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Baboon Sanctuary in Altun Ha, Belize

Author: tanyanubin
Date of Trip: January 2008

RCI didn’t offer an excursion to the baboon sanctuary, so we booked with a private tour company. Our guide was was wonderful. He was extremely knowledgeable about all aspects of his country, from politics to ecology and flora/fauna. He sang us creole songs and pointed out people he knew all over—“Hey, there’s Terrence” or “There’s my sister!” funny…

First we drove to the baboon sanctuary about an hour out at Bermudian Landing. A young guy named Shane was there, at a clearing on the side of the road. There were a few small tin-roofed buildings in the clearing. Shane was so full of information. He knows everything there is to know about the howler monkeys, and is deeply involved in the efforts of the reserve. Many land owners over a long strip of property—about 20 miles long, I think, have joined together to help the howler troops thrive and to protect them. They have built air bridges out of rope ladders for the monkeys to cross over the roads and have made sure to preserve the trees they need to travel in and feed on. Their efforts have helped the monkey population grow from several hundred to several thousand healthy animals. Shane grew up with the monkeys and they are very accustomed to him.

First he showed us a large dominant male in the trees above us. Then a female with a 4-week old baby on her back. He then said he’d try to call several young howlers down closer to us. We stood quietly while he called, and soon 2 young monkeys came through the trees and down right to Shane! He fed them small pieces of banana. Then, (thrill of my life!!!) he let me hold a piece of banana and a 1 year old howler named Happy came to me, held my hand gently in his warm, soft little hands, and took the banana. He was trusting and adorable! That was the highlight of my trip (I am a huge animal lover and have always wanted to see monkeys in the wild. we went to Belize hoping for that) My sister in law got to feed Happy next. We were thrilled! I made a donation to the cause, ‘adopting’ Happy. I got a certificate celebrating what Shane refers to as Ecoloution. Shane was the highlight of my husband’s whole trip!

As for the remainder of our short day in Belize: We went to the Mayan Wells restaurant for lunch on the way to Altun Ha ruins. The restaurant was lovely…beautiful grounds and wonderful food. The meal was a traditional Belizian meal—chicken spiced with the seeds of a local fruit, rice and beans cooked in coconut milk, papaya and plantain (yummy!)

Altun Ha was nice–a smallish ruins site. We climbed one pyramid and could hear our guide in the plaza below speaking normally. The acoustics were to ensure that the mayan leaders could be heard by a large crowd below. Impressive.

On the highway on our way back to the ship we spotted a man out in front of his house holding an animal. We stopped for a closer look and it turned out to be a collared anteater! Tourists rarely spot them in the wild. I asked him if I could hold it, and he ran to get a large glove for me. that would have been great if the anteater stayed put, but it decided to crawl all over me, over my head and face and down my leg! LOL—It really hurt, because their paws are so strong and their claws are like steel and designed to dig through termite mounds, but it was hilarious and thrilling. At one point it’s naked tail was draped over my eyes and mouth, to the amusement of the rest of my party! The man offered to let us hold some snakes, which my husband did, but when he offered to let us hold a fer-de-lance, one of the most poisonous snakes in the world, we backed away and said we were late for our ship! lol, I’ve got some impressive anteater bruises to show off at home! That was an unexpected and exciting little adventure!

Our tour guide sang us a nice parting song, and we said goodbye. We shopped a bit in stalls outside the terminal, where the locals got a bit pushy. No big deal, though. We did hear some shipmates complain later that they had been offered various drugs out there, including ecstasy and cocaine, but we had no such experience. Our impression of Belize was great—a fairly poor country with extremely well educated and friendly people.

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