley flanked by the Maya Mountain foothills. Featuring native and exotic plants that grow in the Cayo district, the gardens help protect Belize’s floral biodiversity while educating and inspiring the community to do the same.
After lunch, we visit a Mayan family in San Ignacio for an interactive chocolate-making workshop. During this feast for your senses, roasted cacoa beans are peeled, crushed and turned into a chocolate paste, which we’ll then use to create a traditional chocolate drink with notes of pepper and cinnamon. Finally, we mix sugar with the leftover chocolate paste and mold it into bars that we can take home.
Day 7: Hummingbird Highway / South Water Caye
A scenic drive along the famous Hummingbird Highway brings us to the town of Dangriga. Here, a private motorboat whisks us to South Water Caye, one of the hundreds of cayes, or small islets that lie off the coast of Belize. This marine island reserve is located on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second longest in the world after Australia's, and is surrounded by diverse mangrove islands, tidal seagrass flats, and warm, crystal-clear water. Enroute, we stop to visit the Man of War Caye, home to nesting frigatebirds and brown boobies.
After we check in to our laid-back beach resort, an idyllic spot that invites relaxing and exploring, the afternoon holds our first opportunity for snorkeling. Explore a patch reef from the beach to discover an intricate undersea world harboring some 500 species of brilliant fish, numerous corals and sponges, delicate sea fans, bright anemones and spiky sea urchins. In this magical realm beneath the transparent waters, we may also see manta rays, dolphins and sea turtles swimming alongside us. In the evening, unwind and enjoy dinner on the beach.
Day 8: Carrie Bow Cay
This morning we travel by boat to Carrie Bow Cay (some cays are spelled without the 'e' on the end), a tiny island outpost that is the site of a Smithsonian field research station. Scientists from the National Museum of Natural History and their collaborators travel here to conduct research on the biology, ecology and geology of coral reef ecosystems. The location of Carrie Bow Cay allows immediate access to reef environments, seagrass habitats and mangrove islands. We’ll explore the surrounding area, part of the South Water Caye Marine Reserve, by boat and optional snorkeling excursions to view the vibrant marine life.
Back on South Water Caye, we’ll learn more about the island ecosystem on a short nature walk this afternoon. After dark, an optional night snorkel may reveal manatees, dolphins, turtles, sting rays and a variety of other fascinating undersea life. Our farewell dinner is a festive occasion, accompanied by the traditional music of the local Garifuna people, known for its heavy percussion. Drums made from hollowed-out local hardwood add an exciting element to the performance.
Day 9: Belize City / Depart
Today, our Belize adventure tour comes to an end as we boat to Dangriga and fly to Belize City to make connecting flights home, or continue on with an extension to the pyramids of Tikal.