A Complete Guide to Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary in Belize

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A Complete Guide toWildlife Sanctuary in Belize
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When the village of Crooked Tree, Belize was established in the mid-1700s as a Creole-speaking logwood camp, there was a towering tree that served as the meeting place of the local villagers. This tree was more than its fair share of crooked, so the name Crooked Tree came to be and stuck through the years.

Now, the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, located about 40 minutes northwest of Belize City, Belize and about the same distance from the spectacular Altun Ha Mayan Ruins, is a 36,000-plus acre area of wetlands, lagoons, savannas and thick brush that’s home to about 1,400 residents and more than 300 different species of birds.

The latter inhabitants are what makes Crooked Tree one the best place for birders in the entire country. The large lagoons, which surround Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary by almost 360 degrees, and diverse wildlife is what attracts outdoorsy, nature-lovers like myself.

But, unfortunately, its location between the Altun Ha and Lamanai Mayan Ruins and lack of connecting roads are what keep many people from experiencing this beautiful, island-like sanctuary firsthand.

What to Expect in the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary

Since the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary was designated as a Ramsar site in 1998, it falls under similar protections of UNESCO World Heritage sites as a wetland with international importance. This helps prevent overdevelopment and keeps the landscape and wildlife sanctuary pristine and the way nature is supposed to be!

1. World-Class Birding

I am (was) in no way, shape or form a birder before stumbling upon the vast landscape and sheer number of birds Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary is home to. But I wish had brought binoculars and a birding book along with me because Crooked Tree will turn you into a birder!

It was astonishing to see the sheer amount and different species of birds flying through the air and landing on branches and fences by our car and ourselves. I’m not too sure how many different species we wound up laying eyes upon, but I’d say it was at least 40 different species.

One of the many birds people come to see is the jabiru stork, which is the largest flying bird in the Americas with a wingspan of up to 10 feet.

We did manage to spot three or four different species of hummingbirds, what looked like the cousin of the American cardinal and blue jay, and many other water-dwelling birds in the freshwater lagoons.

The best birding can be found from November to May, which is when many migrate to the Sanctuary for a nice winter retreat. For more info about some of the prominent species of birds you can spot in Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, check out Slickrock Adventures detailed blog post.

You may book a guided birding excursion (walking or boating) online or through one of the lodges, or you can buy a book and go at it yourself.

If you’re an experienced birder and want to see as many different species as possible, I highly recommend booking a local tour. I suggest booking something directly with the locals when you get there to get the best price.

Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary birding
CC picture found in wikicommons

2. Diverse Wildlife

Crooked Tree, Belize isn’t just all about its bird populations. It boasts a collection of different animals, such as 34 species of reptiles and amphibians, 28 species of mammals and 30 species of fish — all that have been recorded and documented.

If you’re lucky, or hire a great guide who can take you around Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary in the perfect season, you may be able to see crocodile, Central American river turtles, jaguar, puma and Yucatan Black Howler Monkey.

Still not sold on Crooked Tree? Well, there are also semi-wild horses running around the unpaved streets. Although I didn’t see any of the former animals, I did see a pack of horses running free and attempted to pet them.

Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary Belize jaguar.
CC picture from wikicommons

3. Lots of Cashews

I was pretty bummed to hear that the cashew harvest ended a few weeks before we arrived. Although we got to see the remnants of burned fruits (cashews are actually a fruit) and a few stragglers swinging from branches, we weren’t able to get a first-hand perspective of how they’re picked, twisted, dried and roasted.

Before the visit, I had no idea that cashews are so versatile and that they’re Crooked Tree’s main cash crop. They even have a yearly Cashew Festival to celebrate the year’s harvest and an assortment of cashew-infused goodies.

The cashews must be picked from the trees or picked up off the ground after they’ve ripened, then they need to separate the seed from the fruit using a method called twisting. From there, the cashews are dried and roasted over an open flame — lots of residents do this outside in a makeshift fire pit.

After they’re roasted, the seed is then separated from the shell and roasted again. Yup, it takes a lot of time and effort to get a container of those table-top nuts. I never understood why a container costs so much until now.

Those cashews are then made into cashew pieces, jams, jellies, butter, fudge, different types of candy or wine. Yes, many residents make cashew wine in Crooked Tree! We didn’t get to try any on our one-night visit because it wasn’t quite ready yet, but it’s supposedly very sweet.

4. Other Outdoor Experiences

There are lots of trails in Crooked Tree that you can hike year-round. There’s horseback riding for those who want to experience the sanctuary in a different way. You can also rent a canoe or bicycle for really cheap!

Check out Visit Crooked Tree for more information about the cost and where you can find rentals around the sanctuary.

5. Lodges and Bed & Breakfasts

There a few places to stay within Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary — and there are far fewer comfortable spots to stay than you might imagine. We chose to stay at Beck’s Bed & Breakfast, which turned out to be an absolutely amazing decision!

Robert and Becky run a delightful little bed and breakfast that’s reminiscent of a villa, equipped with a swimming pool, courtyard, free breakfast that consists of local foods and a comfortable place to lay your head at night.

The beds are extremely comfortable. There’s a steady stream of hot water constantly flowing through the shower and sinks. They provide complimentary water, which is a huge plus! Also, Beck’s Bed & Breakfast is set on about 5 acres of land, which consists of many local trees and a decent amount of birding.

Beck’s Bed & Breakfast

  • Nightly Rate: ~$90 USD
  • Booking Link
  • Notes: It may be among the most expensive places to stay in Crooked Tree, but it’s by far the best! Everything is updated, the location is peaceful and the owners, Robert and Becky, are tremendous hosts and people!

Bird’s Eye View Lodge

  • Nightly Rate: ~$50 USD
  • Booking Link
  • Notes: It’s right on the lagoon, with balconies overlooking the lagoon, but the property and rooms are pretty outdated. Aside from that, it seems to be pretty tough to get a reservation. The dates we wanted were completely booked, but there was not a single guest there when we got to Crooked Tree.

Crooked Tree Lodge

  • Nightly Rate: $90 to $120 USD
  • Booking Link
  • Notes: The Crooked Tree Lodge is directly on the water and offers nice one-room cabanas for a decent price. If you’re looking for something convenient, nice, on the water, this is your best bet.

Birdwatcher’s Vacation Cottage

  • Nightly Rate: ~$100 USD
  • Booking Link
  • Notes: No air conditioning and the place is outdated and overpriced. The only perk is that you get the entire two-bedroom cottage to yourself.

Tillett’s Village Lodge

  • Nightly Rate: $35 to $100 USD
  • Booking Link
  • Notes: Tillett’s Village Lodge is an excellent choice for solo travelers, those who don’t mind not having A/C or those people who would like a place of their own. It has it all. You can pay $35 USD, plus $10 per person for a room without A/C, or you can pay $50 USD and up plus $10 USD per person for a room with air conditioning.

Jacana Inn

  • Nightly Rate: ~$35 USD
  • Booking Link
  • Notes: Jacana Inn is for the budget travelers out there who are cool with not having air conditioning. It’s got your bare essentials and the rooms are pretty outdated.

Getting to Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary

If you don’t have a rental car in Belize, getting to Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary can be pretty tough. You’ll have to shell out $75 USD each way to get there via taxi — and it could be even more if you stay the night because a taxi driver will have to drive all the way back to pick you up.

Since rental cars in Belize can be found for about $50 per day, I highly suggest biting the bullet and renting a car. The main highway to Crooked Tree is paved the entire way, driving in Belize (during the day) is pretty safe and you’ll be able to navigate your way around the sanctuary a lot easier without having to rely on a guide or a local.

It’s only a 40-minute drive from the Philip SW Gordon International Airport in Belize City and it’s only 40 minutes from the Altun Ha Mayan Ruins, which I highly suggest you carve out some time for! The road leading off the highway into Crooked Tree isn’t paved, so I’d also recommend renting a small or midsize SUV.

The Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary Visitor Center is open every day from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and costs $4 USD for non-nationals.

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