Guanacaste National Park, Belize
Just 50 miles (80 km) from Belize City, and only two miles (3.2 km) from Belmopan is Guanacaste National Park, one of Belize’s most beautiful and accessible national parks. This park has 50 acres (20 ha) secondary growth. Reconverted from pasture and timberland and replanted in the 1970s, the park is now as lush and biodiverse as it might have been if it had never been cleared. One ancient tree remains, and is the park’s namesake: a massive Guanacaste (caro caro) tree, famously spared from a logging binge because it had developed three trunk bases, rendering it less useful as timber.
Officially named a national park in 1990, it is currently under the care of the Belize Audubon Society. The society invested in the park for its more than 120 different bird species, including the blue-crowned motmot, smoky-brown woodpecker, belted kingfisher, bright-rumped attila, and the amazing red-lored Amazon. But though it is a classic destination for birdwatchers and travelers, the park is just as popular with locals.
From 8AM to 4:30PM, visitors head to Guanacaste for picnicking and swimming. This park is popular among both visitors and locals. Belizean citizens pay an admissions fee of $1 BZD, while travelers can expect to pay $5 BZD. An education center overlooks a very swimmable river. The center includes a gift shop and a wooden observation deck that lets visitors gaze across the entire park.
When strolling the grounds, one might spot several interesting animals in addition to the resident birds: the adorable kinkajou, a soft-furred creature related to the raccoon, the nine-banded armadillo, and the white-tailed deer are among the native species, but perhaps most impressive are the 4-foot-long iguanas. Botanically, Guanacaste is fascinating – rain tree, Brazilian firetree, and mahogany grow tall. Closer to the ground you may spot one of Belize’s national symbols, the black orchid. The adventurous may even want to pluck a “stinky toe fruit” from the Bukut tree, which when in season produces edible fruits that are pungent yet tasty. To aid nature hikes, self-guided tour leaflets are available at the education center. Many well-marked trails begin there as well. Travelers are recommended to bring bug repellent, especially if planning to take a refreshing swim in the river.
Once Maya territory, the park holds a few mysteries: ancient pottery and other artifacts have been discovered here by maintenance workers, and more excitingly, an underground Mayan chamber known as a chultun is suspected to be hidden under the north-central park area. Though the park has never been archaeologically excavated, its natural wonders are clearly visible.