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Belize is not just a place for frolicking in the sand or snorkeling in the second largest Barrier reef; it has other equally amazing attractions that will simply leave you awe-struck. One such place is the Cayo district dominated by lofty mountains among tropical rain forests. San Ignacio is the biggest town in the western part of this district connected to Belize City by Western Highway 78. The reason why this place should be your holiday destination is because this is the doorway to Macal Valley, the nesting place of Scarlett Macaw, one of the rarest birds found in this part of the world. It is said that only 200 of them live in this tropical forest; so make sure you spot one in your next visit to Belize.
Getting there is not so difficult. Most travelers hire a car from Belize City and drive down following the Western Highway 78; that goes past swampy flats to Mayan ruins, rivers and jungles you can reach San Ignacio in two hours or so. If you have prior booking in any of the hotels of the region, they will provide you with airport transfer. As for staying, eco-tourism is a big draw here. There are resorts in the tropical forests that are not only lovely to stay but made in such a way that it does not disturb the natural surroundings.
Among them, mention must be made of Lodge at Chaa Creek, Table Rock and Black Rock Lodge. The last resort is specially known for their conservation efforts; built on a bend of Macal River, this 13 cabin resort is run on water and solar power. They employ local Belizeans who have grown up with the flora and fauna of the region as guides and keep a track of all the species that has been spotted within 5 miles of the lodge. Staying here will be like staying in an open aviary; you can spot birds like bat falcon or great black hawk while sipping coffee! The resort also arranges for other exciting adventure sports like hiking, caving, river rafting which you can enjoy along with bird watching and a visit to the Mayan ruins.
If you are planning find lodging around San Ignacio, try out Martha's Guest House or Midas Tropical resort both of which are highly affordable. As for bird-watching, you can do that either by foot or by canoe. There are many outfitters like Pacz Tour or Mayawalk Tours that arrange for such outings. You can also try out tours by eco-lodges like Crystal Paradise Resort that have locals as guides.
If seeing Scarlet Macaw is the main objective, then the best option is the scarlet macaw tour from Black Rock Lodge. This day long trip will take you into the interiors of Chiqhubal Forest Reserve where you can watch the birds as you canoe into a remote reservoir of the Macal River. This dam was created amid much protest by environmentalist who feared that the nesting ground of scarlet macaw will be lost forever as the dam water submerged the Macal valley. But fortunately, the birds moved into higher grounds and this is where you will be taken to watch this magnificent bird that pair up for lifetime and live to a ripe age of 75!
You will be in good hands in this tour that starts at 6 a.m. every Thursday. Birding guides from the lodge and naturalists from a local conservation group called Friends for Conservation and Development will guide you in your tour. Generally four people are taken in a group which first rides a truck uphill.
When it reaches the reservoir, canoes are taken to the water and you just strap on your life vests to begin the journey into the heart of the forest. Make sure you have an extra memory card for your digital camera on hand because you will be clicking away at the beautiful birds that seem to pose for the visitors. Besides seeing a scarlet macaw, you have the chance to spot birds like golden-hooted tanager or royal flycatchers. But it is the macaw that steals the show. If lucky, you can spot them in pairs looking for nests or families with fuzzy youngsters living in their nest.
So the next time you are planning to visit Belize, think beyond the popular spots and pick a date with nature by going straight to San Ignacio and Chiqhubal Forest Reserve.