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If the world had any ends,[Belize] would certainly be oneof them. It is not on the wayfrom anywhere to anywhere else.It has no strategic value. It is all butuninhabited.' Thus wrote Aldous Huxleyback in 1934, when he was one of the fewto ever visit what was at the time the mostirrelevant corner of the British Empire.Belize's sheer obscurity had been thecountry's defining trait for centuries. By the 19th century, British Honduras (the name Belize was only adopted uponindependence in 1981) had become the ultimate backwater, an English-speaking, largely black Creole outpost in Central America. It is an irony that Huxley might well haveappreciated, that centuries of under-development have today given Belize itsgreatest resource: its magnificent and well-preserved natural history. Indeed, thecountry is now one of the world's leadingecotourism destinations, offering swathesof untouched rainforest, endless savannahand mangrove coasts, and the mostsplendid coral reef in the westernhemisphere, second only in size andgrandeur to Australia's Great Barrier Reef.Add to that over 900 ancient Mayan ruins,the magnificent ruined Mayan city of Tikaljust over the Guatemalan border, andexcellent, relatively easy Neotropicalbirdwatching, all located within a pleasantlymanageable geographical area served bycomfortable accommodation, and Belize'ssudden popularity becomes evident. It is still, however, not particularly easy toreach Belize, and to do so we must fly tothe United States from where, after a goodnight's sleep, we proceed to Belize City.Our first port of call is the Crooked TreeWildlife Sanctuary, to the north of the city.Established in 1984, this maze ofwaterways and lagoons supports awonderful variety of wetland speciesincluding several species of heron, fivespecies of kingfisher, raptors, waders andsuch specialties as Sungrebe, Jabiru and,around the margins of the wetland,Mangrove Vireo and Prothonotary Warbler. After a night back in Belize City, we headinland in a westerly direction, up over theevocatively named Hummingbird Highway,to the San Ignacio area. Nearby is alovingly converted former farmstead calledduPlooy's. The birding is exceptional inthis area, with over 300 species recordedwithin an 8-kilometre radius. An openviewing deck here offers an ideal platformin the early mornings. Should weconcentrate on the hummingbirds whichcome and go constantly as they visitflowering shrubs, or watch the trogons,tityras, thrushes, flycatchers, becards andmanakins feeding on a fruiting tree, or themixed-species flock of Tawny-winged,Ruddy and Olivaceous Woodcreepers,Band-backed Wrens, warblers andtanagers that are feeding by thecookhouse? All this, and much more, willbe just yards from our comfortable cabins!Next we proceed over the Guatemalanborder and on to Tikal, where the famousancient remains of this great Mayan city,lying in the midst of one of the largesttracts of undisturbed rainforest in CentralAmerica, provide an atmosphericbackdrop to some superb birding. Ocellated Turkeys wander along thedeserted trails at dawn, whilst a plethora ofexciting Neotropical birds flit in the tree-tops: flycatchers, hummingbirds,euphonias, puffbirds and honeycreepers,all to the chorus of Guatemalan HowlerMonkeys roaring in the distance. Few whohave visited Tikal would dispute that this isone of the best - and most atmospheric- birdwatching localities in the whole ofCentral America. After a drive from Flores to Belize City wenext head north to Tower Hill and the NewRiver. Cruising upstream on our motorisedlaunches, we will again be concentratingon the proliferation of wetland species,together with a rich assortment of raptors.We arrive at the outstanding LamanaiOutpost Lodge, surrounded by bird-richjungle and some of the most impressiveMayan ruins in the country. Our time herewill be spent mainly on foot, gentlyexploring the magnificent ruins and bird-rich trails. Night-time spotlighting on thelagoon after dinner will also be rewardingwith common sightings of Morelet'sCrocodile and Hickatee, a large river turtle,along with potoos, Pauraques and Fish-eating Bats. To end our tour we fly to Ambergris Cayeand the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, ashallow area with abundant corals and reef fish. A short speedboat ride away is'Shark Ray Alley', where rays, friendlyNurse Sharks and huge groupers will beour swimming companions! Alternatively,this is a wonderful spot at which to seesome of the Yucutan endemics or tosimply lie back and relax in the Caribbeanbreeze, a fitting end to our stay in theMayan world.Belize & TikalA 15-day holiday of varied and gentle Neotropical birdwatching amongst the undisturbed forests, magnificent ruins, pristine coral reefs and desert islands in the realm of the Maya.Thursday 14th February - Thursday 28th February Cost: £3,795Outline itineraryDay 1Depart London.Day 2Arrive Belize.Day 3Crooked Tree WildlifeSanctuary.Day 4/6duPlooy's Jungle Lodge.Day 7/8Tikal, Guatemala.Day 9/11Lamanai Outpost Lodge.Day 12/13San Pedro, AmbergrisCaye.Day 14Depart Belize.Day 15Arrive London.AccommodationComfortable lodges and hotelsthroughout, all with private facilities.FoodAll included, except meals en route.GradingA. Day walks only.FocusBirds, natural history and culture.LeaderPeter Dunn or Peter Herrera.Single room supplement£395.Web quick search: BLZ02192Call now or visit www.naturetrek.co.ukfor your free Trip ItineraryBELIZEMEXICO GUATEMALA SAN IGNACIO(CAYO)MOUNTAIN PINE RIDGE FOREST RESERVE COCKSCOMB BASIN WILDLIFE SANCTUARY(JAGUAR SANCTUARY)LAMANAI ORANGE WALK NEW RIVER BELIZE CITY CROOKED TREE WILDLIFE SANCTUARY DANGRIGA BELMOPANDUPLOOY'SAMBERGRIS CAYE HOL CHAN MARINE RESERVE TIKAL BARRIER REEF Keel-billedToucan'Mayan ruins amongst rainforest, Tikal

The Central American country of CostaRica is undoubtedly one of therichest countries in the world forbirds. More species have been recordedhere than in the whole of North Americayet the country is only about the size ofWales! This tour has been organised tocover most of the country and aims to visitas wide a range of habitats as possible,primarily in search of birds. Theextraordinary diversity of plants, butterfliesand amphibians-not to mentionscenery -will not go unnoticed, however!The large number of bird species recordedin Costa Rica-over 850 to date-reflects the tremendous diversity of habitatsin the country. Not only does Costa Ricahave coastlines on both the Pacific andAtlantic Oceans, but forest types rangingfrom lush evergreen cloudforests in thehighlands to dry deciduous forests in thelowlands. It also boasts marshes, rivers,swamps and even subalpine páramo.We will begin our tour in the capital SanJosé and travel early in the morning to theCerro de la Muerte Highlands which rise toover 3,350 metres. Here we will have anopportunitytogettoknowsomeofthe birdfamilies that will be encountered duringthe tour and to observe a number ofspecies which we will be very unlikely tosee subsequently such as Peg-billed,Large-footed and Yellow-thighed Finchesand Fiery-throated Hummingbird (perhapsthe first of over 30 species of 'hummers'we should see in the next two weeks!).Our next destination will be Carara, alowland forest reserve on the Pacific coast,which has one of the largest bird lists ofany site in Costa Rica. We will spend twodays exploring the forest here in search ofspecies such as trogons, woodpeckers,manakins and tanagers, and the adjoiningwetlands for herons, egrets and shorebirds.In the evening we will watch as ScarletMacaws fly to their night-time roost.After leaving Carara we will travel north tothe cloudforest reserve of Monteverde,home to arguably the most beautiful bird inthe world - the Resplendent Quetzal. Wewill spend two days exploring the forestand adjoining habitats here in the hope of seeing it. You will not bedisappointed when you do! Monteverde,and the neighbouring Santa Elena Reservewhich we will also be visiting, boast atremendous range of other species, notablyhummingbirds of which we may see 10 ormore species, some at very close quartersat the 'Hummingbird Gallery'!From Monteverde we will journeywestwards for a 3-night stay at HaciendaSolimar, a simple, but comfortable, ranchwhich provides an excellent base fromwhich to explore the dry Guanacasteregion, and the wetlands of the EsteroMadrigal with its spectacularconcentrations of wildfowl, herons, egretsand raptors, not to mention up to fivespecies of kingfisher! The extensive areasof dry deciduous forest in the Guanacasteregion host a wide range of species, manyof which are restricted to this habitat.These will include parrots, orioles,woodcreepers, warblers, antbirds, raptors,owls and nightjars.We will leave Hacienda Solimar early in themorning and travel into the mountains toArenal Volcano National Park. Here we willspend one night whilst we explore theforests, fields, lake shore and otherhabitats of this spectacular area, backedby the perfect cone of Arenal Volcanoitself. If fortunate we may even witness asmall eruption!Our final three days will be spent in thelowland evergreen forest on the Atlanticslope at Selva Verde Lodge, from wherewe will visit the tropical forest researchstation at nearby La Selva. The diversity ofbirds in this area is outstanding and wouldwarrant a much longer stay if timeallowed. During our recent tours we haveseen well over 150 species in two dayshere, including the spectacular SunBittern! We will also spend a day exploringthe pristine middle elevation forestsaround the Virgin del Socorro waterfall,before returning to San José in time forour flight home.Costa Rica A 15-day birdwatching holiday to Costa Rica.Sunday 3rd February - Sunday 17th February 2013 Cost: £3,395Wednesday 10th April - Wednesday 24th April 2013 Cost: £3,395Thursday 16th January - Thursday 30th January 2014 Cost: £3,595Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationNICARAGUAPANAMALAKEARENALHACIENDA SOLIMARVOLCAN ARENALSELVA VERDEMONTEVERDESAN JOSECARARACERRO DE LAMUERTE HIGHLANDSJACOPACIFIC OCEANATLANTIC OCEANCOSTA RICA©Outline itinerary Day 1Fly San José. Day 2San José and Cerro dela Muerte. Day 3/4Carara. Day 5/6Monteverde and SantaElena. Day 7/9Hacienda Solimar. Day 10Arenal Volcano NationalPark.Day 11/13Selva Verde. Day 14Fly London. Day 15Arrive London. AccommodationComfortable hotels, a ranch and a lodge, most with privatefacilities. FoodAll included in the price. GradingA. Easy day walks. FocusBirds. LeaderChris Kehoe or Andy Smith, pluslocal guides.Single room supplement£550. ExtensionsAvailable on request.Web quick search: CRI01193Resplendent Quetzal Collared AracarisWood Storks, Palo Verde