5 Blues Lake National Park, Belize
A true natural wonder, Five Blues Lake National Park is characterized by mystery. In recent years, the lake has drained and refilled itself, without obvious explanation. Besides this puzzling phenomenon, visitors have plenty to marvel at as they hike through the park. The name “Five Blues” references the multiple shades of blue in the water of the complex of freshwater lagoons, created by rainforest-filtered light.
The 10 acres (4 ha) of Five Blues Lake is surrounded by 400 acres (161 ha) of lush rainforest and jutting limestone hillside. Locals picnic there, and travelers swim, snorkel, and explore the small, forested “island” in the lake, famous for its abundance of wild orchids. Orchid Island is a sight not to be missed, and can be waded to via a ridge on the east side of the lake for a simple yet unique adventure.
White hawks and Black Hawk Eagles can be seen on limestone cliffs around the park. Around the lake, bright green broadleaf trees are home not only to 217 species of birds, but also howler monkeys. Other residents include armadillo, peccary (also known as javalina), and the adorable paca (gibnut), a Central American rodent whose edibility is currently under debate. All five of Belize’s indigenous wild cats roam this forest as well; the endangered jaguar, the overgrown housecat-sized ocelot, margay, and jaguarundi, and the mountain lion.
The mountain lion is the only cat that poses a tangible threat to humans, and travelers are advised that if they find a dead, eaten animal, to vacate the area in case a mountain lion still has an eye on her kill. Another animal not to bother, for different reasons, is the Lesser-Doglike Bat, a sweet-faced bat that is easy to spot, though travelers should take care not to disturb bat caves less they disrupt the bats’ the important schedule of eating thousands of insects a night.
As travelers can see from Orchid Island, the flora of Five Blues is just as impressive as the fauna: the tangles of liana – wooden vines – growing up the tree trunks add to the park’s air of mystery, while bromeliads and orchids dot the rainforest with bright colors. Some of these are highlighted in the leaflets available for $10 from the visitor center, which also maps trails both easy and strenuous. The visitor center also rents bikes and kayaks. For a more comprehensive experience, tour guides hired in the village can lead travelers right to the best caves, sinkholes, and orchid clusters.
The mystery of the lake, as far as the current generation knows, began quite recently, in 2006. Fishermen reported a sound as though the lake were “crying,” and a giant whirlpool began to swirl as water level rapidly lowered. Within days, the lake was nearly empty. Obviously, visitation slowed, as people were uninterested in seeing a muddy sinkhole. A year later, the lake refilled in mere days, as abruptly and mysteriously as it had drained.
Ecologists explain that this is a karstic lake, formed by an underground waterway becoming clogged with clay and mineral deposits in the underground bedrock. When the blockage dissolves, the lake drains like a bath. But the question of how the lake, which is 200 feet (61 m) deep in some areas, refills itself so quickly remains unanswered.