Bacalar Chico National Park & Marine Reserve

Lonely Planet review

At the northern tip of Ambergris Caye, Bacalar Chico is part of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System World Heritage Site, declared in 1996. At the time of research, the park was only accessible by a 90-minute tour-boat ride from San Pedro or Sarteneja in Northern Belize.

On the way up from San Pedro, boats might stop at Cayo Iguanu , better known as 'bird island,' as it is the nesting ground for the roseate spoonbill and the reddish-brown egret. The next stop is the San Juan ranger station , at the northern tip of the island, where there is a nature trail and some small Maya ruins to explore. From here, the boat motors through the ancient channel that was dug by seafaring Maya about 1500 years ago. Now the narrow channel separates Ambergris Caye from the Mexican mainland.

Boat trips to Bacalar Chico usually make several snorkel stops along the way. The coral is extra colorful around here, as there is significantly less damage from boats and tourists. Besides the bountiful fish and birdlife, you have the chance of seeing crocodiles and manatees, as well as green and loggerhead turtles.

If the waters are calm, boats go to Rocky Point , notable as one of the only places in the world where land meets reef.

In theory, the return trip is on the east side of the island, but this requires a quick detour outside the reef, so in rough seas the boats travel up and down the western side of the island.

Not all tour operators run trips to Bacalar Chico, due to the long travel distance, so plan ahead and inquire in advance about trips.