Across Chetumal Bay from Corozal, the largely uninhabited Sarteneja peninsula is covered with dense forests and swamps that support an amazing array of wildlife. Sarteneja, the peninsula’s only settlement, is a peaceful, Spanish-speaking, lobster-fishing community that boasts several hotels and restaurants. Tourism is just beginning to take off in this quiet village but, unlike some parts of the country, the locals are keen to ensure that future development is carried out at a financially and environmentally sustainable level.
All buses to Sarteneja pass the entrance to Shipstern Nature Reserve (daily 8am–4pm; Bz$15; w www.shipstern.org), 5km before the village, though you can also get here by renting a bike from Fernando’s Guesthouse or Backpackers Paradise in Sarteneja. The reserve encompasses an area of eighty square kilometres, including large areas of tropical moist forest, some wide belts of savanna, and most of the shallow Shipstern Lagoon, dotted with mangrove islands. The visitors’ centre offers a variety of guided walks, though even if you choose the shortest, you’ll encounter more named plant species here than on any other trail in Belize. Shipstern is also a birdwatcher’s paradise: the lagoon system supports blue-winged teal, American coot and huge flocks of lesser scaup, while the forest is home to keel-billed toucans and at least five species of parrot. Other wildlife in the reserve includes crocodiles, jaguars, peccaries and an abundance of wonderful butterflies.