A guided tour to Five Blues Lake National Park can be done on your way to Placencia. Find more details of this natural attraction below.
WHAT TO SEE
The park is centered around an intensely blue lake, still unexplored but so far thought to be 200 feet deep. It’s used for swimming and boating, and sits surrounded by ragged limestone hills, many with caves, and all covered in thick forest. Almost 200 species of bird have been recorded here, including various water birds, among them the Sungrebe. Five Blues also boast caves, many with spectacular rock formations and Mayan artifacts (not to be touched). Many are used for bat roosts. Ecologists have found over 20 different species of these tiny mammals, some vital for eating thousands and thousands of insects every night, and others for pollinating forest plants and, commercial fruit trees as well. That’s why if you do visit bat caves, keep extremely quiet, and don’t disturb them. One of the easiest to see is the oddly named Lesser Dog-like Bat. It roosts in caves near the entrance where there’s still light. Like all sac-wing bats, it hangs upside down with its elbows out and its head in between, forming a sort of W shape.
Other possible wildlife to see include coatamundi, collared peccary, agouti, many species of birds.
Five Blues is one of the newest parks in Belize so there are fewer visitors and you can get a real feeling of exploration. Especially impressive are the towering limestone cliffs all around the area, a favourite haunt of the spectacular White Hawk and Black Hawk Eagle.
The turn off to Five Blues is at Mile 32 on the Hummingbird Highway, opposite Over-the-Top bar, about 22 miles from Belmopan. You can get the bus this far, either from Dangriga or Belmopan, but it leaves a walk of a few miles to the park. Or you can hire mountain bikes here at the headquarters near the turn off. It’s about 6 miles north along a winding track through acres of new citrus plantations. Currently, Five Blues is used less by tour groups, but arrangements can be made on request. It’s worth it. Exploring the site fully can take 2-3 days, but the highlights can be seen in half a day
Five Blues has a comprehensive trail network with gentle and more rugged options. There is an excellent self-guided trial with accompanying leaflet, a small basic visitor center, and mountain bikes and Kayaks for hire.
The park is managed by Friends of Five Blues Lake, and there is a range of local accommodations available, from a Bed and Breakfast coop to nearby lodges at St. Margaret’s village. Bookings are being co-ordinated through the Hummingbird Tourist Connection (081 2005, Francis Reid). Tour guides are available from the village. Park visitors need to register at the center, which is open from 8am to 4pm dailly. The trail pamphlet is provided for $10.
There are forest and cave trails, and visitors can swim and boat in the lake. Registration of visitors began in February 1994.
Following direct lobbying of the Minster for Natural Resources by local villagers, this site was designated in April 1991 (SI 56). Its initial boundaries were somewhat arbitrary, so in April 1994 (SI 52) it was expanded to more appropriate limits. The site is managed by the Association of Friends of Five Blues Lake. Prior to the declaration, the Five Blues Lake area was utilized for a variety of activities, principally fishing, hunting and small-scale farming.
The calculation of the reserve area is straightforward, as its boundaries are defined by co-ordinates. The size estimated in the SI is 4250 acres, and when calculated on GIS, it gives 4061 acres.
Designated to protect the complex of lagoons and their surrounding forest.
Broadleaf forest, freshwater lagoons.
HOLDRIDGE LIFE ZONE
Only recently has there been a start made to of the park’s fauna. During a 10 week study, 167 species of birds were recorded, and over 20 species of bats (University of Southampton, in prep.). There has been no fishery study of Five Blues Lake, but two common fish species are Bay Snook and Tuba. The area’s forest has been classified as deciduous seasonal broadleaf forest rich in lime-loving species. Forest vegetation has been altered in the past by selective logging, chicle and rubber tapping, fruit gathering and other extractive uses, ancient Maya silvicultural practices, and clearing for various types of agriculture.
St. Margaret’s (Santa Martha) Village is centred on the intersection of the Hummingbird Highway and Lagoon Road at Mile 32, but it stretches north along the highway for about 2 miles and towards the park for another 2 miles. (According to McGill (1994), the name St. Margaret’s is now used to refer specifically to an area of government sub-divided land near Mile 32 that was set up about 5 years ago to accommodate a flood of Spanish speaking immigrants. Santa Martha generally refers to the older area of settlement strung along the Hummingbird highway on mostly unsurveyed land. In general though the names are used interchangeably). In 1980, the area had about 60 residents. The 1991 population (combined St. Margaret’s and Santa Martha) was 415. Currently, local sources estimate the population at 600-700 people. The influx of refugees from EI Salvador and Guatemala in the early 1980’s, and subsequent births, accounts for most of this growth. The growth has slowed in the last few years.
PHYSICAL FEATURES & CLIMATE
This is a karst area, relatively steeply dissected, with some alluvial flats. The area includes caves, sinkholes and exposed rock faces. Most soil is limestone in origin, generally shallow and stony, though there are areas of slightly deeper and more fertile calcareous soil. There are some deep poorly drained clay areas, as well as riverine alluvium in the valleys. The lake, a cenote, is approximately 7.4 acres and is surrounded by steep hills on 3 sides and seasonal swamp thicket on the north near the outlet . The lake appears to be fed by small underground creeks, and it drams north into Indian Creek. Generally understood to be a large sinkhole, varying water depths sometimes create numerous shades of blue. It has a small island with a profusion of orchids, which can be reached from shore via a sunken limestone ridge. Five Blues has a complex hydrological scheme similar in character to that of Blue Hole National Park. Water flows over, under, and through the park, and there is an extensive underground stream network, feeding north into the Sibun. The chief tributary is Indian Creek. The surface water flow is extremely seasonal. The site’s elevation ranges between 50 ft and 1180 ft above sea level. It receives approximately 104 inches of rainfall annually.
The park has numerous caves, and several (No. 3, No. 4, and No. 5 Caves) have been identified by the Archaeology Department as being culturally significant. They await formal investigation. Legal access to Belize’s caves is controlled by the Department of Archaeology. There is evidence of terracing for agriculture.
Depart shortly after breakfast and travel north through Hopkins Village, crossing a vast wetland (excellent birding and great views of the Maya Mountains!) connecting with the Southern Highway. Within 20 minutes you are turning west onto the paved Hummingbird Highway, which is considered to be the most scenic drive in all of Belize. As you drive northward you cross many small rivers and creeks. Touring rainforested slopes and peaks make this winding road truly spectacular, each bend revealing increasingly beautiful vistas. You soon reach the villages of Pomona and Alta Vista, the heart of Belize’s citrus industry. Orange groves give way to thick tropical rainforest and you reach an area famous for it’s proliferation of limestone caves, many of which were used by the ancient Maya for shelter and ceremony.
You soon reach the turnoff at St. Margaret’s Village. The citizens of this town have organized a co-operative in order to manage this unusual lake, said to change varying shades of blue throughout the day. After a short drive on what can be a very rough road, you reach the small naturalist center and are greeted by a local Mayan ranger, who will sign us into the park and then direct us down the trail to Five Blues Lake. You walk through ancient rainforest and gaze up at white mountains of limestone. As you continue to walk along the trail that rings the lake, you begin to realize what makes this park such a jewel. The colors of blue in the lake are incredible and the water is crystal clear.
Along the trail you pass by a deep fissure in the earth and gaze down into a huge cave filled with bats. This area is riddled with hundreds of caves and grottos and is now just beginning to be explored. Do have a swim at the swimming area and enjoy the Lake’s beautiful water. Being are in no hurry, you wander with a guide through the spectacular Karst Limestone Park. The Lake is bordered by an incredible variety and proliferation of exotic plants, including heliconias, orchids and bromiliads.
As the sun swings slowly to the west you must depart this special place and make your way back to the Lodge. Watching the sunset while driving down Hummingbird Highway is an experience no one should miss, the perfect end to a perfect day!
Don’t forget to bring: bug repellent, sunscreen, swimsuit, towel, rain jacket, flashlight, camera, and a desire to see one of nature’s most beautiful places.