Conservation Tourism in Belize

Conservation Tourism in Belize


The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak, so we must and we will.

Theodore Roosevelt

Generally speaking when you head for Belize you either choose the beach or the jungle. For a unique and eye opening trip I chose the jungle. Along my travels I was lucky enough to meet this man…Jorge De Leon.

Advocate, conservationist, tour guide, family man, Mayan archeological specialist, hater of hot sauce, and teacher on all things Belize, Lion, as he is known, taught me a lot about the conservation efforts underway throughout the country, specifically in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve in the Cayo District.

Home to over 375 plant species found no where else on earth, and some of the most endangered species including Jaguars, Ocelots, Harpy Eagles, Bairds Tapirs, Black Howler Monkeys, Tree Frogs, Morelet’s Crocodiles and Scarlet Macaws; the Chiquibul forest provides refuge for these species due to its difficult accessibility but, also makes it inviting for poachers looking to benefit from black market sales. Over the years resulting from the lack of critical resources needed to protect the area activities such as illegal logging, hunting, and poaching have gone on unchecked leading to several types of animals being added to the endangered species list. Ever wonder where those Parrots or Scarlet Macaws in the pet store come from?

But one group has stepped up to the challenge of protecting and monitoring the Chiquibul Forest while also providing educational resources and opening up its centers for scientific study and eco-tourism. A proud working member of the Friends of Conservation and Development, (FCD) Jorge takes his job very seriously when it comes to anything that threatens the natural wonders of Belize.

Working with the Belize Government, Forest Department, Institute of Archaeology, BDF and the Police, the FCD trains and employs park rangers to monitor and protect the area which is approximately 400,000 acres. One endeavor of theirs is the protection of the Scarlet Macaw which have seen numbers dwindle in the past several years due to poaching for the illegal pet business. Rangers are employed to protect the nests by monitoring day and night. This often means sleeping out in the forest, disconnected from everything, for several days at a time until the next shift is brought on. In an area where poachers are ruthless this can be a very dangerous job.

As a result of nests being raided the FCD opened the Nest Base Camp. A no thrills site that allows young Macaws to grow and develop under the watchful care of the FCD and the veterinary staff of the Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic. When the birds are mature enough they are released back into the wild where they can be monitored from a distance to ensure their survival.

Part of the reason the Chiquibul Forest Reserve has enjoyed the development of such diverse flora and fauna is partially due to the low human footprint. This low footprint has in turn also allowed for poaching and other illegal activities to go unchecked. To help combat and educate the local population and tourists the FCD has partnered with several local tour operations to bring people into the region in an educational and non intrusive manner. Be prepared to disconnect yourself from the outside world while experiencing some of the most unique encounters. From scientists, students, nature enthusiasts, or just those curious to learn more, there is something for everyone. To find out more about tours and centers in the area check out Eco Quest Expeditions and Lion Adventure Tours (run by Jorge De Leon). Of course if you are not planning on traveling to Belize there are other ways to help. The FCD is always looking for funding to help equip rangers and provide more hands on assistance in the area. You can donate online and monitor their progress here.

Belize is definitely one of those countries you want to stay off the resorts and head out into the jungle.

Recent Posts

Reformation in Belize

Reformation in Belize


The quest for beauty even physical beauty should be a celebration of self versus a labor of any kind.


Being in Belize meant two things: Recognizing natural beauty and understanding conservation. For this trip I really wanted to showcase companies that mirrored these ideologies.

Reformation has long been a favorite of mine and a go-to when it comes to eco clothing. Awhile back I bought this Reformation Aurelia skirt which is absolutely amazing. It kind of makes me feel like a Flamenco dancer. Unfortunately, it is no longer in stock but check back because I have a feeling as the weather gets warmer you’ll be seeing some silhouettes very close to this again.

Reformation prides itself on letting its consumers know what their products are made from, where they are made, and also the carbon footprint involved with each purchase. But, don’t think hippy chic. There clothing is the “it-girls” go to, including Taylor Swift.

I paired the Aurelia skirt with Bondi striped crop shirt also from Reformation. It is still available in white but if crop isn’t your thing you can opt instead for the Moriane Top in Mosman stripe which is very similar. The fabric is lightweight, a bit clingly, but moves with your body like a second skin.

The hat is from several years ago and to be honest I don’t remember where from. Try your local charity shop or thrift store. A lot of people will clean out their closets in the winter and donate summery clothing. The benefit is all yours!

Admittedly I am not a light packer. Even if just going to the pool I bring everything instead of being inconvenienced later and running back to my room to grab something. The Maple Whiskey Revival Series Bag from Boston Bag Company was a life saver on this trip. I used it as a carry-on at the airport and also when running around during the day. It held everything and may be the most comfortable bag I have ever carried. When you buy this bag there is a choice for a shoulder strap or not… go for the shoulder strap.

Accessories! I chose a gorgeous necklace from Bliss. I was lucky enough to find them at a local Boston showcase and was really impressed with their mission and pieces. Bliss works with women internationally to produce, market, sell, and invest the money according to how it fits their lifestyles. The women who who make these gorgeous pieces have complete ownership. The company is still building but make sure to check out their page for events in your area and help support a great cause.

Recent Posts

Going Local in Belize for Women’s Education

Going Local in Belize for Women’s Education


… I thought there is no way I would challenge her to a thumb wrestling competition.

There are a few brave travelers out there that will locally couch surf, or happily accept an invite after meeting someone for a few minutes. I am not one of these people. As much as I would like to think of myself as an adventurous traveler, up for anything, that simply isn’t the truth. But, more than anything I want to understand the local culture and if staying at someone’s house isn’t an option, the next best thing is to find local groups to involve yourself in, if only for a day.

So that’s exactly what I did in Belize at the San Antonio Women’s Group. To back up a little bit, at the start of my trip I was looking for a place to understand the local weaving and embroidery that takes place in the country. Little did I know Ryan, from Blancaneaux Lodge who helped to arrange the visit, filled my day with much more and I am so very thankful he did.

Located about two hours from Belize City and thirty minutes from the Guatemalan border the small town of San Antonio is the quintessential Belizean town, home to local farmers, shop keepers, and lots of happy school children. It is also home to the San Antonio Women’s Group which kindly opens its doors to travelers looking to better understand the rich Mayan history the town encapsulates. It is the town of three hills (or temples when translated to Mayan), which were once the location of important Mayan buildings, are now occupied by a police station, bakery, and Catholic Church. The town is still home to the Yucatec Maya many of which have embraced and still practice many of the same traditions their ancestors once did.

Just outside the center of San Antonio you can find a small sign for the Women’s Group. It is located in a nondescript open air building that looks much like any other home in the area next to the Catholic school which provided a very pleasant insight into the days spelling lessons. We were kindly greeted by Timothea and Josefina, the two women who run the center. They told us about the area, the goals of the women’s center, and then promptly put us to work making lunch.

Now if making your own lunch while on vacation doesn’t sound like fun, I understand your hesitation. But let me dispel you of that notion. Thousands of years of tradition, paired with organic fresh ingredients grown across the street, and topped with flavor combinations that would have any five star chef running to learn the techniques is not something you will find very often in life. I left there thinking that I would happily give up my day to grind corn if only it could taste like that and wondered where in our own history did we give up such simplicity that rendered such complex flavors. Still not convinced? They also have pottery making and embroidery if you want to learn those skills. I’ll get to those a bit later.

Using a metate made from basalt Josefina taught me to grind lime-treated maize to create masa. She made it look easy using just a couple of passes but when I tried the first thing I realized is the stone used for grinding is large and heavy. My thumb shook for a day after from the weight and rolling motion. It was when Josefina told me she does this for every meal I thought there is no way I will challenge her to a thumb wrestling competition.

It took me 20 or so passes to get the hang of it and create enough masa for four tortillas which I discretely split into five to make it seem like I had done more than my husband. Using a palm we patted the masa into a circle and onto the fire it went. Mine started to puff up and I got really worried but Timothea assured me this was the sign of a job well done. The puffing means no air is escaping from the edges and creates a texture that is neither fluffy nor dense. A smidge of coconut oil and a quick pass with the salt rendered the most delicious, freshest, simplest tortilla I have ever eaten. All the ingredients were grown in town (with the exception of the salt) and everything used for the meals was for personal use only. None of their crops were sold.

I only ate the one tortilla before we were off again, this time making tamales. (I wonder where the other four tortillas ended up? I’m thinking Josefina took the rest of the day off and had dinner all ready to be served 😉 But, let’s be honest if something tasted that delicious I would keep them too!) The same masa was cooked down. We then patted them semi circular on a palm leaf, filled them with a chicken mixture, and rolled using the same palm leaf tucking the end in to secure them. The stems of the palm leaves were used as a base in the pot while a leaf was placed as a sort of mat at the bottom. The tamales were stacked in the pot and left to steam.

When all was finished we ended up with two tamales each paired with a freshly made salad, and topped with a homemade peanut dressing (the peanuts are also grown locally). Oh, and did I mention to wash it all down fresh squeezed orange juice? The entire experience was somewhat surreal. Sure, I was cooking my own lunch but, I was doing it using tools and techniques that have been around for centuries in an open air kitchen where the ingredients are grown in the backyard. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything, well maybe, a bag of those tortillas for the ride home.

Don’t let the simplicity of the town or the center fool you. The money raised by the  San Antonio Women’s Group goes directly to helping their daughters go to school. Education for girls beyond middle school remains an issue in many rural towns throughout Belize. Many are kept home to take care of the household.  The Women’s Center is leading the way in creating their own business by embracing their history, and turning the tide on women’s education in rural Belize.

I will be posting later on the pottery tutorial and embroidery that also helps the center to flourish so make sure to check back in a couple of days.

Recent Posts