|BELIZE NATIONAL PARKS, NATURAL RESERVES, & WILDLIFE SANCTUARIES|
CHIQUIBUL NATIONAL PARK AND CARACOL
WHAT TO SEE
Reached by the Guacamallo bridge, you're heading into the
more remote interior of Belize's Maya Mountains. Across one of the most
abrupt forest changes you'll ever see, the conifers of Mountain Pine Ridge's
granite give way to broadleaf forest of the more forgiving limestone, from one
valley side to the other.
Guacamallo is Spanish for macaw parrots, and the Macal River is also an
English corruption of the Creole for same bird. Linguistics aside, there's a
tantalizing chance of seeing Scarlet Macaws around this area, especially in
the dry season when they flock in large noisy groups rather than pairs. Using
3-D computer models of the terrain, ecologists are trying to piece together
from all the different sightings, just how many birds there are. Current
estimates are a population of about 30 pairs. Another bird that has received
a lot of attention at Caracol is the Keel-billed Motmot. Left to its own
devises, it nests in river banks but at Caracol it has taken to using the sides
of the pyramids. During February and March it's very vocal, and you may
hear its nasal ka-waa repeated two or three times. But once nesting has
started it keeps quiet so not to give itself away. Belize has the largest
surviving population of this very special bird anywhere in the world!
Although the forests around Caracol are extremely high, which can make
bird watching from the ground a bit firustrating5. there is a partial solution to
hand. By climbing the Mayan Sky Palace, 140 feet high, you're suddenly
right up there overlooking the trees to Guatemala, only four miles away.
There are often raptors circling the skies overhead, and a good number of
parrots. This is the centre piece of the many structures that form Caracol.
Caracol is about 30 miles south of D'Silva along a track
which is extremely rough in places. A 4-wheel drive vehicle is essential in the
rainy season and even then, conditions may be impassable. Check at D'Silva
Forest Station, before setting out. Also make sure you leave plenty of time to
drive out before nightfall, around 6 pm. It takes a day to explore Caracol's
ruins and wildlife.
WHEN TO GO
Visiting in the dry season gives the best chance of reaching
There is a guard station at Caracol, with
Department of Archaeology staff to show you around. As well as the areas
around the temples that have been opened up, there's an excellent circular
walk you can go on through the forest. Head out on the Pajaro-Ramonla
Causeway, then turn north onto the Retiro Road which crosses it. This will
soon bring you to the Canchito Causeway which will take you south back to
the main clearing, or epicentre as it is now being called. The whole thing will
take you half a day, and goes through at least two different forest types. If
you want something shorter, there's the Short Cut Trail, right off the
epicentre. Opening hours are 8am to 4pm, seven days a week. A visitor
permit must be obtained on the site from the Department of Archaeology or
from the Forest Station at D'Silva. If you go with a tour, they may be able to
deal with this formality for you.
Visitors to Caracol pass through the Chiquibul. The park itself does not have
any visitor facilities.
The park was originally part of Chiquibul Forest Reserve, designated in
1956 (SI 55). Then in December 1991, as a result of lobbying from conservationists, the 3/4s of the Forest
Reserve free from active logging concessions was re-designated a National Park under the National
Parks System Act (SI 166) (see separate entry for Chiquibul Forest Reserve). After an examination of
both the resulting park and forest reserve on environmental, biodiversity and umber criteria, the
boundaries of both were re-drawn to better reflect the distribution of steep slopes, important watersheds
and areas of hugh biodiversity. In May 1995 the park was re-defined (SI 55), with a simultaneous
alteration of the forest reserve. The change in boundaries brought Caracol into the National Park. This
had been designated as Caracol Crown Reserve in May 1950 (Gazette Notice 319), superseded by the
designation in February 1995 (SI 19) under the Ancient Monuments and Antiquities Act. (Note: Most
protected area maps only show the extent of the original Caracol designation).
There are certain points to consider when arriving at an accurate area estimate for
Its southern boundary is defined in its SI as the Maya Mountain Divide, but particularly at its
southwestern end, this is not a clearly defined sharp ridge, but a plateau. The original boundary
definition revived more recently, e.g. by Bird (1994), in particular, does not match that used in the
interim by some sources, and follows a more northwards alignment to include the Rio Machiquita
Creek drainage. Apart from this, the park's boundary is relatively unambiguous, defined by
Guatemalan border, Macaw River and Vaca Forest Reserve, and specific UTM coordinates.
The park excludes the Caracol Archaeological Reserve and care should be taken not to double
count these areas.
The current boundary of Caracol held on GIS is from its original 1950 designation, and covers 4325
acres. The more recent designation of Caracol is from February 1995 (SI 19) and covers 25000 acres.
SI 55 which designated the National Park excludes this, i.e. more than is shown on many protected
The area estimate given in the park's SI is 285937 acres. When calculated on GIS, excluding the 1950
Caracol boundary, it gives 286289 acres. With the adjustment for the expansion of the Caracol
Archaeological Reserve, this leaves a current area of Chiquibul National park as 265262 acres.
To protect the area's high biodiversity, and provide for appropriate tourism access,
including to Caracol Archaeological Reserve.
Chiquibul Forest Reserve entry. There is considerable concern over the possible requirement for header
dams for the Molejon hydro-electric project which would flood large parts of the park's important
riparian habitats, including the Upper Raspaculo drainage, which has been the subject of ecological
surveys by the British Natural History Museum.
Broadleaf forest, including riparian forest.
HOLDRIDGE LIFE ZONE
Subtropical Moist to the west, Subtropical Lower Montane Wet to the east.
S. Matola carried out an 11 day reconnaissance of Doyle's Delight, which falls in the
reserve. Brief ad hoc notes on vegetation are included, and a tentative hillslope vegetation zonation
identified. 34 species of orchid were collected, of which 2 were new records for the country, and for
birds, one new addition, the Tawny-throated Leaftosser, was found out of over 70 recorded. This, the
Scaly-throated Leaf Gleaner and Spotted Woodcreeper are indicative of montane forests. Incidental
notes on reptiles, amphibians, insects and mammals were also included. Explorations of the Chiquibul
cave system has revealed new invertebrate species . A range of observations of plant, bird, mammal and
reptile were made by Matola et al. (1992) during a 7 day study, from the Natural Arch/Rio Ceiba grande
area. The assertions that the tree of the Liquidamar genus identified, during fieldwork, had not
previously been recorded for Belize is however, incorrect. Part of the area surveyed by Meerman
(1995) falls within the reserve. He notes that the frog Rana juhani is endemic to the Maya Mountains
and this presumable includes the Chiquibul. Detailed long term studies have also been made within the
Caracol Archaeological Reserve which falls within Chiquibul and revealed notable densities of the Keel-
billed Motmot. Caracol's vegetation has been examined by Brokaw (1992). The park also includes the
Upper Raspaculo River, whose associated habitat corridor shows particularly high dynamism due to
regular extreme disturbance from flooding. The combination of this and hurricane damage, which has
befallen the area 3 times since 1961, has created a large proportion of essentially secondary forest in the
Upper Basin (BCES in prep.). The riparian area also appears to support a high density of Central
American Tapir. Faecal analysis shows that here they appear to be extremely dependent on a grass
species only found growing in this area. This site has been the subject of repeated studies, including its
bird, mammal and plant populations. The fauna of the area's caves are reported by Mychajlowycz (1985).
Subsequent to the removal of the Guatemalan milperos, there is no permanent
population in the reserve. D'Silva (forest station) (population 268) is in the adjacent Mountain Pine
Ridge Forest Reserve.
PHYSICAL FEATURES & CLIMATE
Doyle's Delight, the highest point in Belize (3675 feet), occurs on
the southern edge of the park, at its boundary with Bladen Nature Reserve. Its soils were investigated
and tentative geological observations made by Baillie in Matola et al. (1989). Typical soil characteristics
were found to be their depth, friability, free drainage and thick organic surfaces layers. Underlying rocks
are of volcanic origin, part of the Bladen Volcanic Member of the Santa Rosa group. The rainfall pattern
of this particular area is unknown, but likely to have a substantial orographic component). Temperature
readings taken during this study may allow a cross-correlation to be established using nearby weather
stations. The Raspaculo River Basin is approximately 26 miles long, 9 miles wide and covers some 77
square miles ). Under the park runs reportedly 'the longest underground passage in Belize and Central
America (BCES 1990, p. 87). The cave system includes three major caverns that measure 3 miles, 8 miles
and 9 miles in length (Ibid), and include the largest cave room in the Western Hemisphere, ranking as
the fourth largest in the world. Surface features include the Natural Arch, a limestone arch through
which the Chiquibul flows. Information on the area's caves is provided by McNatt (nd.) and
CHIQUIBUL FOREST RESERVE
It was designated in December 1956 (SI 55), originally covering 456960
acres (this excluded the Caracol Crown Reserve already designated by Gazette Notice 319, May 1950).
As a result of lobbying by conservationists, in December 1991 the Forest Reserve was redesignated a
National Park under the National Parks System Act (SI 166) except for the northeast comer which still
had active logging concessions in place. This left a Forest Reserve of 189143 acres. The change was not
however, re-designated under the Forest Act to reflect the change. More recently though, the forest
reserve and national park boundaries were re-evaluated and subsequently changed according to
environmental, biodiversity and timber production characteristics under the auspices of FPMP. The
boundaries were re-drawn, the Forest Reserve to encapsulate the core timber production area (the
logging concessions mentioned above had become inactive). This area was re-designated in May 1995
(SI 54) under the Forest Act. Simultaneously, the National Park boundaries were altered under the
National Parks System Act by SI 55. (see the separate entry for Chiquibul National Park). The Forest
Reserve now covers 147810 acres.
The reserve's boundary is relatively unambiguous, bounded by the banks of the
Macal River and the Chiquibul National Park (Note that in future, legislation needs to be worded so that
river boundaries are defined by the median point if the river).
The area estimate in the current SI is 147810 acres. Using GIS, the area derived is 147880 acres.
The forest reserve was originally established for timber extraction and watershed
protection. As contemporary studies into the area's wildlife have progressed, its importance for
biodiversity conservation is now an additional justification.
Broadleaf, including riparian forest, and large cave systems.
HOLDRIDGE LIFE ZONE
Explorations of the Chiquibul cave system have revealed new invertebrate species. A range
of observations of plant, bird, mammal, and reptile were made by S. Matola during a 7 day study, from
the Natural Arch/Rio Ceiba Grande area. The assertions that the tree of the Liquidamar genus identified
during fieldwork, had not previously been recorded for Belize is
however, incorrect. Part of the area surveyed by Meerman (1995) falls within the reserve. He notes that
the frog Rana juliani is endemic to the Maya Mountains and this presumably includes the Chiquibul.
Detailed long term studies have also been made within the Caracol Archaeological Reserve which falls
within Chiquibul and revealed notable densities of the Keel-billed Motmot. Other studies have been
undertaken in the surrounding Chiquibul National Park.
In its present configuration, the site has no resident population. D'Silva (forest
station) (population 268) is in the adjacent Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve.
PHYSICAL FEATURES & CLIMATE
See the entry for Chiquibul National Park.
The forest reserve itself does not have any visitor facilities.
The site is reached through Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, by crossing the Guacamallo
The area's caves include evidence of Mayan ceremonial use.
Designation of Protected Karstlands in Central America: A Regional Assessment
The IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas has recognized karst landscapes as important targets for designation as protected areas, and this study is a regional inventory of the Central American karst conservation situation.
Central America is a significant international carbonate karst landscape, covering ~154,000 km2, rough- ly a quarter of the regional land area. The karstlands exhibit considerable topographic diversity, includ- ing “cockpit” and “tower” styles, together with extensive dry valleys, cave systems, and springs. Some of the karst areas are well known, but others have yet to receive detailed scientific attention. Many of them have archaeological, historical, cultural, biological, aesthetic, and recreational significance, but human impacts have been considerable.
Conservation and protection legislation is variable in nature and effectiveness, and enforcement is prob- lematic. About 18% of the Central American karst landscape has been afforded nominal protection through designation as protected areas. Regional levels of karstland protection are highly variable, with significant protection in the Yucatan peninsula, Honduras, and Belize; intermediate protection in Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Panama; and, as yet, no protected areas in Nicaragua or El Salvador. The situation remains fluid, and the future of the Central American karstlands is uncertain.
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Belize Parks Home /
Bacalar Chico /
Bird Sanctuaries /
Burdon Canal Nature Reserve /
Blue Hole National Park /
Great Blue Hole, Lighthouse Reef /
Chiquibul National Park and Caracol /
Cockscomb Wildlife Sanctuary /
Columbia River Forest Reserve /
Community Baboon Sanctuary /
Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary /
Five Blues Lake National Park /
Glover's Reef Marine Reserve / Guanacaste National Park /
Half Moon Caye Natural Monument /
Hol Chan Marine Reserve /
Laughing Bird Caye /
Marco Gonzales /
Mexico Rocks /
Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve /
Payne's Creek National Park /
Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area /
Shark Ray Alley /
Shipstern Nature Reserve /
Turneffe Atoll /
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