The Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve in Belize
Belize is famously known for its beautiful white-sand beaches, crystal clear water, and great seafood. It also has a lot of outdoor activities to offer, from hiking the jungles for a chance to climb ancient Mayan ruins to swimming with turtles at the barrier reef. If your visit to Belize will include a visit to one of its national parks, you will want to be sure to check out the Tapir Mountain Nature Preserve.
Located south of Belize’s capital city of Belmopan, the Tapir Mountain Nature Preserve sits on 6,286 acres of protected land. It was originally established under the International Union for Conservation of Nature as an area that could be studied for nature conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. The preserve is co-managed by the Belize Karst Habitat Conservation and the Belize Forest Department.
Because it’s a protected area, it’s an ideal place to view much of the wildlife that makes Belize its home. During a 1994 survey, biologists discovered over 100 species of birds, 12 species of reptiles, and over 90 species of butterflies live within the preserve. Scientists also discovered the endangered Yucatan black howler monkey and Baird’s Tapir also live within the preserve’s boundaries.
The area is comprised of dense rainforest, cool mountain streams, and several caves. The most famous one is the Actun Tunichil Maknal Cave (Cave of the Stone Sepulcher or ATM cave). The ATM cave was a sacred location for the ancient Maya and is believed to be the passageway to the Xibalba, the Maya underworld.
The cave was used by the ancient Maya to perform religious ceremonies such as human sacrifices, as evidenced by the many skeletal remains and other artifacts. The most famous skeleton, known as the Crystal Maiden, is found at the end of the cave and has been calcified by the cave’s water, giving it a shimmering appearance.
As you hike, climb, and swim through the rivers and cave system, you will marvel at all of the underground wildlife. You can see several types of bats, crabs, crayfish, catfish, scorpions, and predatory spiders that make their homes in the coolness of the streams and cave walls.
Because of its status as a protected area, you will need a licensed tour guide to visit the preserve. You can find reliable tour operators in Belmopan or San Ignacio. With year-round temperatures that average around 80 degrees, any time is a good time to visit the preserve.