Delving deep into the jungle, you expect to come face to face with some of the loudest, smallest and deadliest creatures in the world, but there are many you don’t want to get too close to
Into the Belizean jungle
It was two days before Christmas and instead of overindulging on festive movies and chocolate I found myself headed for Central America. This year it would be far from traditional as I was venturing out to experience the culture and wildlife that Belize has to offer.
The first stop on my trip was Lamanai, which means ‘submerged crocodile’ in the Yucatec Mayan language. Lamanai is located in the Orange Walk District and is home to some of the oldest Mayan ruins in Mesoamerica. It was also my entry gate into the jungle.
It was only day one of my trip and by 5:15am we were already out of bed and trekking through the heart of the Belizean jungle at Lamanai Outpost Lodge. By 6am I’d already been told a story that petrified me and made me question whether it was too late to turn around.
“If there’s one creature you don’t want to cross while you’re here it’s the yellow jaw snake,” our tour guide, Ruben, exclaimed. At the mere age of ten he was out wondering around the jungle when he accidently stood on one of the most deadly and aggressive snakes in Belize. “I knew I had hours to live and I was miles away from any hospital, so I did what any Belizean would do: I took my machete and cut the chunk of venom from my calf.”
I couldn’t figure out whether being surrounded by deadly creatures excited me or terrified me, but at least I knew I was in good hands. We continued through the maze of palm trees, following the odd dancing grey cracker butterfly that, as the name suggests, sound like fire crackers as they beat their wings. I was in awe of the bright-coloured birds that Belize is home to. Among my favourites were the iconic keel-billed toucan and the yellow warbler, which both popped with colour among the dense green jungle.
In between pointing out the endless catalogue of birdlife Ruben spotted a path that had been cleared on the ground like the parting of the Red Sea. “Leaf-cutter ants,” he said as he examined their hard
“The tarantula was at least the size of an adult hand. The creepy crawlies didn't stop there”
“I couldn’t figure out whether being surrounded by deadly creatures excited or terrified me, but I knew I was in good hands”
work. I was shocked to see this path continued on into the jungle as far as the eye could see.
The ants excavate these paths through the night, delivering pieces of leaves back to their colonies in order to grow fungi.
I was mesmerised to learn that they can carry up to 50 times their own bodyweight. While admiring the work of these fantastic creatures I quickly realised that I had spent too much time looking at the ground and not enough time looking up at the canopy.
A progressive noise that sounded like an air-raid siren was coming from deep within the treetops – it was the echoing noise of the Yucatan black howler monkey. We could just about make out its black shadow as it nestled amid the treetops. As we looked more closely we could identify a baby that lay entwined in its mother’s thick coat. It seemed intrigued and stared back at me like I was a puzzle that it was trying to work out.
On our way back to camp we paused at a nearby lake that was home to an adult tortoise and a host of dragonflies that skipped in the warmth of the morning sunlight. Ruben encouraged us to stay completely still, close our eyes and listen to the sound of the jungle waking up. As I concentrated on the vibrant hum of my surroundings I realised just how far away from home I was.
After our morning activity we had a few hours of well-deserved free time, which I filled with swinging in a hammock and cooling off in the crocodile-infested river. I was very apprehensive about diving in, but the guides reassured me that no one had ever been eaten alive at Lamanai.
By nightfall we were back out into the thick of the jungle, this time with head torches on and an extra layer of bug spray. It was time for us to explore the creatures of the night. “We usually take guests on the night walk at the end of their time here at Lamanai, not at the start, as we don’t want to scare you while you’re staying here,” explained Ruben. “Personally, I’d rather know what we were sleeping next to rather than be blissfully unaware!” I replied.
When moving around in the dark I noticed a glistening that appeared like diamonds almost everywhere I looked. Ruben told me this was my light reflecting off all the spiders’ eyes. This would no doubt be any arachnophobe’s worst nightmare, as it was hard to find a gap
where eyes weren’t staring back at me. The owner of eight of them was revealed to be a tarantula. Using a sheath of grass, Ruben teased the spider in the same way that you would entice a kitten with a piece of string. It sent shivers down my spine when the tarantula came out of its home, and I could see that it was at least the size of an adult hand. The creepy crawlies didn’t stop there either, and it appeared that Ruben had a lot more tricks up his sleeve to lure out the creatures of the night.
As we continued walking into the jungle we shortly came to a standstill at a tree with a huge gouge on the edge of it. I thought to myself that this would no doubt be a perfect home for anything that wouldn’t want to be disturbed. Ruben shone a UV light down a crack to highlight the protruding pincers of a scorpion. I found it fascinating to learn that scorpions are considered a bioluminescent animal, which means that under UV light their skeletons glow, allowing you to examine these predators in the dark.
On route back to our jungle hideaway, dodging the odd dangling snake cactus as we went, we bypassed a pond that almost on cue sprang into a chorus of croaking toads. These seemed rather innocent creatures in comparison to the other reptiles, amphibians and arachnids we had crossed paths with over the last 12 hours. I also found it reassuring to know that they were (hopefully) the only animals nearby to where we were sleeping.
After a full day of trekking through the jungle I was ready for some rest. Let’s just say that I made sure I checked every inch of my bed for bugs before I went to sleep that night, as I certainly didn’t want to let the bed bugs bite here!
above The largest monkey found in Belize, black howler monkeys live in troops of between four and eight members
above Occupied for over 3,000 years, Lamanai was once the site of a major Mayan civilisation
above Belize is home to 603 species of bird, including 26 species of hummingbird