Jeff Litton, Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor
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The Beauty of Belize
Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic is sailing to the breathtaking Belize Barrier Reef and venturing inland in search of elusive jaguars and mystical Mayan ruins. Experience this stunning geography aboard the National Geographic Quest, a 50-cabin expedition vessel custom-built for exploring stunning coastal Central America.
When we silence the engines and pause our excited conversations, a tranquil symphony emerges from the gently swaying canopy and undulating surf. Listen (sound on!) for a preview of your Belizean escape.
Discover temples and forests teeming with life. See remarkable ruins of pre-Columbian Maya civilization. Delve into the mystery and history amid stone temples, palaces, and terraces cut by ancient people. And dive into a wealth of biodiversity in the Northern Hemisphere’s largest reef system at the Belize Barrier Reef. Revel among hundreds of species of fish, marvelous sea turtles, graceful rays, over 90 varieties of coral, and with luck, manatees. As only a small percentage of the reef has been studied, researchers believe hundreds, even thousands more species could be discovered in this protected zone.
Henry David Thoreau called it the "tonic of wildness." It’s what Belize and Guatemala, with their beauty and wildness intact, give you—a spirit lift. To compound this healthful effect, add the luxury of comfort to the privilege of being here—with a quality of shipboard life and a philosophy of wellness designed to relax and rejuvenate body, mind, and spirit.
Exploring the Belize Barrier Reef
Lindblad Expeditions undersea specialist Katie Mills-Orcutt discusses this thriving underwater ecosystem and how our guests experience it all through snorkeling and zodiac cruising.
Why Belize Is a Bird-Lover's Paradise
Home to six Important Bird Areas, Belize is an avian oasis—crucial for endangered species like the yellow-headed Amazon parrot and the mouse-sized black rail.
Within the lush surroundings of Mayflower-Bocawina National Park, more than 230 species of birds, like motmots and toucans, chatter overhead and an array of unusual mammals (many endangered like Geoffroy’s spider monkey) thrive. It is also a critical habitat for the mystical jaguar.
See, do, and learn more by going with engaging experts who have been exploring this region for decades. Go with an expedition leader, naturalists, historians, and more.
Veteran expedition leaders are the orchestrators of your experience. Many have advanced degrees and have conducted research or taught for years. They have achieved expedition leader status because they possess the skills, the experience, and the depth of knowledge necessary to continually craft the best expedition possible for our guests.
With a team of naturalists aboard you’re ensured a healthy diversity of specialties—marine biology, evolutionary biology, ornithology, archaeology, and more—and personalities. Choose to spend time with whoever shares your interests.
Your undersea specialist will prepare you for snorkeling outings and offer a voiceover to the corals, fish, and marine species you discover. Plus, they'll don diving gear and capture footage of the deep to review in comfort during Recap.
Every expedition aboard a ship in our National Geographic-flagged fleet offers an exclusive service—a Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic certified photo instructor. This naturalist is specially trained to offer assistance with camera settings and the basics of composition and to help you become a better, more confident photographer.
Video chroniclers accompany every expedition and shoot vivid HD footage—with no recycled footage ever—to provide you with a professionally edited and completely authentic memento of your expedition. Working during the day and editing into the night, they have your video ready for preview prior to—and available to purchase at—disembarkation.
Shortly after National Geographic Sea Lion dropped her anchor, we awoke to very calm seas with overcast skies and a light southwest wind coming off the land. Our guests prepared for early morning adventures and headed out in Zodiacs and local skiffs to explore the meandering lower reaches of Monkey River, the largest estuary of southern Belize. Great blue herons and great egrets stood knee deep on the sandbars near the shore while yellow-crowned night herons and black vultures hunkered down in the drizzle that accompanied us. Guides and guests gazed up at the treetops, hoping to see green iguanas with the males in their bright orange breeding colors and perhaps a troop of Yucatan black howler monkeys. We walked the trails through the gallery forest a few miles upstream. Our luck was shining brightly, and several monkeys were sighted high above. We returned to the ship to savor the delicious brunch prepared by the amazing hotel department. Ranguana Caye was our base for the snorkeling and island activities this afternoon. Guests had a wonderful experience swimming among the bright and beautiful fish and the other tiny critters that live in the hard and soft corals of the fringing reefs. Parrotfish, angelfish, butterflyfish, and sergeant majors were some of the familiar friends seen. As the trip wound down to the final stages, contact information was exchanged among new friends, experiences were shared, and future trips were discussed. Guests bid farewell to the crew and staff. Glasses were raised, and a guest slide show put smiles on our faces.
What a day! After a full day on land yesterday, we were all eager to get in the water and see some good stuff today. Upon arrival to West Snake Caye, part of Port Honduras Marine Reserve, the wind was from the west. Within a half hour, it turned from the south. Although the waves came in at an angle, it didn’t stop us from snorkeling. Our Belizean snorkel guides were ready and waiting, and we used their three boats to separate into advanced, intermediate, and beginner groups. We went to the leeward side of the island, where we observed and photographed soft corals, hard corals, fish, and marine invertebrates. A couple intrepid kayakers ventured out. They stuck to the calmest corner and had a very relaxing time in the shallows near the mangroves, which is an ecosystem unto its own. By noon, we returned to the ship for lunch. We changed anchorage to position the ship closer to the labyrinth of Payne’s Creek mangrove forest. Before setting out by kayak or Zodiac, we enjoyed learning from a great visitor. Augustin Cho, a ranger from Payne’s Creek National Park, joined us on board to explain the park’s important role in the conservation of the diverse habitats found in this part of Payne’s Creek National Park. The afternoon found us traveling under a very light mist. The temperature was perfect. Explorations of the mangrove were varied. We observed spotted eagle rays feeding off oysters on red mangrove roots, boat-billed herons nesting on small islets, and clumps of red mangroves. With the quiet and gentle weather and almost no wind (an anomaly these days), I had trouble convincing the kayakers it was time to come in. No one was ready for the adventure to end, but daylight was fading.
Day two of our voyage was multifaceted. We started with an exciting hike up the foothills of the Maya Mountains to see scarlet macaws. We had a chance to take a wonderful float in an inner tube down a mountain stream. We enjoyed a lunch buffet with a plethora of local flavors. Next, we hopped on the “Hokey Pokey” water taxi to Placencia, where an art festival was in full swing. Our guests took the opportunity to appreciate artwork made by many local artisans. Finally, we danced the night away to the rhythm and beats of the Garifuna Collective.
Strong easterly winds diverted National Geographic Sea Lion to the Payne's Creek anchorage earlier than planned today. A late morning excursion was scheduled with some of our guests choosing to explore the mangrove channels of Payne's Creek estuary from kayaks, while others explored by Zodiac. This area is being studied by archaeologist, Heather McKillop, who has found evidence of commercially produced salt and salted fish for trade in the Mayan culture’s late Classic period, around 600-800 AD. The mangrove forests that line the estuaries, coastal lagoons, and some of the offshore islands, are one of the most productive ecosystems in Belize. These mangrove roots are fish nurseries, filtration systems, even sequestering carbon and are often referred to as Mother Nature’s seawall. On the afternoon’s walk through the open landscape of the savannah, some of the guests got to see two different carnivorous plants, the sundew Drosera capillaris and at least two species in the genus Utricularia . They saw and learned about various species of fire-tolerant trees, shrubs vines and palms. They also found the tracks of white-tail deer, coati, and armadillo in the soft mud along parts of the trail. All guests returned to the ship as the sun started its descent to the horizon. Then it was time for farewell cocktails and the trip’s last recap and dinner. Another great day in Belize by the Caribbean Sea and sadly, the end of a fantastic trip.
The geography is really remarkable—with a great diversity of ecosystems and an abundance of land and marine species. On the human side there’s fascinating diversity as well. The region contains many cultures and languages and has a rich history.