Midway between Belize City and Orange Walk, a branch road heads west to Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary (daily 8am–4.30pm; Bz$8), a reserve that encompasses swamps, wetlands and four separate lagoons. Designated Belize’s first Ramsar site (to protect wetlands of international importance), the sanctuary provides a resting place for thousands of migrating and resident birds, such as snail kites, tiger herons, snowy egrets, ospreys and black-collared hawks. The reserve’s most famous visitor is the jabiru stork, the largest flying bird in the New World, with a wingspan of 2.5m. The best months for birdwatching are late February to June, when the lagoons shrink to a string of pools, forcing wildlife to congregate for food and water.
In the middle of the reserve, straggling around the shores of a lagoon, is the village of Crooked Tree, which is linked to the mainland by a causeway. One of the oldest inland villages in the country, Crooked Tree is also one of Belize’s loveliest, with well-kept houses and lawns dotted along tree-lined lanes. Though guided tours to the lagoon are quite expensive (at least US$50–80), numerous trails, signposted from the roads, wind around the island and along the shoreline, where you’ll see plenty of birds and wildlife even without a guide.