Sharing a border and deep cultural connections, Guatemala and Belize come together to create the green heart of Central America. Both countries are world-renowned biodiversity hot spots, incorporating volcano-laden landscapes, azure lakes and endless flocks of rare tropical birds into their folds—and many preservation efforts have sprung up, aiming to preserve the wildlife, landscapes and Mayan way of life.
Rupalaj K’istalin — San Juan la Laguna, Guatemala
When a group of local tour guides formed this cooperative association in 2003, they strove to exemplify a respect and awe for nature; and so they took the name Rupalaj K’istalin, or “crystalline face” in Tz’utujil Maya, as a tribute to the rocky profile of the mountain that overlooks Lake Atitlan. In addition to preserving and promoting the Tz’utujil culture, Rupalaj K’istalin plays an active role in reforestation, planting and maintaining some 20,000 plants of native species that are in danger of extinction.
As Green As It Gets — Antigua, Guatemala
As Green As It Gets (AGAIG) supports a collective of small, independent coffee growers, helping them to secure financing to purchase property, to implement environmentally friendly agricultural practices and to pursue local and export markets for their high-quality coffee beans. About two-dozen farmers have started and grown their coffee business (and now lead guided tours and coffee demonstrations that supplement their income), thanks to AGAIG resources and expertise. The community organization also supports artisans and entrepreneurs who are producing other marketable products, from all-natural cosmetics to burlap tote bags to sustainably harvested hardwood furniture.
Rio Dulce National Park — Rio Dulce, Guatemala
Connecting Izabal Lake with the Caribbean Sea, the Rio Dulce National Park is an important biological corridor for the endangered Caribbean manatee and other marine life. In fact, within the park, the Chocón Machas Biotope is a reserve set aside specifically to protect the resident manatees. You probably won’t see them, however, since this gentle sea mammal is wary of boats. Instead, train your eye on the river banks’ dense jungle and towering cliffs, both teeming with life.
Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary — Stann Creek, Belize
The world’s first jaguar sanctuary, the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary was created to address two opposing worries: Animal advocates were worried that jaguars were in danger. Citrus farmers in Stann Creek were worried about encountering these cats in their orchards, as their natural habitats were shrinking. Researcher Alan Rabinowitz, dubbed “the Indiana Jones of Wildlife Protection” by Time magazine, determined that the density of jaguars in the Cockscomb Basin was among the highest in the world and worked tirelessly until the land’s protected status became official in 1986. The sanctuary has since expanded from 3,600 to 28,000 acres and is a refuge for hundreds of species of plants and animals, each playing a reciprocal role within the complex ecosystem of the tropical rainforest.
Learn more about these organizations on our tour, Guatemala to Belize: Local Traditions & Tropical Wildlife.