27 de marzo de 2008


Southern Belize is for those who want to explore off the beaten track. Its small towns and villages and largely undisturbed environment make the area seem unspoiled and isolated. Although the roads are long and usually in bad condition, the scenery is spectacular and exotic, with large expanses of forests and the eastern fringe of the Mayan mountains on the horizon.
The main road into the south is the Hummingbird Highway, which begins in Belmopan and travels down to Dangriga. Although the highway is well paved up to the Caves Branch River, it degenerates with potholes and bumps as it travels further south. About 15 miles from Belmopan is the Blue Hole, a lovely, circular swimming hole surrounded by forest. The waters come from an underground river, making them unusually cool. From the Blue Hole, a trail leads off the highway to St. Herman's Cave, a large limestone cavern. After that, the highway leads to the colorful town of Dangriga, dominated by the Garifuna culture.
Encompassing 100,000 acres of lush jungle in Southern Belize, the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is about an hour's drive south of Dangriga on the Southern Highway. Situated around Belize's Cockscomb Basin, a lush mountain basin full of tropical forest and jungle streams, the Sanctuary is a great place for nature lovers. In addition to the jaguar, the sanctuary's diverse ecosystem protects a sizable percentage of Belize's plant and animal species, including the endangered ocelot, margay, baird's tapir, kinkajou and scarlet macaw. There are several beautiful nature trails in the sanctuary, including Ben's Bluff Trail, from which hikers can get the best views of the basin, and a trail up to Victoria's Peak, the second highest mountain in Belize.
Further along the Southern Highway is a 26-mile long dirt road which leads to the Placencia Peninsula, a wonderful place for diving, snorkelling, fishing, and viewing wildlife. Much of the surrounding forest around the nearby Monkey River has been declared a Special Conservation Area. A slow ride up the jungle-lined river offers the opportunity to view iguanas, crocodiles, howler monkeys and a large variety of tropical birds.
Further south of Placencia is the remote Toledo District, where over half the population is Mayan. Pot-holed dirt roads lead past isolated Mayan villages, primary rain forests, monstrous caves and numerous ancient ruins returning to the forest, making Toledo a difficult but exciting destination for adventurous travellers. Punta Gorda is the southern-most town in Belize and the largest in Toledo with a population of 6,000.
Lying along the slope of the Mayan mountains in Toledo is the 92,000-acre Bladen Nature Reserve, probably Belize's most pristine protected rainforest. Largely unexplored, the reserve contains massive outcrops of limestone, sinkholes, caves waterfalls and numerous species of wildlife. Adjacent to Bladen Reserve is the 103,000 acre Columbia River Forest Reserve, which is the most biologically diverse ecosystem in Belize. The Temash and Sarstoon Delta Wildlife Sanctuary has spectacular 30-40-foot tall red mangrove trees, and abundant wildlife such as the gibnut, peccary, warrie, crocodile and jaguar. When you go to these remote reserves, it is a good idea to be totally self-sufficient in terms of equipment and food. Guides can be hired at the nearby village of San Jose for strenuous treks into the reserves.
Toledo is rich in Mayan ruins, but many of them are overgrown, with little information about them available. One of the better-maintained sites is Lubaatun, which lies on a ridge above a valley, ½ mile from the village of San Pedro Columbia. Uphill from the nearby Indian Creek village, is Nim Li Punit, an ancient ceremonial center with magnificent views and 25 stelae, types of carved stone monuments, including one of the largest stelae in Belize.
Click for attractions at and around Placencia and Dangriga. The following are those further south around Punta Gorda:-
Fajina Craft Center for handicrafts
Blue Creek Cave for path to cave, and canopy walk through rainforest
Rio Blanco Falls, guided trips of cascades in the Maya Mountains
Trekking of jungle, caves, waterfalls
Mayan ruins of Uxbenka
Agua Caliente Nature Reserve for birdwatching, hiking, hot water spring and wildlife
Barranco Village 12 miles south of Punta Gorda, reached by boat, to visit Temash River, Sarstoon Temash National Park (see above)
Kayaking ocean cayes or in rivers
Fishing for tarpon, permit and bonefish

Jaguar Reef Lodge, DangrigaStann Creek area hotels

Visitor Info
In Punta Gorda, Dangriga and Placencia there are local taxis and buses, but generally we recommend you have your own 4WD rental car for greatest flexibility and mobility. Make sure you fill up with petrol as petrol stations are relatively spread out in the south. From Punta Gorda's customs docks leaves a daily ferry for Puerto Barrios, on the Caribbean coast of Guatemala.
getting thereThe drive with rental car is adventurous, as there are long stretches of gravel road down to southerly Punta Gorda (4 hours or 168 miles from Belize City, via the Western, Coastal, Hummingbird and then Southern Highways), but crosses very attractive scenery. We recommend a 4WD. En route you pass, and can stay at, Placencia and Dangriga. There are also regular domestic flights to Placencia, Dangriga and Punta Gorda with Tropic Air and Maya Airways, the flight to Punta Gorda lasting about 60 minutes.

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