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GUANACASTE NATIONAL PARK
Located right at the "T" junction where the Hummingbird Highway heads south from the Western Highway, 50-acre Guanacaste National Park packs a lot within its small area. Managed by the Belize Audubon Society, MacArthur Foundation, World Wildlife Fund, and the government, the park gets its name from the massive guanacaste, or tubroos, tree near the southwestern edge of the property. Ceiba, cohune palms, mammee apple, mahogany, quamwood, and other trees also populate the forest. Agouti, armadillo, coati, deer, iguana, jaguarundi, and kinkajou have all been observed in the park, along with more than 100 species of birds. Among the rarer finds are resident blue-crowned mot-mots.
There are about two miles of very easy trail to explore; feel free to bring a swimsuit and take a dip at the quiet spot where the Belize River and Roaring Creek meet. Picnic tables, benches, restrooms, and trash cans have slowly been added to the site, mostly with the help of Peace Corps Volunteers.
The park was originally the home of the former British city planner who was commissioned to relocate the capital to Belmopan after Hurricane Hattie heavily damaged Belize City in 1961. It's said that he chose the spot because of the proximity to the spectacular old guanacaste tree. The official decided almost immediately that the meadow should be set aside as a government reserve for future generations to enjoy. The huge tree, well over 100 years old, is more than 25 feet in diameter and host to more than 35 species of exotic flora, including orchids, bromeliads, ferns, philodendrons, and cacti, along with a large termite nest and myriad birds twittering and fluttering in the branches-a tree of life! When rivers were the main method of transport, travelers stopped here to spend the night under the protection of its wide-spreading branches. The only thing that saved the tree from loggers was its crooked trunk.
As you enter the park, walk across the grassy field; go left to get to the trail that brings you to the guanacaste. Beyond the tree, there's a looter's trench-someone long ago thought there was treasure buried here. The trench graphically demonstrates how a looter excavates and works a would-be treasure site (including Maya structures). Farther on, the path meets the shore of Roaring Creek, the westernmost boundary of the park. This is a wonderful and easy trail; you may or may not see another hiker, but you'll certainly see birds, delicate ferns, flowers, and long parades of wiwi ants.
Another option from the park entrance is to cross the meadow and veer to the right. Here you'll find the steps that lead down to the Belize River. Along the shore, nature quietly continues its pattern of creation and subsistence. The amate fig grows profusely on the water's edge and provides an important part of the howler monkey's diet. In the center of this scheme is the tuba fish, which eats the figs that fall into the water, dispersing the seeds up and down the river-starting more amate fig trees. And so it goes-on and on. At dusk on a quiet evening, howler monkeys roar the news that they're having dinner-keep your distance, world! Park hours are 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; entrance US$2.50 pp, tours are self-guided.

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