October 01, 2006 (PRLEAP.COM) Travel News
Since gaining independence in 1981, Belize has gone from a seldom-visited, little-known backwater, to one of the most exciting, up and coming eco-destinations in the world. Tourism is now the single most important sector in Belize’s economy. And with a focus on attracting eco-tourism, Belize has dramatically increased the number of parks and marine reserves. According to the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) forest and marine reserves along with 23 National Parks now protect more than 35% of the country.

Half Moon Caye Natural Monument - was the first protected area to be created after gaining independence. Established in March of 1982 at world-famous Lighthouse Reef, Half Moon Caye is located at the southeast corner of Lighthouse Reef, the most remote of the three atolls in Belizean waters, a remarkable marine wilderness some 50 miles offshore of Belize City. The caye itself is approximately 45 acres in size and is divided into two very distinct ecosystems. The western region, with its dense vegetation, has corresponding rich soil made fertile by guano from the thousands of sea birds nesting in this area. The eastern half of the caye is composed primarily of coconut palms.

Glovers Reef Marine Reserve - In 1993 the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and the Government of Belize, with careful planning and local input, created the Glovers Reef Atoll marine reserve. The reserve encompasses the entire Atoll, extending to the 100-fathom depth line, and totals an area of 35,876 ha. This Atoll consists of 5 islands and is home to breathtaking marine life and many species of birds. These marine reserves are very important in preserving our barrier reef.

Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Reserve - The Cockscomb Basin Forest Reserve (CBWS) was established in 1984 and declared a no hunting area to protect the natural prey of its resident jaguars. Part of the Forest Reserve was established as the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in 1986. The sanctuary was expanded in 1990 to include the entire forest reserve, a total area of over 100,000 acres. The CBWS is without doubt Belize's most famous reserve.

In 1987, Island Expeditions, a Canadian based tour company, was founded with a specific mandate to bring tourism into these parks and other rarely traveled areas in Belize. Today, Island Expeditions Co. is known as the largest and most experienced adventure tour operator in the country with 8 specialty trips in all. Guests visit from all over the world and have the opportunity to kayak, sail and snorkel the islands and pristine coral reefs offshore. Trips into the interior explore lush rainforests and include paddling whitewater rivers, cave exploration and journeys into remote Mayan ruins. Trips are led by Licensed Belizean Tour Guides and are accompanied by North American naturalists and specialty guides. All park fees, meals, accommodation, transportation and activities from Belize City are inclusive in the trip price. Accommodations are a mix of lodges and camping and island basecamps. For those interested in learning more about Belize, order a free copy of the Belize Adventure Guide at 1-800-667-1630 or visit