The Best Birdwatching in Southern Belize: Laguna Village and the Agua Caliente Wildlife Sanctuary

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Roseate Spoonbills, Wood Storks, Herons, Egrets, and Whistling Ducks take flight at Agua Caliente

For birders, adventurers, naturalist, and travelers who want to share an authentic slice of Toledo life and an unmatched patch of natural beauty, plan a trip to Laguna. Located just thirty minutes up the road from Punta Gorda, the village of Laguna has it all. A quaint and beautiful Mopan Maya community, Laguna is ideal for those interested in experiencing the lifestyle of the majority of Toledo’s inhabitants. The nearby lagoons, meanwhile, are also an absolute must see for birders and outdoor enthusiast. Add in the proximity of a beautiful nearby cave, traditional meals with local families, and the short distance to PG and its many hotels, and there is something everyone should be able to enjoy.

Related: Meet the birds of Belize

A member of the Toledo Ecotourism Association (TEA), Laguna has a brand new guesthouse to accommodate visitors interested in seeing the lagoons. Guests can choose between a dormitory style room with four bunk beds or a private room with two double beds. The cost to stay a night in Laguna is $22 BZE (11 US) per person. Unlike most of the homes in Laguna, the guesthouse also has bathrooms and showers, so you can cool off after a long day in the forest. Alternatively, guests can stay in PG, call TEA to arrange a guide, and drive out to Laguna the following day.

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First look onto “Big Lagoon”, one of the three lagoons in the sanctuary

The Agua Caliente Wildlife Sanctuary is definitely the visual highlight of any trip to the village. (Although the Wildlife Sanctuary has unfortunately ceased to be managed and seems to exist in name only, the wildlife itself seems not to have noticed). The trail to the lagoons, roughly an hour and a half long, is easy—there are no steep slopes or hills, just a flat, dirt path. The trail winds through towering cohune palm groves, dense tropical forest, and finally into low-lying scrub and wetland. On the way, you’ll hear and see all types of bird life while your guide teaches you about the various types and uses of forest plants, flowers, and trees.

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Egrets hunting and roosting at Big Lagoon

As to the wildlife sanctuary, it is hard to describe the beauty of the lagoons and the wildlife you’ll encounter. The lagoons are seasonal hotspots for flocks of local and migratory birds, and on any dry season visit you will get to see a variety of species. In the grass and along the water’s edge, common sightings include cormorants, wood storks, great blue herons, little blue herons, tri-colored herons, great egrets, whistling ducks, sandpipers, stilts, swallows, flycatchers, and more. You’ll hear the chatter of kingfishers flying down from the low hanging trees and watch osprey diving after fish. Roseate Spoonbills also frequently feed here, making it one of the few, accessible places you may see them in Toledo. Community members have even sighted the massive Jabiru Stork, although the decline of fish populations has made sightings increasingly rare.

Related: Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary

Perhaps birdwatching isn’t your thing, or you have friends who are skeptical of how entertaining the trek might be. However, you should consider the trip if only to see the lagoons, which rank among the most beautiful  sites in Toledo even without the birds. As the lagoons shrink during the dry season, dense grass springs up from the exposed earth. The result is crystal clear pools of water surrounded by acres and acres of surreal, bright green grass wherever the water has receded. This is a setting that absolutely begs to be photographed—bright green shoreline, water smooth as glass, hills and mountains receding in the background, and flocks of all colors standing motionless until you cross the threshold and push them into flight.

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The grassland surrounding Big Lagoon–by April, the grass is knee-high

If this has enticed you into a visit, either plan a trip soon, or put it on the schedule for next year. Due to the wetland conditions, the lagoons are essentially accessible only during the dry months (January-May). If you attempt to go to the lagoons in January, be sure to bring some good boots to get through mud and possible stretches of water. Go anytime before then, and you’ll probably have to ask around for a boat! The difference in water level between the wet and dry seasons is an easy five or six feet, so checking in at the Laguna Village Guesthouse and asking about the status of the trail is a good idea.

There are a number of ways to get in touch with the Laguna Village Guesthouse Association and to plan your trip. If you are in PG, stop by Nature’s Way Guesthouse on Front Street and make a reservation there. Chet, the owner, can contact the village and make a reservation for you. Alternatively, if you have your own transportation or are willing to take the bus, you can go directly to Laguna and inquire when you arrive. The guesthouse is on the road into the village, and community members living nearby will be happy to contact the guesthouse managers for you.

If you’re in PG, interested in birding, or want to see a beautiful and unique ecosystem, you owe yourself a trip to Laguna.

Interested in great birdwatching or beautiful hikes outside of Toledo? Check out more Belize Adventure posts on birding, hiking, and must see places in Belize!

 

About Brendan Keegan

Brendan Keegan is a US native who is currently living and working in Punta Gorda. Before moving to PG, he lived in Boston and in Terebovlya, Ukraine. His interests in Belize include learning about conservation, sustainable development, writing, photography and getting to know the Toledo District. If you have any comments or questions about his posts or about PG, you can reach him at: BrendanP.Keegan@gmail.com.
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