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Belize Zoo

A zoo in Belize? Yes. The Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center, about 30 miles outside of Belize City, provides loving homes for abandoned, illegally poached or injured animals which are indigenous to Belize. A visit here is your only sure-bet chance to see 150 different animals representing 45 species including some of the country’s wildlife super stars like endangered jaguars and harpy eagles (the largest bird of prey in the world), tapirs and much more. Toss in handmade signs that playfully impart warnings, information and a gentle eco message and a day at the Belize Zoo is a great family-friendly outing.

Tiger at Indagare Tour: Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary ,  Belize, Belize

Indagare Tour: Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary

Established in 1984 and made a sanctuary in 1990, the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in Central Belize is the world’s first jaguar sanctuary. It includes 200 square miles of protected land and is now home to roughly 70 jaguars along with many of their smaller kin including ocelot, jaguarundi and margay.

Even in this relatively cat-rich environment, seeing one is a long shot. What you will see as you explore the well-maintained trails in the sanctuary are birds of all shapes, colors and sizes. Cockscomb is home to (or on the migration path of) hundreds of species of birds including scarlet macaws (best seen around noon when the heat inspires them to roost in the shade), swooping parrots and huge guans.

More trails lead to impressive waterfalls with welcome swimming holes beneath them. For the truly adventurous the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is also the starting point of the climb to the top of Victoria Peak in the Cockscomb Mountains. At 3,688 feet, Victoria Peak is the second highest mountain in Belize. It takes most people three to five days to summit and return. Indagare members can contact our bookings to team to arrange a day trip.

Lakes at Indagare Tour: Fishing & Scuba Turneffe Atoll  ,  Belize, Belize

Indagare Tour: Fishing & Scuba Turneffe Atoll

About 30 miles (90 minutes by boat transfer from Belize City) in the open ocean east of the capital lies the 300 square mile Turneffe Atoll, the largest of only four coral atolls in the entire Western Hemisphere. The second-largest reef in the world passes right by, often within a stone’s throw of the shoreline. Sixty species of birds live or migrate through here. The water teems with dolphins and sharks and crocodiles. But it’s the fish that most people come for.

Fishermen flock to the eco-conscious Turneffe Flats Lodge on Turneffe Attol for week-long fishing vacations in search of the “grand slam” a trio of catches that includes bonefish, permit and tarpon all of which are available in the mangroves and shallows around the atoll. We can recommend lodges, which specialize in fresh-water and salt-water fishing as well as ones with scuba-diving programs. One has a polished program that includes a spacious, comfortable and easy-to-board 48′ dive boat and an excellent staff of dive masters and captains to help you make the most of more than 60 area dive sites including the iconic Great Blue Hole, part of the Belize Barrier Reef System which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As its name implies, this dive site is a big, blue hole (really a massive flooded sinkhole) that goes straight down nearly 500 feet. Indagare members can contact our bookings to team for suggestions on fishing and scuba programs.

Pot at Indagare Tours: Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave ,  Belize, Belize ,Courtesy J Kolecki

Indagare Tours: Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave

You may not be able to pronounce it but touring Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave is a long-standing adventure and cultural highlight in Belize. Blessedly abbreviated to just ATM, this cave provides a true adventure day combining easy hiking, swimming, cave exploration and sacred sites used by ancient Mayans for rituals including human sacrifice. This popular guided day trip is a high-adrenaline visit through a remarkable Mayan museum.

The tour kicks off in the early morning in San Ignacio. After a bumpy, 45-minute ride you will hike along a flat, scenic and mostly-shaded trail through the jungle for about 30 minutes until you reach the mouth of the flooded cave system which gapes open like a mysterious indoor/outdoor pool. It’s filled with crystal-clear water and the deepest section on the tour is right at the beginning. The only way in is to swim. After the initial swim the water never gets much more than knee-deep high but the trail through the cave is wet and rocky the entire way as you slowly move deeper into what the Mayans called Xibalba, or the underworld. This is where the Mayans believed the dead went before working their way back up through various levels to reach a better place. Xibalba was both feared and revered. Archaeologists believe that only a select few of the living Mayans ever entered caves and they did so only when necessary to perform rituals and ceremonies designed to solve problems. The bigger the problem, the deeper they went into the underworld.

Mayan ceremonial sites inside the ATM cave, and other ceremonial caves, exist on natural shelves in the interior of the cave system. Here the Mayans built fires, burned incense and lit torches, which cast shadows in the shapes of various gods (some carved out of pillars formed in the cave). They also brought in special ceremonial pots which were cracked or punctured with what’s called a “kill hole” to release their inner spirits and render the vessel useless after use. Pottery shards and punctured pots are scattered all over ATM cave.

After about an hour of walking more or less a mile into the three-mile long cave you reach a boulder on the cave floor. After scrambling up it you enter an expansive open area on a huge ledge. This is the Cathedral, and it’s an ancient offering site littered with dramatic artifacts. The artifacts and the cave environment here are so fragile that you have to take your shoes off and proceed with just socks on through this section of the cave that winds around the fire sites and ritually-arranged pots. The most dramatic artifacts here are the human remains, including the so-called Crystal Maiden, the only intact skeleton found in the Cathedral whose bones sparkle due to to mineral reactions over the years. Indagare members can contact our bookings to team to arrange a day trip.

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Rafting in water at Indagare Tours: Cave Tubing , Belize, Belize Courtesy Belize Tourism Board

Indagare Tours: Cave Tubing

Active types will be very happy in Belize thanks to a long list of things to do, including cave tubing. In waterfall cave expeditions you explore a flooded cave on foot, climbing up a series of interior waterfalls which must then be jumped down (in the pitch dark) on your way back out of the cave. Indagare members can contact our bookings to team to arrange a day trip.

Sea Life ats Indagare Tours: Scuba Tours ,  Belize, Belize

Indagare Tours: Scuba Tours

Serious divers should consider week-long explorations of Belize’s famous underwater world on-board a live-aboard dive boat. Contact Indagare for help setting up an intensive scuba trip, with up to five dives per day, organized by experienced and accommodating dive masters. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to see turtles, seahorses, large groups of rays, colorful reef fish, gorgeous coral formations (soft and hard), barracuda, frogfish, reef sharks, dolphins, octopus and even hammerhead sharks.

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Whale-Shark-Indagare Tours: Swimming with Whale Sharks , Belize, Belize ,Courtesy Zac Wolf

Indagare Tours: Swimming with Whale Sharks

Decades ago fishermen in Belize started noticing high numbers of whale sharks in the water around Gladden Spit off the coast of southern Belize during the full moons every spring and early summer. The area has since been protected and designated the Gladden Spit Marine Preserve but a controlled number of divers and snorkelers are still allowed into the water during what’s become known as whale shark season. Indagare knows the best boats, guides and gear to get you in the water with whale sharks. Sightings of these giants, which can be up to 50 feet long and weigh 70,000 pounds but live on microscopic marine life, aren’t guaranteed but they are common. Indagare members can contact our bookings to team to arrange a day trip.

Garden Whale-Shark-Indagare Tours: Swimming with Whale Sharks , Belize, Belize ,Courtesy Zac Wolf

Mayan Archaeological Sites

When it comes to Mayan archaeological sites Belize pales in comparison to neighboring Guatetmala. However, there are a handful of excavated sites that can be visited in Belize. Here are the highlights.

Nim Li Punit Toledo District, Southern Belize Nim Li Punit means “big hat” in the Kekchi Mayan language and is thought to have been inspired by the enormous headdresses worn by figures carved into some of the stelae found here. Stelae–giant stones carved with historical information and details about important events–are the main draw at this tiny site. An incredible 26 stelae were found at Nim Li Punit (though none were found at nearby Lubaantun) and many of them are still in excellent condition. Four stelae are on display in a modest museum near the entrance to the site, which oil prospectors stumbled upon in 1976.

Lubaatun Toledo District, Southern Belize What differentiates Lubaantun, a pre-Columbian Mayan city that dates back to 730 AD, from other Mayan archaeological sites is the legend of the Crystal Skull. According to Frederick A. Mitchell-Hedges, an adventurer, self-made archaeologist with a disturbing propensity for dynamiting sites and one of the first excavators of Lubaantun, an intact, anatomically correct skull carved out of a solid piece of crystal was allegedly found under a fallen altar by his adopted daughter Ana on her 17th birthday. (Inspections of the skull have led many scientists to believe that it was machine made in the 1800s before being purchased by Mitchell-Hedges in London in the early 1900s.) Authentic or not, the Belize government has asked for the return of the Crystal Skull on numerous occasions but Ana has never given up the most famous paperweight in the world.

Caracol Mountain Pine Ridge area, Central Belize This is the largest and most intensively studied archaeological site in Belize. It’s also the hardest to reach. To get to the Caracol archaeological site you have to drive through the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve over a mostly decent dirt road, then keep driving out of the reserve and into Chiquibul National Park. Tours depart from and return to San Ignacio or from Blancaneaux Lodge or Hidden Valley Inn within the Mountain Pine Ridge area.

Caracol has been dated to the Maya Classic period and at its peak it was one of the largest Mayan cities with more than 140,000 inhabitants. The site is currently being excavated and studied by Dr. Arlen Chase and Dr. Diane Chase and what’s excavated is spectacular. The main temple, Caana (which means sky place), is 141 feet high making it the tallest building in Belize even today.

Xunantunich Cayo District, Central Belize Belize’s most accessible Maya archaeological site, Xunantuni, is just a short taxi ride from the town of San Ignacio. The name of this Mayan city, believed to be from the Classic period (200-900 AD), means stone woman in reference to a female ghost that’s said to wander around the place and into the stone walls. Xunantunich is a compact site with pleasant grounds and a handful of excavated structures and a great place to hang out (probably alone–except for the Stone Woman) on top of a temple and enjoy the park-like atmosphere.

Lamanai Orange Walk District, Northern/Central Belize This large, well-excavated and accessible Mayan site is reached via a beautiful boat ride from a dock just outside the town of Espanto. Lamanai (which means submerged crocodile) is believed to have been settled as far back as the 16th century BC yet most of it remained unexcavated until the 1970s. Now four distinct areas have at least been cleared and the massive temples, ball courts and other structures are fascinating and huge–large enough to actually give the feeling of distinct neighborhoods.

Allow at least three hours at the site to really explore it and arrive in the morning so you can beat the heat and the boat loads of day trippers from cruise ships which start arriving and clogging up the place by mid day.

Altun Ha Belize District, Northern/Central Belize Altun Ha is a modern Mayan name (the city’s original name is unknown) for a very old place. Habitation dates back to 200 BC and experts in this kind of thing believe that up to 10,000 people lived here during the city’s peak. The excavated area is relatively small, just two plazas, but you can climb to the top of the Temple of the Masonry Altars and other structures. Altun Ha is only about 30 miles from Belize City.

Indagare members can contact our bookings to team to arrange guided visits to any of these sites.

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