Explore the forests & mangroves of Turneffe Atoll

In the footsteps of the Maya on the Calabash Caye Nature Trail

Walk back in time as you see the mangrove forests of Calabash Caye through the eyes of the Maya on our nature trail.


Go back to your roots

Calabash Caye takes its name from the towering Calabash tree that you’ll find in the forest as you stroll along. Although it seems quite at home here, it’s not actually native to Turneffe Atoll – it was probably planted by Mayan people visiting from the Belize mainland.

That makes it the perfect symbol for the Calabash Caye Nature Trail – a forest path that lets you walk in the footsteps of the ancient Maya, and discover the secrets of the mangrove and littoral forests.

This is a chance to use all your senses – Smell the wild sage, listen to the tweets and scurrying sounds all around you, and feel the coastal breeze in your hair when you climb the Bird Tower and gaze out across the canopy. Look up to see the silhouettes of birds against tropical blue skies, and sunbeams slicing through the leaves of the canopy. You could also spot iguanas resting on branches, and blue land crabs emerging from their burrows in the mud. 

Did you know?

Calabash tree gourds can be used to make maracas!


History and natural history

Calabash Caye is rich in natural wonders, and it was this that attracted prehistoric visitors. You can still see Mayan mounds made from conch shells and coral rubble. These were probably temporary fishing camps that let people take advantage of the resources of Turneffe Atoll. In fact, archaeologists has found that people who lived at Calabash Caye were taller and healthier than people on the mainland.

Take a guide on your Calabash Caye Nature Trail or learn at your own pace from the educational signboards posted along the boardwalk.


An amazing ecosystem

Despite their importance, these forests are one of the rarest habitats in Belize – so this nature walk is a great chance to explore somewhere new. Even if you’ve never seen a mangrove tree, you’ll recognise them straightaway by their hanging prop roots and aerial roots. They play a vital role in helping to stabilise the sediment and protect Turneffe Atoll and the mainland from storm surges. Like many of the trees in the forest, the mangroves have to be able to survive dry season droughts as well as being inundated by saltwater.

Did you know?

The gumbolimbo is also known as the “tourist tree” because of its peeling skin.

© Beth Watson


Shipwreck survival

Speaking of survival, imagining you’ve been washed ashore on Calabash Caye is a great game to play as you experience the nature trail.

As well as looking out for fun signs, tracks and traces (like termite mounds and the holes made in trees by migratory yellow-bellied sapsuckers (which fly down from the USA), you can spot trees that could help you live on Calabash Caye – just like the Maya once did.

The Maya were survival experts – the mangrove forest provided everything they needed in terms of food, shelter and even a natural form of sunscreen.

Did you know?

Blue land crab burrows are up to 1.8m (6 feet) long

© Beth Watson


A tree for every need

On the Calabash Caye Nature Trail, you’ll see coconut trees (for food and building shelters),
saltwater palmetto (fronds for brooms and thatch roofs), tropical almond (nuts to eat and leaves for health tea), canistel or caramel (deliciously sweet fruits, hardwood for building and shady leaves) and seagrape (delicious fruits for making jam, jelly and even wine).

As an example of how in balance the whole ecosystem is, you’ll also see black poisonwood with its irritant sap, and gumbolimbo which contains the antidote.

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