Programme for Belize – A visit to the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area

With its recent foray into the ecotourism industry, Programme for Belize (PfB) invites tourists to visit and view first-hand, the efforts of conservation and research in action. Committed naturalists won’t want to miss a visit to the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area (RBCMA), in the northern district of Orange Walk. Since 1988, PfB, a non-profit organization, has been operating as a center for environmental education and conservation, and research of sustainable agricultural projects. March 1998 marks the organization’s tenth anniversary.

The road to Rio Bravo heads west from Orange Walk Town. It is about 100 miles from Belize City to the La Milpa Field Station; and takes less than three hours at a leisurely pace. The best access to Hill Bank Station is through Bermudian Landing, and takes about one and a half hours. Overnight accommodations are now provided at these two areas. A “Green Dormitory” providing accommodation for 30 with shared facilities, featuring state-of-the-art conservation technology, has been constructed at both stations. (The Hill Bank dorm does not yet have an operational hot water system, though). The La Milpa station also offers three double-unit, private cabañas, with hot showers, providing relative comfort while experiencing all the wonder the wilderness has to offer. Three meals are provided daily, consisting of hearty Belizean fare, tastefully prepared with local products.

All profits from tourism activities are directed back towards the conservation effort, and the goal of the RBCMA is to be fully self-sustaining in the future. This goal is the reason behind the new rates charged for accommodation. However, bear in mind that many Belizean resorts charge US$40 per day, just for meals alone. This makes the rates at Rio Bravo, which include meals and guided activities, very competitive. Work has also begun on the development of two luxury, tented safari camps; one at the Hill Bank lagoon and another at an area called Warrie Camp. These “resorts” plan to offer world-class accommodation, including laundry service! PfB holds a share in this operation and will receive a portion of its proceeds.

Activities offered at both stations include birding, hiking, Maya ruins (see our La Milpa article), nature trails and visits to local Creole, Mennonite and Maya/Mestizo communities. Additionally, Hill Bank boasts a micro-propagation lab, and offers water-based activities on the New River Lagoon, just yards away. With over 240 species of trees, 390 species of birds, and 70 known species of mammals, the 260,000+ acres of the Rio Bravo tropical forest area represent one of the country’s highest concentrations of bio-diversity. Inventories of remaining categories of creatures are still under way. Visitors will see many exotic species of all types of creatures, as they walk the many nature trails. As an added bonus, tourists are welcome to attend lectures and presentations given by visiting researchers and archaeologists, possibly even observing them in action in the field.

Objectives and Activities

All of the PfB lands are held in perpetual trust for the people of Belize. Two large parcels of the land were donated by Coca-Cola Foods. To purchase remaining parcels, PfB funds were supplemented, mainly with special programs by The Nature Conservancy, a Virginia-based organization, and the Massachusetts Audubon Society. A multitude of American and British citizens contributed through these organizations via their “Adopt An Acre” scheme.

In addition to tourism, the Programme for Belize goal of self-sustainment focuses on wise use of the natural resources of the area. In 1997, that sustainability level was 51%. Areas in which research are focused include selective logging, chicle production, and micro-propagation (lab production of orchids and tropical house plants for export). Other programs include community outreach, which promotes economically and environmentally viable activities, and facilitating production of local handicrafts, which the PfB then purchases for sale to visitors.

Over 1000 students visit the RBCMA annually. PfB sponsors numerous educational programs and trips for local students, as well as hosting “Save The Rainforest (Inc.)” courses, which provide terrestrial and marine ecology education for both Belizean and international students. It goes without saying that “students of life,” both young and old, can gain a lot of insight by visiting the Rio Bravo area. Your days will be filled with vigorous, exciting activities, and at night, nature’s music of the jungle will lull you to sleep.