Sport and activities

 

Archaeology

The protection of Belize's Maya heritage and its development into tourism sites is high on the agenda. Further excavation and protection of sites, better access, construction of tourist facilities like visitor centres and small souvenir shops, the availability of brochures and knowledgeable guides are all part of the plan. For information contact the Archaeology Departmentin Belmopan, where there are plans underway for a Museum of Archaeology.

Caving

Belize has some of the longest caving systems in the world. Main attractions in caves are crystal formations, but most of the caves in Belize were also used by the Maya, and in some Maya artefacts have been found. While government permission is required to enter unexplored systems, simple cave exploration is easy. From San Ignacio, tours go to Chechem Ha, Barton Creek and Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave, known for their Maya artefacts. The best one-stop shop for all levels is the Caves Branch Jungle Lodge on the Hummingbird Highway close to the entrance to the Blue Hole National Park.

Diving

The shores are protected by the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere. The beautiful coral formations are a great attraction for scuba-diving, with canyons, coves, overhangs, ledges, walls and endless possibilities for underwater photography.

Lighthouse Reef, the outermost of the three north-south reef systems, offers pristine dive sites in addition to the incredible Blue Hole. Massive stalagmites and stalactites are found along overhangs down the sheer vertical walls of the Blue Hole. This outer reef lies beyond the access of most land-based diving resorts and even beyond most fishermen, so the marine life is undisturbed. An ideal way to visit is on a live-aboard boat. An exciting marine phenomenon takes place during the full moon each January in the waters around Belize when thousands of the Nassau groupers gather to spawn at Glory Caye on Turneffe Reef.

We would ask you to be respectful to the fact that there are decreasing numbers of small fish - an essential part of the coral lifecycle - in the more easily accessible reefs, including the underwater parks. The coral reefs around the northerly, most touristy cayes are dying, probably as a result of tourism pressures, so do your bit to avoid further damage.

Fishing

Belize is a very popular destination for sport fishing, normally quite pricey but definitely worth it if you want to splash out. The rivers offer fewer and fewer opportunities for good fishing, and tilapia, escaped from regional fish farms, now compete with the catfish, tarpon and snook for the food supply. The sea still provides game fish such as sailfish, marlin, wahoo, barracuda and tuna. On the flats, the most exciting fish for light tackle - the bonefish - is found in great abundance.

In addition to the restrictions on turtle and coral extraction, the following regulations apply: no person may take, buy or sell crawfish (lobster) between 15 February and 14 June, shrimp between 15 March and 14 July, or conch between 1 July and 30 September.

Nature tourism

Conservation is a high priority in Belize. Tourism vies for the top spot as foreign currency earner in the national economy, and is the fastest-growing industry. Nature reserves are supported by a combination of private and public organizations including the Belize Audubon Society, the government and international agencies.

The Belize Audubon Society, www.belizeaudubon.org, manages seven protected areas including Half Moon Caye Natural Monument (3929 ha), Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary (41,800 ha - the world's only jaguar reserve), Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary (6480 ha - swamp forests and lagoons with wildfowl), Blue Hole National Park (233 ha), Guanacaste National Park (20.25 ha), Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve (formerly known as Society Hall Nature Reserve (2731 ha - a research area with Maya presence) and the Shipstern Nature Reserve (8910 ha - butterfly breeding, forest, lagoons, mammals and birds, contact BAS or the International Tropical Conservation Foundation, through www.shipstern.org).

The Río Bravo Management and Conservation Area (105,300 ha) bordering Guatemala to the northwest of the country, covers some 4% of the country and is managed by the Programme for Belize, www.pfbelize.org.

Other parks include the Community Baboon Sanctuary at Bermudian Landing, Bladen Nature Reserve (watershed and primary forest), Hol Chan Marine Reserve (reef eco-system). Recently designated national parks and reserves include: Five Blue Lakes National Park, based on an unusually deep karst lagoon, and a maze of exotic caves and sinkholes near St Margaret Village on the Hummingbird Highway; Kaax Meen Elijio Panti National Park, at San Antonio Village near the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve; Vaca Forest Reserve (21,060 ha); and Chiquibul National Park (107,687 ha - containing the Maya ruins of Caracol). There's also Laughing Bird Caye National Park (off Placencia), Glovers Reef Marine Reserve, and Caye Caulker now has a marine reserve at its north end.

Belize Enterprise for Sustained Technology (BEST), www.best.org.bz, is a non-profit organization committed to the sustainable development of Belize's disadvantaged communities and community-based ecotourism, for example Gales Point and Hopkins Village.

On 1 June 1996 a National Protected Areas Trust Fund (PACT) www.pactbelize.org, was established to provide finance for the “protection, conservation and enhancement of the natural and cultural treasures of Belize”. Funds for PACT come from a conservation fee paid by all foreign visitors on departure by air, land and sea, and from 20% of revenues derived from protected areas entrance fees, cruise ship passenger fees, etc. Visitors pay only one PACT tax every 30 days, so if you go to Tikal for a short trip from Belize, show your receipt in order not to pay twice.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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