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Tropical Wings Nature Center and the Trek Stop cabins

Tropical Wings museumMany of us automatically think of the beach when we think of Belize, which is a bit ironic since the country isn’t really known for great beaches outside of the Placencia Peninsula. But lets head inland now for a visit to the Tropical Wings Nature Center near San Ignacio.

UPDATE: For a first-hand recommendation from one of our friends about this cool place, please see the recommendation below.

This eco-center is on 22 acres of second growth forest, and the main feature is their butterfly house and the related exhibits, but there is a lot more going on, including a “green lodging” facility that has cheap cabins and various amenities for travelers and day-visitors.

There is an outdoor rearing area where the butterflies are raised from eggs, but the indoor portion of the center has interactive exhibits and videos about the local birds, bats, ants, and plants that can be found in the area. After you soak that in a bit it’s time for a leisurely hike through some of the Center’s nature trails, where hopefully you’ll be able to identify some of the things you’ll see with your brand new knowledge.

The grounds also contain a “medicinal plant garden featuring natural remedies used by villagers.” This sounds especially enticing, but I’d like to speak to some of these villagers before I roll the dice trying some of their remedies.

The Trek Stop cabins

Trek Stop cabinsNot surprisingly, the Trek Stop and its cabins are part of the Toucan Trail program, which connects locally-owned and environmentally friendly businesses together for visitors as long as they keep their prices low. The Trek Stop has single cabins with shared bath starting at US$15 plus tax, and their most expensive double cabins with a private bath are only US$38 for two people, which is quite cheap even for Belize.

They promise simple but comfortable accommodations, and they also have free wifi, a self-catering kitchen if you’ve got your own food, a restaurant, a dining/lounge area, cable TV and a DVD collection. For their guests the Trek Stop also inner tubes, inflatable kayaks, and mountain bikes for rent as well as…

The only disc golf course in Belize

That’s right, the Professional Disc Golf Association recognizes the Trek Stops 9-basket course as the only one in the country. Their review says the course is “very tight – in the jungle with mango trees littering the course with fruit.” And they also say there is a box of beat-up discs to use for free, so you don’t need to bring your own collection if you aren’t too picky.

Getting there

The Tropical Wings Nature Center/Trek Stop is only 3 miles from the border with Guatemala. All buses going to the border from Belmopan or Belize City go right by the place and the bus drivers will be happy to drop you off right in front if you let them know in advance.

You can also get there in about 90 minutes from the airport if you’ve rented yourself a car (which isn’t very green, is it?) so the US$6 express bus or US$4 local buses from Belize City’s bus terminal are probably the way to go.

A recommendation from a friend of ours who’s stayed here not all that long ago:

“A nice little town in Belize is San Ignacio in the Cayo District, near the Guatemalan border, and a launching place for tours to the Incan ruins of Xunantanich, to the wilderness area Mountain Pine Ridge and to the Guatemalan ruins at Tikal. If you have a little time to spend in San Ignacio waiting for a tour, I can recommend the Trek Stop, a facility that provides inexpensive lodging, a restaurant (that usually has ice cream), nature walks and a campground. But even if you don’t go there to stay or eat, they boast two attractions that might be intriguing — the only disc golf course in Belize and an extensive butterfly house and gardens.

The Trek Stop disc golf course is nine holes hacked out of the jungle, averaging about 60 yards a hole, mostly par 3 or 4, with little room for either long drives or precision putting. It’s not particularly challenging for an experienced player but there’s some fun to be had dodging jungle vines and falling mangos. The house discs are pretty banged up and they still insist on calling it Frisbee golf. * However, the course IS recognized by the Professional Disk Golf Association . And it’s the only one in Belize! They keep a running tally of scores in several age groups, so try your luck at beating them. Playing the course is free for those staying there and very reasonable otherwise.

Trek Stop’s butterfly house would be hard to beat, though. The staff is very knowledgeable and, most of the year, you can see the whole butterfly life-cycle, from eggs that look like dew drops through caterpillar, chrysalis and butterfly. The Blue Morpho, the Belizean national butterfly (why don’t *we* have a national butterfly in the U.S,?) is their most abundant but there were also many other kinds. Including one butterfly that rests with its wings spread like a moth and many that imitate various flowers or other things to escape predators.

The Trek Stop is located on the Western Highway about five miles out of San Ignacio toward the Guatemalan border. Get the bus from the San Ignacio bus square and tell the conductor (yes, that 14-year-old boy usually) where you want to get off. He (very occasionally a young woman) will calculate the fare accordingly. And if he’s busy, just get on a bus where the driver or the conductor is shouting “Benque, Benque, Benque.” That’s the border town between Belize and Guatemala where a lot of the passengers are going.”