Hiking and Camping

Hiking is truly the best way to experience what a tropical forest is. Your senses will be inundated. You will see every shade of green; smell life and decay; feel the humidity and mud; hear the continuous hum of insects; and taste the heart of palm.

While roads connect most Maya villages today, this was not always the case. Before the roads, there were trails and rivers. Many of these trails are still used. And each of the Maya villages of Southern Belize has a unique natural site nearby that is only accessible by foot.

There are no trail maps for Southern Belize. And the trails often cross each other so it is easy to lose your way. A guide is essential not only to find your way, but to also point out the hidden birds, camouflaged wildlife and medicinal plants that abound everywhere in the forest. Check within each village for an available escort into the forest.

Cultural Activities

The Maya entertain tourists with storytelling (fables and folklore, usually told by an elder in the native Maya language, Kekchi or Mopan, and translated into English by a younger Maya villager; music and dance (harp, flute, and marimba music, and dancers in cultural dress accompanying them), craft lessons (learn how to make baskets from the jipijapa plant), and village tours. Spend one day or many days with a Maya family to learn more about their culture. Help prepare a meal with crops freshly picked from the milpas; try your hand at patting out tortillas by the fire. It’s not as easy as it looks! Work the fields with a Maya farmer. Hike to nearby caves and waterfalls, and ride in a dugout back to the village under the shade of tropical forests.

Fishing

The waters off the coast of Toledo are a Mecca for those interested in fishing. All kinds of fishing – spin, fly, trolling – can be experienced all year long, and the abundance of game fish guarantees excellent sport. Trophy size bonefish, tarpon, permit, are plentiful in Southern Belizean waters.The Port Honduras Marine Reserve, with its mangrove coast, clear rivers, hundreds of protective cayes, and the Barrier Reef, forms one of the most important fish nurseries in the Caribbean. The estuaries and inlets of Punta Ycacos Lagoon and the mouths of the many rivers in Southern Belize are known for their tarpon, snook and jacks. Monkey River is popular for fly-fishing where bone fish, tarpon and permit are abundant. Punta Ycacos Lagoon and Punta Negra Lake with their grass flats are known for the bonefish, permit tarpon and barracuda. Further out along the barrier reef and near the coral sand islands, grouper, snapper, jacks and barracuda are caught.

Peak fishing seasons vary, but you can catch all game fish year around depending on local weather conditions. Generally tarpon are most plentiful from October through mid-December and in June and July. Bonefishing is best from September through January. Permit fishing peaks from August through October and March through June.

River Tours

Rapids over rocks in the Macal river in Belize, Central America. The Macal river has jungle on either side. The water is flowing in this river in Belize.

The headwaters of most rivers lie deep within the Maya Mountains. Here the forest is dense, tall and mostly untouched. The water is cold, clear and spring fed as it gurgles out of the ground, merging with other streams and eventually grows into a rapidly flowing upland river. Wildlife abounds – tapir, warrie, herons, kingfishers and more center their activities on these upland waterways. Trails which meander alongside these rivers are excellent ways to spot wildlife or bird watch.

As the upland rivers make their way toward the sea, the vegetation will change to tall riverine forests, and the river will grow in size as more tributaries coalesce into one. Fruiting trees will appear along with monkeys, iguana, turtles and toucans. The best way to experience this part of the river is to float canoe, dugout or kayak. You can also move upstream with the help of a small motorboat.

As you near the mouth of the river, the vegetation again changes to predominantly mangrove. Some of the mangrove stands lining the winding rivers are magnificent – tall and stilted. The mangrove is home to another community of animals; coatimundis, crocodile, boa constrictors and an amazing number of birds.

River and Sea Kayaking

Toledo District, Belize - Travel Guide - Tropical Discovery

Back view of a woman paddling a kayak on a river in Belize

Whether floating past Mayan villages on quiet rivers or viewing manatee among the many cayes of the Port Honduras Reserve, kayaking is a great way to experience Southern Belize. Garifuna and Mayan peoples have paddled the waters of Toledo for centuries, fishing, hunting and traveling by dugout canoes. Seven major rivers drain the southern flank of the Maya Mountains carrying fresh water and nutrients to replenish mangroves, lagoons, and fish nurseries along the coast.

You will float under a lush canopy of rainforest, silently watching toucans and trogons flying about. As you near the ocean, dense rainforest gives way to mangroves. First the white and black mangroves growing high and straight. Then vast acres of huge, knarled red mangroves, bathing their roots in salt tidal areas. Put on your mask and snorkel for a glimpse of nature at her most prolific – this is where young snook, mackerel, jacks, permit and lobsters hide, feed and attempt to grow to adults.

You’ll paddle mostly still waters, sometimes negotiating small rapids or a downed tree stretched across the waterway. These trips are for people with a desire to learn about the web of tropical nature; for people that wish to observe colorful birds, iguanas, howling monkeys and if you are lucky a swimming jaguar; for people that wish to experience a Maya village, whether for lunch or just a chat with locals. These trips are for people yearning to know what nature and life are about in a tropical wonderland.

Snorkeling and Scuba Diving

Toledo offers snorkeling and diving for all skill levels. The Port Honduras Marine Reserve with its mangrove coast, hundreds of protective cayes and extensive lagoons form one of the most important fish nurseries in the Caribbean. The extensive root systems of the mangroves support a rich diversity of marine life including large schools of young fish and a wide variety of colorful marine invertebrates like sponges, shrimps and tunicates. These root systems make for a unique snorkeling experience.

The beautiful Snake Cayes are just northeast of Punta Gorda, about 5 miles off Punta Ycacos, rising from the relatively deep inner lagoon of the Belize coastal zone. The marine life around these isolated islands is unique, for it is influenced by the run off from the many rivers of the region as well as the deep clear waters typical of the Caribbean Sea. Coral reefs surround many of the islands, perfect for snorkeling and diving. West Snake Caye also has a wide strip of white sandy beach on the west side of the island, ideal for a picnic between dives or snorkels.

Aerial Photography os Islands and Reef

The pristine reefs of the Sapodilla Cayes lie far offshore, about 40 miles east of Punta Gorda. The Sapodilla group of islands lies atop the extreme southern boundary of the Belize Barrier Reef. One of the most beautiful beaches in Belize – and an important turtle nesting beach – lies on the east side of Hunting Caye. Inside the barrier reef grow extensive reefs of lettuce corals. Deep channels separate the islands and lead to the gradual slope of the outer drop off, home to dolphins, turtles and the occasional whale shark. Overnight trips are the best option to experience and explore a wild and rarely visited region of the Belize Barrier Reef.