Payne’s Creek National Park – What You Need to Know Before You Visit
Payne’s Creek National Park is located in the southern Toledo District of Belize and measures more than 37,000 acres (150 square kilometers) in size. The park is classified as a nature reserve and is home to broadleaf forests in the interior and large stands of mangrove trees in the coastal area.
Also known as Paynes Creek, this area was declared a protected nature reserve in 1994 and is bordered by the Monkey River to the north and the Port Honduras Marine Reserve to the south. Throughout Payne’s Creek, there are regions of both old-growth forest as well as second-growth forest interspersed with swamps and mangrove-lined lagoons. The park’s eastern border has striking sequences of storm-built ridges and sandy beaches interspersed with littoral vegetation like cocoplum and sea-grape.
With high levels of salinity and the brackish nature of much of the wetlands in Payne’s Creek, the park is home to over 300 species of birds. Animals found within the park include large herds of white-tail deer as well as foxes, peccaries, gibnuts, jaguars, armadillos, crocodiles, and black howler monkeys.
Because of the high water table in much of the park, the best way to explore Payne’s Creek is usually by boat, entering through the Punta Ycacos Lagoon. The lagoon is also home to many manatees which use the area as a breeding ground. Near Punta Ycacos Lagoon, visitors can also see a nesting site used by ibis birds, a site used to lay eggs by hawksbill turtles, and huge numbers of wading birds that pluck small crustaceans and amphibians from the water.
On October 8, 2018, an academic paper was published by an archeological team from Louisiana State University which has been excavating in Payne’s Creek since 2004. The team discovered more the remains of more than 4,000 wooden posts that were used as the foundation of large buildings where open fires were kept burning day and night in order to boil seawater to create large cakes of salt.
The paper showed that a microscopic analysis of stone tools discovered at the site showed clear signs of being used to prepare fish and meat. Combined with the knowledge that the Maya were producing salt in vast quantities at Payne’s Creek, the logical conclusion is that the ancient Maya were using their saltworks to preserve fish and meat for trade with cities further inland. These salted meats were essential foods used to feed an estimated population of some one million people.