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Belize: Nature and Art Tour (9-13 days)

Belize Nature and Art Tour Macal River With renowned wildlife artist Paul Harpley and Ecologist James Kamstra

This Nature and Art Tour will expose participants to a range of landscapes, habitats and natural diversity of the country and offers the chance to look in depth at some of these. The trip will be co-lead by well known nature artist Paul Harpley and ecologist James Kamstra. In addition to learning firsthand about the wildlife, ecology and culture, this tour allows participants the opportunity to practice art with instruction by Paul Harpley at various Belizean settings. The tour operates at a moderate pace with sufficient time at several locations to either practice art or look in greater depth at the natural world.

2019 Departure Date & Costs

This trip will not be offered in 2019

Please contact us for future date & costs


On arrival in Belize, after clearing customs and retrieving your luggage, you will be met and transferred to the Black Rock Resort, approximately 2.5 hrs drive from the airport.

Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary BelizeNestled on the valley slope above the picturesque Macal River and surrounded by the rolling Vaca Plateau on the edge of the 14,000 hectare Vaca Forest Reserve, Black Rock River Lodge has a breath taking setting. A wide variety of birds can be seen close to the lodge including toucans, trogons, tanagers and many others. The lodge property includes 2 km of river frontage along the Macal and 100 hectares of private nature reserve. The rustic open-air bar and dining room is adorned with a native black slate floor and a huge circular palm-thatched roof offering spectacular views of Black Rock Falls and canyon. Delicious family-style meals range from tasty local dishes to international cuisine! Fresh coffee, fruits, and vegetables are grown organically at Black Rock River Lodge. Meat eaters and vegetarians alike are astounded by the variety of recipes and ability to cater to their needs. Welcome dinner and evening orientation.

Day 2: BLACK ROCK LODGE: Tropical Art & Nature (B,L,D)
Up with the birds for those willing to hear the sounds of the jungle, and see some of the birds that make them. After breakfast, you will be introduced to Belize's geography, natural history and culture followed by an art workshop. Lunch at the lodge. In the afternoon there will be opportunity to swim, relax, hike or explore the habitats of the private reserve. Late afternoon is always a good time to look for wildlife so we will take a late day stroll .

Another early morning birding opportunity. Following breakfast we will enjoy paddling downstream on the Macal River through the limestone gorge lined with giant figs and other majestic trees. The Macal originates in the Maya Mountains and flows down to the town of San Ignacio. In San Ignacio, the Macal and Mopan River conjoin to form the Old Belize River that flows to Belize City and empties into the Caribbean. Along the way you will see huge iguanas and many species of birds. You may even see a troop of Howler monkeys. A stop at the Rainforest Medicine Trail will give you a chance to stretch your legs and get an introduction to the traditional medicinal plants of the Belize rain forest. A packed lunch will be provided.

Today we leave Black Rock Lodge and pay a visit to the traditional Maya village of San Antonio, en route to the Mountain Pine Ridge. San Antonio contains people from two distinct Mayan groups, the Mopan and Yucatec Maya and is a famous village because it was the home of Dr Elijio Panti, one of the last Shaman in Belize.
Then on to the Mountain Pine Ridge which is an elevated granite tableland covered with an open grown forest of native Caribbean Pine, which seems incongruous in this tropical setting. A number of bird species are specific to the mountain pine forest including Black-headed Siskin, Azure-crowned Hummingbird and Rusty Sparrow. From the 1950's to the 1980's, many Belizeans were employed as timber cutters in this area and on our journey we will see testament to that history. Unfortunately this forest was affected by the Southern Pine Beetle in 1999 which devastated many of the pines and some areas are now barren. We will learn about the reforestation programs taking place.

A stop will be made at Rio On where you will find a scenic combination of cool pine forests, tumbling streams, clear water pools, and waterfalls. Nearby we visit the huge gaping opening of Rio Frio Cave. A stream flows in one side and out the other, making the visitor question how such a small creek could have created the massive cavern. Overnight at Hidden Valley Inn.

After breakfast guests will enjoy a nature walk. Hidden Valley Inn is situated on a high point on the edge of the Mountain Pine Ridge which presents a great vista over the low lands to the north. Nearby Hidden Valley Falls at over 300 m (1000 feet) is the highest waterfall in Central America and a landscape inspiration for the artists. Interesting flora grow near the falls and it is a well known nesting site for the rare Orange-breasted Falcon. Guests will be able to hike some of the trails which have a range of difficulty, length and interest. Here will be opportunities for art instruction and practice, or the option to see and learn about flora and fauna of the region.

We have an early morning departure for a full day journey to the Classic Maya site of Caracol. We start through the Mountain Pine Ridge then see that the vegetation abruptly change to Tropical Rainforest as we enter the Chiquibul Forest.

Caracol ruins Belize Kamstra photoCaracol 's original name is "Oxwitza" which means the sky place. Caracol is the largest archeological site in Belize. It is really off the 'beaten path', but now easily accessible by an all weather road. covering 30 square miles of thick, high canopy jungle, and includes five plazas, an astronomic observatory and over 35,000 buildings that have been identified. The loftiest among them, a massive pyramid (Caana) capped by three temples which rise over 35 m above the jungle floor. When extensive excavation efforts began in 1985 the importance and expanse of Caracol became known. A round, elaborately carved altar stone was uncovered which described a victory by Caracol over Tikal, once considered to be the most powerful Maya metropolis. This discovery filled an important missing piece of Maya history, covering approximately 140 years in the Middle Classic period, and positioned Caracol as the "Supreme" Maya city. Our guided tour will visit the central plaza and main excavated portions of the site. The forests of Caracol are also a great place to see birds and primates and there is an active Montezuma Oropendola colony in the main plaza. Overnight at Hidden Valley Inn.

Leaving the Mountain Pine Ridge, we will enjoy a special 'behind-the-scenes' visit of the famous Belize Zoo which was started in 1983, as a last ditch effort to provide a home for a collection of wild animals which had been used in making documentary films about tropical forests. Today, the Belize Zoo is settled upon 12 hectares of tropical savanna and exhibits over 125 animals all native to Belize in spacious natural stalls. The zoo keeps animals which were orphaned, born at the zoo, rehabilitated animals, or sent to The Belize Zoo as gifts from other zoological institutions. A visit to the zoo is the best way to get an introduction to the animals of Belize, and to understand why it is important to protect the habitats that sustain them. Paul Harpley was a former manager at the Toronto Zoo so he will be able to provide special insight into the zoo. After the zoo we will head to Crooked Tree Lagoon. Overnight at Bird's Eye lodge, located on the edge of the small rural village of Crooked Tree.

From Bird's Eye Lodge we will head to Tower hill to board a boat for a scenic journey up the New River to Lamanai. Along the way guests can observe the characteristic flora and fauna of swamps as well as varied wildlife including several kingfishers, Black-collared Hawks and maybe even crocodiles. Lamanai is one of Belize's largest ceremonial centers. It's name means "submerged crocodile" in the Mayan language and many representations of the crocodile can be found here. This site, situated along the New River Lagoon, features monumental architecture of temples and palaces dating from the Classic and PreClassic Periods. The Great Mask is one of the distinctive features of Lamanai. There will be opportunities to paint or sketch. After a tour of this site with lunch included guests will journey back via boat and land. Overnight at Bird's Eye lodge.

Morning birding at the Crooked Tree Bird Sanctuary which is a vast wetland where waterbirds of many species concentrate during the dry season and are easily seen. We will see a range of waterbirds including egrets, ibises and possibly the Jabiru Stork. Later, transfer by boat and then to Belize City International Airport for the flight home

Caye Caulker BelizeEXTENSION: Day 9, 10 & 11: CAYE CAULKER EXTENSION
This extension takes in Caye Caulker, one of the offshore islands along the Belizean Barrier Reef. The cayes are the main attraction of Belize to most tourists go and have a very different feel from the mainland. Caye Caulker is smaller, quainter and less developed than San Pedro, which is where most beach tourists flock to. We will board a water taxi at the dock from Belize City for a speedy trip across the shallow turquoise waters out to Caye Caulker.

On arrival to Caye Caulker it is a short walk to the Seaside Cabanas where we are staying for 3 days. The highly visible orange painted cabanas are situated at the end of the pier. This lovely palm thatched roof ocean side resort has its own swimming pool and bar. Caye Caulker is only about 2 km long and it is easy to walk everywhere.

There is an optional early morning bird outing, always a good way to start the day. The south end of the island is relatively undeveloped and some of the Caribbean species not seen elsewhere in Belize can be observed. Balance of the days at leisure for engaging in art, snorkelling, boat tours to marine attractions, swimming with the rays and sharks or simply relaxing in a hammock. The reef lies offshore, a short distance to the east, and is easily accessible by boat that can be arranged at the lodge. Additional activities and meals are not covered in the cost of the extension.

Water Taxi from Caye Caulker to Belize City and transfer to Belize International Airport.

Bios of Trip Leaders

Paul Harpley
Paul Harpley BelizePaul is a well known nature artist and naturalist. He was formerly Manager of Interpretation, Culture and Design for the Toronto Zoo where he was responsible for on-site developments including many award winning exhibits and programs. Paul now consults with zoos around the world on exhibit design. He also runs an art gallery near Lake Simcoe. A deep respect and knowledge for nature are reflected in Paul's paintings. In fact, as a master with pencil and watercolour, his skill is now at the peak of craftsmanship. Meticulous attention to accuracy through field observation and a strong sense of design distinguish his paintings and drawings from those of his contemporaries. Wildlife art has enabled Paul to combine his two great interests, science and art. In 1992, he completed a Masters degree at York University specializing in Western perceptions of nature. He has published numerous scientific papers in Canadian and American natural history journals. Paul is recognized as a widely known naturalist. Paul lives near Lake Simcoe in Ontario where he was instrumental in forming the South Lake Simcoe Naturalists' club. He's been a dedicated conservationist for years, particularly active in the Save the Rouge Valley System campaign in Toronto. Paul will escort the group providing art instruction as well as interpretation of natural history.

James Kamstra
James Kamstra  BelizeJames is an ecologist who has been visiting Belize since 1979 and is intimately familiar with the geography and natural history of the country. He has been fascinated by many facets of nature since he was a boy particularly birds, reptiles, insects and plants. He has conducted an ecological study of the Baird's Tapir, carried out an ecological survey of the Cockscomb Basin Reserve and looked at the impact of a dam on endangered wildlife in Belize. He is an ecologist, knowledgeable about tropical ecosystems and has extensive knowledge on the flora and fauna of Central America. He has led ecotours to South and Central America including many to Belize, as well as Costa Rica, Panama, Guyana, Ecuador and Brazil. James works as an ecologist / environmental consultant examining the impacts of various developments on the natural environment. James will escort the group and share his knowledge of the natural and cultural history of Belize. Local guides will also be used at various locations.

Other information

Extensions to Chan Chich are also possible

Prices for Chan Chich 3 night package are $ 1500 - $ 1700 per person including round trip transfers, 3 night Cabana accommodation, meals, and some tours.

Chan Chich is one of the best overall birding destinations in the Central American tropics. The birding groups that use the facility have been able to record up to 200 species during their stay.  Chan Chich has only a handful of cabanas set in the rainforest. These are very comfortable with private bath, a restaurant and covered outdoor Jacuzzi and swimming pool. There is a natural swimming area. The property is located within a private 125,000 acres private reserve, bordering on an additional 150,000 acres of protected land making it one of the largest expanses of tropical forest outside the Amazon. The lodge has its own well-groomed trails.  Howler and spider monkeys are frequent.  3 nights Chan Chich Lodge with gourmet dining. 2 full days of wildlife and birding outings at wonderful Chan Chich.  There will be early morning, late afternoon and optional evening outings.