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The Belize District offers a variety of river tour experiences. Take a boat through the mangrove cathedrals of Haulover Creek, the Burdon Canal Nature Reserve, past the the Sibun River and the wildness of Northern and Southern Lagoons.

Entering Cox lagoon
Cox Lagoon has wild and wonderful scenery with a constant flow of wildlife that includes the jabiru stork, manatees, turtles and crocodiles. The lower reaches of the Belize, Sibun and Manatee Rivers are the realm of the mangrove, sand bars and turtle nesting while the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary is home to a multitude of waterfowl.

The Sibun is one of Belize's major river systems. Along with the Caves Branch River and Dry Creek, the Sibun River drains a large portion of the northeastern section of the Maya Mountains. The river has many faces as it winds its way from deep within the interior of the country to the mouth just south of Belize City. Though the river travels a little over 50 miles from source to mouth, the many twists and turns translates into over 100 miles of actual river.

Sibun River as it empties from the Maya Mountains

The Sibun ends its journey to the sea just south of Belize City. The mouth of the Sibun is dominated by mangroves and a winding, sinewy track. A few homes and farms are perched on the banks of the lower reaches of the river, but mainly only passing boats and manatee are to be found. The mangroves are an important habitat for Belize both in terms of protection of the shoreline from the eroding force of hurricanes; and for the wealth of marine life which feed on the debris and leaves trapped by the mangrove roots.

The mouth of the river is heavily mined for sand. Local sailboats called "sand lighters" set out each day from Belize City for the short ride to the mouth of the river. Then anchoring the larger boats offshore, the men take smaller boats called "dories" to shore and fill the dories with sand. The dories return to the larger sailboats again and again unloading the sand. Finally as evening draws near, the sand lighters set sail for Belize City, unloading their cargo on the front streets of the city where anyone needing sand can purchase it.

Cox Lagoon (information courtesy Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary)

Cox lagoon opens to a beautiful birding area
What a great adventure! Cox Lagoon Crocodile Sanctuary is located within thirty thousand acres of wildland where you can find all kinds of Belizean wildlife. Best experienced from a canoe, the terrain surrounding the lagoon is swamp forest, marsh and mud flats, punctuated by pine savanna occurring on the elevated sites in between. Water depth in Cox Lagoon itself varies as much as eight feet between dry and wet seasons.

Swamp land at Cox lagoon

What Cox Lagoon has to offer
Diverse habitat in the sanctuary supports correspondingly diverse animal life. Researchers Howard Hunt and Jim Tamarack have recorded 124 species of birds, 23 species of mammals and 14 species of reptiles. Jabiru storks - the largest flying birds in the Americas - wade in the marsh; Black howler monkeys roar from the tress; Baird's tapir graze in the lagoon. Routinely jaguars leave tracks on the road and call from the nearby forests. And the crocodiles are plentiful! This is one of the best natural wildlife viewing areas in Belize.

Morelet's crocodiles gather at night here to feed. Point a light at them and their eyes fire up the dark. During dry season when fish concentrate, it is common to count nearly 100 crocodiles. Morelet's CrocodileMorelet's crocodiles can grow to about 10 feet in length. Typically, they prey on small animals such as fish but they can kill large animals such as deer and young tapir. Humans should not swim near crocodiles. In June and July, females build a nest mound and lay about 30 eggs. They guard their nest for about two months until the baby crocs call from inside the chicken-sized eggs. Then, with her feet, mother croc opens the nest and with her mouth she carries the baby crocs to water. For more than a year, mother croc guards her young; if attacked by a predator, the young crocodiles "chirp" a distress call and then mother will defend them. Adults call to each other by slapping the water with their jaws. The eye shine at night from a canoe is quite an experience!

Belize River Delta/Haulover Creek/Burdon Canal
This tour is a boat trip through the back swamps of the Belize River Delta. It's the best place to explore the mangroves habitat close to Belize City. The red mangroves form a cathedral like tunnel right over the Haulover Creek. Great Egret feeding in Burdon CanalKingfishers, herons, White Ibis, egrets, and the Common Black Hawk are all easy to see.

Turkey vultures, Pelicans and Magnificent Frigate Birds fly overhead while navigating the arrow-straight Burdon Canal, built in the 1920s as an inland waterway for cargo traveling to and from the south. The blue land crab can be seen peeking out from mudholes along the banks, fiddler crabs scamper at the first hint of movement or shadows, and the common Mangrove Skipper butterfly is identified by its brown wings which have a large orange dot.

If you're watchful, you may spot the American Crocodile lying rock still on the bank, or floating like a log on the surface with only its eyes above the water. Extensively hunted for it's skins up to 1981, it's now so common the Forest Department is continually called out to collect them from drains, gardens and school back yards.

Southern/Northern Lagoon
The Burdon Canal waterway continues south across the Sibun River, through savanna grasslands before emerging into the Northern Lagoon. Along the eastern shoreline, two islands are used by nesting Ibis, Herons, Egrets, Pigeons and others. Both are bird sanctuaries. At the southern end of Northern lagoon, a small winding creek leads into the Southern Lagoon. This is one of the prime spots in the whole country for seeing manatee! It is also worth a stop along the sandy banks of the western shore of Southern Lagoon. Walk a few feet inland and you will see a multitude of wildlife tracks, from deer, to wildcats, to small mammals like gibnut and agouti.

Southern Lagoon

The Southern Lagoon is fed fresh waters from the west by the Manatee River, Soldiers Creek and Cornhouse Creek. Salt waters flow in from the Caribbean Sea by way of the Bar River to the east of the Lagoon. The Manatee River and Soldiers Creek are navigable by canoe and over a view of overhanging jungle, giant bamboo and numerous tropical hardwoods.

Manatee River
The Manatee River is heavily overhung with jungle growth. You will pass huge stands of giant bamboo; beneath the jungle canopy you can observe the signs of many of the inhabitants of the tropical forest- the footprints of jaguars, tapirs, gibnuts, coati mundi, and other jungle creatures. Many bird species can be heard and seen along the river. And the clear cool waters of the river at any of the sand beach areas are perfect for a swim.

Mouth of the Manatee River in Southern Lagoon

The Manatee River connects the northeast corner of the Southern Lagoon to the Caribbean Sea. This wide deep channel is the ideal place to find game fish such as tarpon and snook. Often there are crocodiles basking in the sun on the muddy banks of the mangroves. The Caribbean Shoreline from Belize City to Dangriga is virtually deserted except for sand, palms, and coastal vegetation This is one of the largest nesting grounds for loggerhead, hawksbill, and green turtles in the Caribbean. The turtle nesting/hatching time starts in May and continues through October.

For More Information

  • Search for information or ask a question on the Belize Forums.
  • Check the SERVICES page for tour operators.
  • Search Belize.Net for river tour websites in Belize.

Other Things to Do
Belize City Archaeology
Snorkeling/SCUBA Sport Fishing
River Tours Birding/Wildlife

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