Our Belize adventure begins in Belize City, where you're met on arrival at the airport before we board our short flight to Chan Chich Lodge on the 30,000-acre Gallon Jug Estate. This private reserve in northwest Belize lies within the heart of La Selva Maya, the largest contiguous
Days 2 & 3: Chan Chich—Exploring the Gallon Jug Estate
No hunting has occurred on the Gallon Jug Estate for more than 25 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
Day 4: Green Iguana Conservation / Xunantunich Maya Ruins
An optional early morning wildlife drive offers a chance to see species that are more active at dawn. After breakfast, board our chartered flight to the Central Farm airstrip and continue to a conservation project for the threatened green iguana, known to biologists as Iguana iguana and to the ancient Maya as Itzamna. This reptile has been an important symbol of life in the rain forest for millennia, contributing to the ecological balance of the river habitat. But development and over-hunting have diminished the green iguana’s once abundant population. We'll observe them up close as we learn about the incubation, hatching, rearing and releasing process. Continuing to the dramatic Mayan ruins of Xunantunich, explore Maya culture as our Expedition Leader unveils the history behind the intricately carved stone temples, including the 130-foot-high pyramid of El Castillo. This afternoon, arrive at our jungle ecolodge on the banks of the Macal River, surrounded by lush vegetation and tropical birds.
Day 5: Butterfly Farm / Canoeing in Barton Creek Cave / Chocolate Making
This morning we visit Green Hills Butterfly Ranch and Botanical Collections, dedicated to research and conservation of Belize's native butterflies and plants. Flocks of bright butterflies flit among passionflowers, bromeliads, cycads, heliconias and orchids in a landscaped 2,700-square-foot flight area, the largest live butterfly display in Belize. An unusual adventure is in store for the afternoon: a canoe trip into Barton Creek Cave. The limestone landmass that comprises much of Belize is riddled with subterranean chambers that the Maya viewed as a sacred portal between the human world and the realm of the gods. As we glide silently through the caverns, we’ll see rock formations, skeletal remains and cultural artifacts left by the Maya centuries ago. Keeping our focus on ancient Maya culture, we visit a local family in San Ignacio for an interactive chocolate-making workshop. Watch roasted cacao beans peeled, crushed and turned into a chocolate paste, which is used to craft a traditional chocolate drink with notes of pepper and cinnamon. Our leftover chocolate paste gets mixed with sugar and molded it into bars to take home.
Day 6: Macal River / Placencia / Ray Caye
After a morning rain forest walk in search of birdlife along the Macal River, continue to Placencia. Here, a private motorboat whisks us to Ray Caye, one of the hundreds of cayes, or small islets, that lie off the coast of Belize. This marine reserve is located on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second longest barrier reef in the world after Australia's. The caye is surrounded by mangrove islands, tidal seagrass flats, and warm, crystal-clear water. Located just outside the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, idyllic Ray Caye provides easy access for exploring the wonders of this intricate marine ecosystem. After dark, an optional night snorkeling excursion may reveal manta rays, squid, octopus and other fascinating undersea life.
Day 7: Laughing Bird Caye National Park
During a full-day excursion to Laughing Bird Caye National Park, we have two exceptional snorkeling opportunities. Guided by our Expedition Leader, explore an undersea world that harbors some 500 species of tropical fish, numerous corals and sponges, delicate sea fans, colorful anemones and sea urchins. The long, narrow island, which was named for the laughing gulls that once bred here, is the southernmost island in the Belize Barrier Reef’s central lagoon. Situated on an elongated ridge of reef known as a faro, the palm-studded island has steep sides that enclose a central lagoon isolated by deep channels on all sides. One of the most important protected areas within the Belize Barrier Reef World Heritage Site, it holds national park status due to its unusual abundance and variety of coral habitats and marine life. Our expedition to Laughing Bird Caye includes a picnic lunch, during which we keep an eye out for brown pelicans, green herons and the melodious blackbird.
Day 8: Snorkeling at Silk Cayes / Ray Caye—Kayaking
Travel a short distance by boat this morning to the Silk Cayes, twin patches of white sand dotted with coconut palms and surrounded by healthy corals. From these idyllic islets, we have immediate access to the vibrant undersea world. Huge schools of tropical fish inhabit the transparent turquoise waters, part of a protected marine reserve encompassing a vital section of the Belize Barrier Reef. We snorkel through an area known as "shark, ray and turtle alley," where we typically get close-up views of gentle nurse sharks, large loggerhead turtles, eagle rays, stingrays and whiptail rays. After an exhilarating journey of discovery beneath the sea, our boat returns us to the resort for lunch. The balance of the day is spent paddling kayaks among the islands, gliding through transparent waters over schools of colorful fish and perhaps encountering dolphins along the way. This evening, enjoy a festive farewell dinner on the island.
Day 9: Placencia / Belize City / Depart
After breakfast, our Belize adventure tour moves to a close as we transfer to the Placencia airstrip to fly back to Belize City. At the international airport, connect with departing flights.