Shipstern Wildlife Nature Reserve
In Corozal District, Shipstern is in the northeastern corner of the Belize coast. Thirty-two square miles of moist forest, savanna, and wetlands have been set aside to preserve as-yet-unspoiled habitats of well-known insect, bird, and mammal species associated with the tropics.
The reserve encompasses the shallow Shipstern Lagoon, dotted with mangrove islands, which creates wonderful habitat for many wading birds. The reserve is home to about 300 species of birds, 70 species of reptiles and amphibians, and nearly 270 species of butterflies (they began the production of live butterfly pupae through intensive breeding).
The International Tropical Conservation Foundation has been extremely generous in supporting Shipstern. As at most reserves, the objective is to manage and protect habitats and wildlife, as well as to develop an education program that entails teaching the local community and introducing children to the concept of wildlife conservation in their area.
Shipstern, however, goes a step further by conducting an investigation of how tropical countries such as Belize can develop self-supporting conservation areas through the controlled, intensive production of natural commodities found within such wildlife settlements. Developing facilities for the scientific study of the reserve area and its wildlife is part of this important program.
It’s essential that visitors go first to the visitors center. The admission fee of US$5 includes a guided tour of the visitors center, butterfly garden, botanical trail, and observation tower. The forest is alive with nature’s critters and fascinating flora, and the guides’ discerning eyes spot things that most city folk often miss, even though they are right in front of them. Hours for touring are 9 a.m.–noon and 1–3 p.m. daily except for Christmas, New Year’s Day, and Easter. While accommodations are available by special request, visitors are encouraged to stay overnight in Sarteneja village.
Sarteneja Adventure Tours (tel. 501/669-4911, www.sartenejatours.com) provides standard tours and overnight camping trips, with opportunities to explore Shipstern’s trails by day or night and visit local caves, Maya ruins, and nesting bird colonies.
This lovely trail starts at the parking lot by the visitors center and meanders through the forest. You will have the opportunity to see three types of hardwood forests with 100 species of trees. Many of the trees are labeled with their Latin and Yucatec Maya names. Before starting your 20- to 30-minute walk, pick up a book with detailed descriptions of the trail and the trees at the park’s visitors center, about three miles outside of Sarteneja.
Getting to Shipstern
It is easiest to take a boat from Corozal or to hire a local tour guide to arrange travel. From Corozal and Orange Walk, figure a little more than an hour to drive there. The road takes you through San Estevan and then to Progresso. Turn right just before entering Progresso, to Little Belize (a Mennonite community). Continue on to Chunox. Sarteneja is three miles beyond Shipstern. Don’t forget a long-sleeved shirt, pants, mosquito repellent, binoculars, and a camera for your exploration of the reserve.
© Joshua Berman and Avalon Travel from Moon Belize, 9th Edition