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Just a two-hour flight from Miami, Belize offers a rich blend of Maya ruins and lush forests, still wild enough to host Jaguars and a diversity of tropical birds, butterflies, and mammals. This nation’s warm, hospitable people speak English and have a strong tradition of caring for their biological legacy.
Join us for a relaxed-pace Christmastime tour to explore Belize’s biological treasures and cultural roots. We emphasize birding, but also examine natural history and Maya heritage while having some simple, relaxing fun. Colorful resident birds are joined by winter migrants, making birding each day extraordinary and fun!
Belize is Central America’s least populated country and logistics for travel here are simple—from US gateway cities it’s only a two-hour flight. Treat yourself this holiday season!
- Cruise through the famous Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, lush with waders and other wildlife
- Spend three fun nights at Lamanai Outpost Lodge, one of our favorite lodges in Belize
- Explore and bird through Lamanai’s Maya ruins and along it’s beautiful waterways by boat
- Spend Christmas Day at The Lodge at Big Falls—relax by the pool, stroll the lodge’s trail system, tube or kayak down the Rio Grande
- Bird at the Nim Li Punit Maya site and stop for a local farmer’s chocolate demonstration
Itineraries are guidelines; variations in itinerary may occur to account for weather, road conditions, closures, etc. and to maximize your experience.
Sun. Dec. 18: Arrivals | Black Orchid Resort
Welcome to Belize! Your local guide meets you upon arrival today and transfers you to the beautiful Black Orchid Resort. Please plan to arrive by 2:00 PM today.
Our resort is on the Belize River and boasts a host of amenities including a pool, restaurant, and canoes. We can bird the lodge’s grounds today before kicking off the trip with dinner at the resort’s restaurant.
Accommodations at Black Orchid Resort (D)
Mon. Dec. 19: Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary | Lamanai Outpost Lodge
After an early breakfast and coffee we depart for Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary where we enjoy a morning boat trip. Barely an hour north of the airport, this refuge is one of the premier birding destinations for aquatic birds in Central America, and is designated as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention.
A labyrinth of waterways and small islands, the refuge covers 16,400+ acres of creeks, swamps, and hummocks, including adjoining lowland pine savannas and tropical broadleaf forests. Watch for Morelet’s Crocodile and other reptiles, as well Yucatan Squirrel and possible Neotropical River Otter.
Inland lagoons support an astonishing array of bird life. Peregrine Falcon, Black-collared Hawk, Great Black Hawk, and Snail Kite are raptor highlights, while across the lagoon, we look for long-toed Northern Jacana and Common Gallinule among the lily pads, with Black-bellied Whistling and Muscovy Ducks nearby. Overhead we may see Caspian and Gull-billed Terns, while the vegetation along the banks supports populations of Anhinga, Tricolored Heron, and Limpkin. Additional heron species may include Little Blue, Green, both night herons (Black- and Yellow-crowned), and possibly Agami. Crooked Tree is also known for its Boat-billed Heron rookeries, which can be noisy, with birds vocalizing and bill-clacking. We also watch for Amazon, Green, Belted, Ringed, and even American Pygmy Kingfishers (the latter as small as a sparrow) perched above the water.
One of the key species we look for on the water is the Sungrebe. We also carefully watch for Jabiru storks, the tallest flying bird in Central and South America. Yucatan endemics include Red-vented (or Yucatan) Woodpecker, Yucatan Flycatcher, Yellow-lored Parrot, the raucous Yucatan Jay, and possibly even Black Catbird.
Nearby Crooked Tree Village, established around 1750, is possibly the earliest inland European settlement in Belize. Surrounded by Crooked Tree Lagoon, it is known for its locally grown and processed cashews. We enjoy lunch in the village before we depart for Lamanai.
After lunch we depart on another boat trip, this time to transport us to Lamanai Outpost Lodge, our home for the next three nights. The transfer in to Lamanai is FUN. From the boat, we should see Mangrove Swallow, Limpkin, Northern Jacana, Swallow-tailed and Snail Kites, and, with luck, a Black-collared Hawk or a huge Jabiru. Be ready with a windbreaker, camera, and binoculars. We arrive in time for late-afternoon birding by the lodge, followed by dinner.
Accommodations at Lamanai Outpost Lodge (B,L,D)
Tues. Dec. 20: Lamanai Outpost Lodge
Lamanai (Mayan for “submerged crocodile”), is located at the edge of a 28-mile spring-fed lagoon and offers rainforest, Maya ruins, pine savannahs, freshwater marshes, and open water habitats, all within walking distance. Over 400 species have been counted here, including Thicket Tinamou, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Jabiru, King Vulture, Zone-tailed Hawk, Ruddy Crake, White-fronted Parrot, Squirrel Cuckoo, and Northern Bentbill. Otters, manatees, crocodiles, and the occasional Jaguar are also nearby.
Forest trails and Maya ruins are easily accessed at Lamanai; birds and butterflies always seem to be at arm’s length. Just a short stroll from the lodge stands the Temple of the Jaguar and the High Temple, two of about 700 Maya structures at Lamanai that were hidden under a blanket of earth and vegetation until their excavation began in 1974. These ruins date back two millennia. Climbing the temples requires a bit of effort, but the reward is great: a bird’s-eye view over the forest canopy.
Overlooking the edge of the large New River Lagoon, Lamanai offers a different mix of birds from The Lodge at Big Falls, our second lodge. Some birds at the water’s edge are familiar: Neotropic Cormorant, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, and Purple Gallinule. Others, like White-collared Seedeater, Mangrove Vireo, Ruddy Crake, or the delightful American Pygmy Kingfisher remind you that you have left the United States. Open-air dining lets you be immersed in nature; local foods and tropical fruits abound!
During our stay we take several boat trips. Canoe excursions offer relaxing and intimate wildlife views, and can be arranged for both day and night paddles. Such trips frequently produce an endangered Morelet's Crocodile, iguanas, and basilisk lizards, up to five species of kingfishers, Boat-billed Heron, Gray-cowled Wood-Rail, and occasionally a rarity like an Agami Heron. At night, with the aid of spotlights, we look for several species of bats, Yucatan Nightjar, Yucatan Poorwill, and Northern Potoo.
We also make sure to have time to see the impressive Lamanai Maya Ruins, and to explore the open savanna habitat, which affords us a good mix of species including Yucatan Woodpecker, Yellow-lored Parrot, the Petén race of Botteri’s Sparrow, and occasionally Aplomado Falcon.
Accommodations at Lamanai Outpost Lodge (B,L,D)
Wed. Dec. 21: Lamanai Outpost Lodge
Whether you’re well-traveled in Central America or visiting for the first time, there is much to hold your attention at Lamanai. Birds and monkeys busy themselves around the cabins; nearly 200 species of butterflies flit through the area, colorful dragonflies and damselflies buzz by, lizards ranging in size from tiny geckoes to five-foot-long iguanas lounge around, and of course, numerous herbs, shrubs, and trees attract wild tropical wonder.
We’re mindful of some of the regional endemics, including Black Catbird, Rose-throated Tanager, Yucatan Jay, and Gray-throated Chat. One of the most interesting phenomena, and one we are likely to encounter at Lamanai is an army ant march. Birds of many families attend these marches, eating the insects, frogs, lizards, and other organisms flushed by the foraging ants. Standing quietly at the margin of an ant swarm, we get close looks at faithful ant followers, including Gray-headed Tanager, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, and a number of woodcreepers, including Tawny-winged and Northern Barred. Other possibilities are White-whiskered Puffbird, several flycatchers, migrant warblers, and perhaps a Great Tinamou. Even birds of prey like the dainty Barred Forest-Falcon follow ant swarms?all so absorbed in the sea of insect life that they ignore our fascinated observation.
Accommodations at Lamanai Outpost Lodge (B,L,D)
Thurs. Dec. 22: Depart Lamanai Outpost Lodge | The Lodge at Big Falls
We enjoy a last morning of birding and breakfast at Lamanai Outpost Lodge before departing for The Lodge at Big Falls. This is largely a travel day, with a flight to our next lodge right from the Lamanai air strip. This is a short domestic flight and allows us to have plenty of time to bird once we arrive at Big Falls.
The Lodge at Big Falls is located on the forested banks of the Rio Grande River (with kayaks provided for leisure time). Enjoy attractive grounds, a beautiful swimming pool, and excellent accommodations that include hardwood interiors, sparkling bathrooms, comfortable furnishings, and fully screened windows.
Before dinner, we may spot Russet-naped Wood-Rail and scampering agouti on the open lawns fronting the main lodge. This building has a breezy covered porch, Wi-Fi access, and comfortable seating—perfect for relaxing with an afternoon drink or morning coffee, while watching Rufous-tailed Hummingbird at the feeders or pondering your bird list.
The Lodge at Big Falls offers the advantage of outstanding birding right on site, and it’s possible to spot species such as Gartered Trogon, Yellow-billed Cacique, Gray-headed and Golden-hooded Tanagers, Grayish Saltator, and Red-throated Ant-Tanager literally steps from your cabin door. Specialties like the shy Bare-crowned Antbird and Rufous-breasted Spinetail (the latter the most northerly species of this largely South American group) are regularly recorded within earshot of the main lodge, while the immediately adjacent Rio Grande River provides habitat for four of Belize’s five kingfisher species (Green, Amazon, Belted, and Ringed), which can be seen without leaving the property.
This evening we discuss activities for the coming days, go over our species list, and listen to the eerie calls of the Common Pauraque as the sun sets before dinner. It’s been a full day and many of us retire early in preparation for tomorrow’s activities.
Accommodations at The Lodge at Big Falls (B,L,D)
Fri. Dec. 23: Nim li Punit | San Felipe Hills
After grabbing a light snack, our early morning birding outing today focuses on the Nim Li Punit Maya site, located just six miles from the lodge. Nim Li Punit, which is Kekchi Mayan for “Big Hat,” dates from the Maya Classic Period that flourished from the 5th through the 8th Centuries AD, and consists of three distinct plazas and several step-pyramids. In 2015, the second largest carved jade artifact in Belize was discovered here. The site itself is set high in mature forest with fantastic views east across the coastal plain to the cays in the Gulf of Honduras.
The area offers some very good birding, including several woodpeckers (Lineated, Pale-billed, Smokey-brown, and potentially Chestnut-colored) and woodcreepers (Streak-headed, Wedge-billed, and Ivory-billed), as well as various migrant warblers and vireos. Other possible highlights include White-crowned Parrot, Keel-billed Toucan, White-throated Thrush, Hook-billed Kite, Red-legged and Green Honeycreepers, Bat Falcon, Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet, Blue Grosbeak, Montezuma Oropendola, and Rose-throated Becard.
We return for breakfast, and then head out to the San Felipe Hills, a karst landscape about 12 miles from the lodge. Our goal is to bird across an orange grove (Belizean orchards are not the manicured settings we’re used to at home, and can actually be great for birding), and eventually arrive at the karst limestone foothills of San Felipe that rise to a height of around four hundred feet. As the ground slopes upward, we enter a broadleaf forest. We look for some of the most difficult to locate species in Belize, including Tody Motmot, Rufous Piha, Rufous Mourner, Northern Schiffornis, Nightingale Wren, Scaly-throated Leaftosser, White-winged Becard, Tawny-crowned Greenlet, and Northern Barred Woodcreeper.
As the day heats up we take refuge at a local chocolatier’s farm, where we learn about the process of making chocolate and enjoy a wonderful lunch. Then, it’s back to the lodge where we can enjoy some quiet time to take on some swimming or tubing, and then enjoy late afternoon birding walks on trails at the lodge. We conclude by tallying up our list, and having another delicious dinner at the lodge. Night birding is an option tonight if we have not yet encountered the several species that frequent the property.
Accommodations at The Lodge at Big Falls (B,L,D)
Sat. Dec. 24: Blue Creek | Lodge Birding
Enjoy another delicious lodge breakfast, and then we make our way to Blue Creek Village or Forest Home, a similar site. Both feature mature broadleaf and gallery tropical forests with riparian understory habitats.
Birding at both sites can be excellent, with important species in field and forest edge habitats, including Striped Cuckoo, Bronzed and Giant Cowbirds, Plain-breasted Ground-Dove, Blue-black Grassquit, Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, and Scrub Euphonia. The gorgeous Crimson-collared Tanager and closely related Scarlet-rumped Tanager are also both found along the road into Blue Creek. Less common raptors such as Gray-headed and Double-toothed Kites are occasionally seen here, together with the common Roadside Hawk.
Birding mature forests in these areas can yield a number of intriguing mid-canopy and understory species, including Lesson’s Motmot, Little and Great Tinamous, Collared Trogon, White-breasted Wood-Wren, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Red-capped Manakin, Black-crowned Antshrike (here at the northern end of its range), and the seldom seen Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher. Along the forest margins we look for Collared Aracari, as well as White-whiskered Puffbird and Rufous-tailed Jacamar, the latter species typically sitting motionless for extended periods as they wait for large insect prey.
We head back to Big Falls for lunch, scanning roadside ditches on the way for Bare-throated Tiger-Heron. Lunch is at the lodge, or possibly at Coleman’s Café in Big Falls village, with excellent Belizean cuisine and a largely local clientele. This afternoon we relax, with staff available for kayaking on the Rio Grande adjacent to the lodge. Before sunset we hope to have the option to visit the “Dump Rice Field,” an expanse of rice paddies and swamps located a short drive from the lodge. The road passing through sits on an elevated causeway, with side tracks leading into the marshy areas. Key species here include Sora, Ruddy and Uniform Crakes, Purple Gallinule, White-throated Flycatcher, Least Bittern, Short-tailed Hawk, Limpkin, and Common Tody-Flycatcher.
Tonight we enjoy a celebratory dinner, going over our final bird list and reminiscing about our journey.
Accommodations at The Lodge at Big Falls (B,L,D)
Sun. Dec. 25: Christmas in Belize | Lodge & Local Birding
Merry Christmas! Today is gentle, with lodge and possibly local birding opportunities, as well as time to just relax in nature. With such excellent birding right on our doorsteps, it’s hard to resist getting up at the crack of dawn, soaking in all the morning bird song with coffee or tea in hand. The lodge sits on thirty acres within a long meander of the Rio Grande and includes riparian, secondary growth forest, disused agricultural land, orchard, and meadow habitats. Species we could see this morning as we stroll include Black-faced Antthrush, Barred Antshrike, Great Antshrike, Bare-crowned Antbird, Black-and-white Owl, Crimson-collared Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Black-crowned Tityra, Pale-billed and Lineated Woodpecker, and Stub-tailed Spadebill.
Off-site excursions may be available, but we leave today loose to keep things relaxed and enjoy the holiday. Tonight enjoy a special dinner at the lodge and hear about plans for tomorrow’s adventures.
Accommodations at The Lodge at Big Falls (B,L,D)
Mon. Dec. 26: Departures
Our adventure comes to an end today. This morning we drive the 30 minutes to Punta Gorda and board a Tropic Air, Mayan Air, or similar carrier for our flight back to Belize City. To ensure a smooth connection, please plan your international flight to depart after 1:00 PM. (B)
Cost of the Journey
Cost of the main tour is $4890 DBL / $5490 SGL per person, based on double occupancy, from Belize City. Cost includes: all accommodations; all meals as stated in the itinerary; group airport transfers; ground transportation within Belize; both domestic flights; professional guide services; park, preserve, and other activity fees; lodge tips; and miscellaneous program expenses. Tour price does not include: roundtrip airfare to and from Belize City or items of a personal nature such as laundry, porterage, telephone charges, or alcoholic beverages. Gratuities for your local lodge guides in Belize are not included, these are at your discretion, but highly appreciated and recommended.
Please plan to make air travel plans only after the minimum group size has been met. We will send you a confirmation email as soon as the trip has been confirmed.
Please plan to make air travel plans only after the minimum group size has been reached. Please arrive in Belize City at the Philip SW Goldson International Airport no later than 2:00 PM on or before December 18. Plan to depart on after 1:00 PM flights homeward on December 26.
Browse below for trip reports and species lists from past versions of this and other tours from this destination.
- March 2014
- February 2016
- January 2017 (w/Cave Creek Ranch)
- February 2017 (Private Tour)
- February 2017
- January 2018
- March 2018
- January 2019
- March 2019
- January 2020
- February 2020
- March 2020
- July 2021
- October 2021
- November 2021 (Birds & Beaches)
- December 2021
- January 2022
- March 2022
- November 2022
- January 2023
- February 2023 (3 Lodge Tour)
- March 2023
Bob Meinke, Guide Emeritus
Bob Meinke started birding in earnest while an undergraduate in plant science at Humboldt State University in northern California. After graduate school he went on to join the botany faculty at Oregon State University (OSU), where he’s led the state’s Native Plant Conservation Biology Program (in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture) for over 25 years. Bob and his graduate students conducted research on the conservation and recovery of threatened and endangered plants in the western U.S., focusing on life history and re-introduction studies, and have also discovered and named a number of plant species new to science. When not botanizing, Bob enjoys travel with his wife Kelly (also a botanist)—never having lost their early interest in birding, Bob and Kelly have traveled extensively over the years, searching for birds and other wildlife in areas as diverse as Papua New Guinea, southern India, Fiji and Tonga, Australia, Iceland, Brazil, and southwest Africa. They share a particular interest in the avifauna of Central America, and reside with their cats in an historic neighborhood in Corvallis, Oregon, a few blocks from the OSU campus.
Photo credit: Courtesy Bob Meinke
Other trips with Bob Meinke, Guide Emeritus
Pace & Protocols +
Pace of the Tour & What to Expect
You will receive a Schedule-at-a-Glance and list of hotels (our eContact List) a few weeks before your departure. This will serve as an outline for each day and alert you to any recent changes made in the schedule or to our hotels, if needed.
Our journeys are set up to follow the rhythm of nature. Our focus is on birding and nature; we offer full, well-planned field days and often get up early for that magical time around dawn. We generally follow the published itinerary, but we stay flexible to the weather, wildlife opportunities and the interests of the group. Your guide will keep you apprised of the next day’s schedule at each evening meal, noting what to bring and what to prepare for. Questions and/or concerns are welcome.
The pace of our Naturalist Journeys tours is moderate; to fully participate you should be able to get in and out of vehicles several times a day, and walk 1-3 miles over uneven terrain. It is important to participate with a flexible attitude as adjustments may be made in our schedule to make the most of our time in the field or for other purposes at your guide's discretion. We are not a “listing” bird company that drills down on target species, but at times we do wait for those special species unique to the places we visit. During the day, we take time to stop for photos and for educational opportunities to learn about conservation projects, landscapes, and geology. We appreciate other taxa as well as birds, with mammals often the biggest draw but plants and butterflies are also very popular. Our clients often lend their own expertise to the mix.
We like to make meals a fun and memorable part of the experience, too. Breakfasts are often at hotels, and we carry snacks, fruit, and water in the vans each day. Lunches are a mix of picnics in the field (weather dependent) and a chance to dine with locals at small cafes and restaurants. For dinner, we pride ourselves in our homework to keep up with the best choices for dining, choosing restaurants with atmosphere that specialize in local foods. On occasion we keep dinner simple to go back out in the field for sunset wildlife viewing or night walks. In some remote locations, our choices are limited. If you are tired, room service for dinner may be an option you can choose.
Naturalist Journeys International Trips: Guide Role
Naturalist Journeys supports ecotourism and the development of excellent local guides. Once we know our international partners and guides well, we can send out small groups working directly with these trusted partners, adding a Naturalist Journeys guide to assist the local expert when we have a group of 6-7 or more. This helps us keep your costs down while retaining tour quality. The local guide is your main guide. You can expect your Naturalist Journeys guide to be well-researched and often they are experienced in the destination, but their role is not to be primary, it is to help to organize logistics, help you find birds, mammals, and interesting other species in the field, keep reports, help facilitate group interactions, and to keep the trip within Naturalist Journeys' style. Local guides live in the countries we travel to, know the destinations intimately, and are often the strongest force for conservation in their countries. They open many doors for us to have a rich experience.
Smoking is not permitted in any vehicle or in any situation where the group is participating in an activity together, such as a vehicle excursion or a guided walk. Please respect all designated smoking areas at hotels and restaurants.
As a courtesy to each other, we ask that all travelers please rotate seating. On international trips we may all be in one small bus, on some trips we are in vans, particularly the roomy Sprinter Vans when available. Some areas require us to be in smaller 4-wheel drive or safari vehicles. Rotation allows you to sit with different drivers and alternate front and back seating.
Photo Release & Sharing
We take many group photos and will share photos with the group. And after your tour, we will organize a chance to share photos via Dropbox or Google Photos. Please note that this is our policy and if you prefer to be excluded, we need to know ahead of your tour.
By registering for this tour, you agree to grant to Naturalist Journeys and its authorized representatives’ permission to record on photography film and/or video, pictures of my participation in the tour. You further agree that any or all of the material photographed may be used, in any form, as part of any future publications, brochure, or other printed materials used to promote Naturalist Journeys, and further that such use shall be without payment of fees, royalties, special credit or other compensation.
You are traveling in remote areas. Naturalist Journeys strongly recommends you have full medical and evacuation insurance from a company such as Allianz, agent number 176098, for all international travel. If you do not have medical coverage or evacuation coverage on your existing travel insurance policy or for some reason elected not to take that out, we advise getting an evacuation plan with Global Rescue, World Nomads, Medjet, Allianz (they can do evacuation only) or a similar company. These plans are typically $300-$400 for a year for multiple destinations. This coverage may be a part of a larger Travel Insurance policy but can also be purchased on its own.
Please contact Naturalist Journeys by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone our office: (520) 558-1146 or toll free: (866) 900-1146 if you have any questions. Many thanks for traveling with us and we hope you enjoy your journey.
Photo credits: Banners: Keel-billed Toucan (Canva Stock), Lamanai (Canva Stock), Black Orchid (Canva Stock), Jabiru (Peg Abbott), Black Howler Monkey (Canva Stock), Belize Birding Group (Carlos Sanchez), Great Black Hawk (Carlos Sanchez) Gallery: Lodge (Peg Abbott), Black-cheeked Woodpecker (Gerold Morrison), Lagoon Scenic (Peg Abbott), Barred Antshrike (Peg Abbott), Slaty-tailed Trogon (Gerold Morrison), Red-lored Parrot (Gerold Morrison), Belize birding group (Peg Abbott), Bat Falcon (Peg Abbott), Eastern Meadowlark (Gerold Morrison), Cinnamon Becard (Gerold Morrison), Chestnut-colored Woodpecker (Gerold Morrison), Lodge (Peg Abbott) Primary Photo Gal: Lovely Cotinga (James Adams), White-collared Manakin (Peg Abbott), King Vulture (Peg Abbott), Belize flower (Peg Abbott), Smooth-billed Ani (Peg Abbott) Secondary Photo Gal: Hibiscus (Peg Abbott), Ornate Hawk-Eagle (Narca Moore-Craig), Gartered Trogon (Peg Abbott), Lineated Woodpecker (Peg Abbott)