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Setting & Trip Route

Crooked Tree wetlands, the New River, and ruins of Lamanai

Our trip begins with the ancient Mayan city of Lamanai on the New River Lagoon. Lamanai, which roughly translates to ‘Submerged Crocodile’, was one of the most important trading and ceremonial centers in the Caribbean lowlands. Occupied for over 3000 years, from 1500 BC until 1600 AD, the ruins are unique as they illuminate a period of history that encompasses the early formative years of Mayan civilization through to initial European contact and colonization. With structures ranging from pre-classic temples to the Spanish colonial-era, jungle trails, refreshing swimming holes, and an excellent on-site museum, Lamanai is one of the most charming of all the Mayan sites in Belize.

After our day of exploring, we travel from Lamanai by boat winding our way through the wildlife rich wetlands of the New River on the way to our waterfront lodge within the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary. Crooked Tree provides a special opportunity for viewing, close at hand, the astounding diversity of birds and wildlife for which Belize is renowned. By boat we explore Spanish Creek, Revenge Lagoon, and the surrounding wetlands where we can see many birds including northern jacanas, white ibis, wood storks, and the huge jabiru stork. In the afternoon we travel to another of Belize’s Maya ruins, Altun Ha, known for the impressive temple of the Sun God.  

Our Route

Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary
Located 33 miles (53 kms) northwest of Belize City and just 2 miles off the Northern Highway, the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary consists of a large network of inland lagoons, swamps, and waterways. The sanctuary provides both the abundant food sources and the safe resting areas necessary to support a large and diverse population of birds. There are literally hundreds of species within the sanctuary, including, snail kites, tiger herons, snowy egrets, ospreys, black collared hawks, and of course the reserves most famous resident, the massive jabiru stork. The best time for viewing resident and migrant birds is December until June, during Belize's dry-season. Those visiting in the later months of the dry season (Feb.- Jun.) are treated to a concentration of wildlife, which congregate in the park's shrinking lagoons, as freshwater resources across the country dry-up.

The ruins of Lamanai lie scattered along the lagoon of the New River within a tropical rainforest in central Belize. The archaeological reserve is spread over 950 acres, however, the central area of the site covers approximately half a square mile. Mayan "Lama'an'ain", translates into "submerged crocodile" and, was one of the longest continuously occupied Mayan cities-from about 500 BC to 1675 AD due in part to its situation on a major trade route, the New River. The first major excavation was by David M. Pendergast, of the Royal Ontario Museum. During a series of field seasons beginning in 1974, his team mapped 718 structures stretching out along the shore of the lagoon. Much of Lamanai's importance is reflected in the large, imposing Late Pre-Classic temple-pyramids, which usually built over top of Early Classic constructions. For example, buried deep inside a 600 AD masked temple lies a well preserved Late Pre-Classic temple dating back to 100 BC In addition to the many Mayan structures in the park, Lamanai is also known for the remains of two 16th century Catholic churches and a 19th century sugar mill including a huge flywheel and boiler. Due to the long occupation of the site by varied peoples, the artifacts of Lamanai include those of stone, clay, wood, bone, shell, jade, gold, copper, glass, and iron. Also of interest, there are at least four troops of howler monkeys living there and the marshlands around the lagoon support many species of water birds, mammals, and reptiles.

Altun Ha
Translates into "stone water", which comes from the ancient Mayan reservoir, or aguada, that Belizeans call "rock stone pond". Altun Ha was an important Classic Period site situated to take advantage of the trading that occurred between the waters of the Caribbean and the deep interior of the Mayan Civilization. Altun Ha is one of the most excavated sites in Belize. The complex of Altun Ha is located 31 miles (50 kms) north of Belize City. The entire city covered three square miles (5 km2) and the population is estimated to have been 8,000 to 10,000 people at its peak. Within the central portion of the site there are more than 275 structures. Though quite small in size, this Mayan site has become famous mainly for a large jade head, representing the sun god Kinich Ahau, that was discovered in the main temple. This head is the largest Mayan jade artifact discovered to date, weighing 10 lbs. It is now the national symbol of Belize and seen on the corner of every Belizean banknote.