2022 North Pole Belize Conservation Expedition
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What to Expect
Please read through all of the information below. More details will be added as your departure draws closer.
We do everything possible to run safe, engaging, and immersive programs for our travelers, but given the unpredictable nature of international travel we must remain flexible in our planning. Changes to a schedule are uncommon but if inclement weather pushes us off course or an unexpected opportunity arises which travelers are excited about, we reserve the right to adjust programming in the best interest of the group.
|1||USA - St. George's Caye||Arrive in Belize and travel directly to the ECOMAR field station on St. George's Caye, where we will settle in, meet the researchers and staff, then have lunch and receive an orientation on the biological fieldwork with which we will be assisting. In the afternoon, we will visit Swallow Caye Marine Reserve & snorkel at North Gallows.||ECOMAR Research Station|
|2||St. George's Caye||Morning and afternoon activities today will focus on underwater manatee and sea turtle surveys in the Drowned Cayes. All meals will take place at the field station or between sessions in the field. In the evening we'll learn more about our study area and subjects from knowledgeable researchers.||ECOMAR Research Station|
|3||St. George's Caye||We will continue fieldwork surveying underwater for sea turtles and manatees. Later, we will visit the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve Channel & Snorkel at Hol Chan Marine Reserve. In the evening our group will hear a lecture on coral reef and barrier island ecology.||ECOMAR Research Station|
|4||St. George's Caye||Fieldwork continues by surveying for commercially important fish species or other seasonal research initiatives. We will be kayaking through the mangroves in the afternoon, followed by an evening lecture on the role of conchs in local ecosystems, and/or community-based conservation and sustainable development in Mesoamerican Reefs.||ECOMAR Research Station|
|5||St. George's Caye||Our morning activity will focus on conch abundance surveys. The afternoon will feature potential beach cleanup or more snorkeling near St. George's Caye, followed by a visit to a local lobster fisherman's home. An evening lecture on history of St. George's Caye wraps up the day.||ECOMAR Research Station|
|6||St. George's Caye - San Ignacio||In the morning we'll say goodbye to our friends at ECOMAR and take a boat back to the mainland. We'll then visit the famous Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center, where we will learn about a variety of terrestrial Belizean wildlife and the roles they play in their respective ecosystems. We'll settle in to our accommodations in Belize's Cayo District and enjoy some late-afternoon canoeing if time allows.||Maya Mountain Lodge, Crystal Paradise Resort or similar|
|7||San Ignacio||Today we'll drive through Belize's western rainforests to Caracol, an ancient Maya metropolis situated near the Guatemalan border. We'll stop at caves and natural pools along the way where we can learn firsthand about western Belize's unique geological past. Alternately, a day-visit to Tikal in Guatemala can be arranged.||Maya Mountain Lodge, Crystal Paradise Resort or similar|
|8||San Ignacio||In the morning we'll hike through forest trails in search of Belize's native birds and other unique fauna and flora. We'll then hike to a waterfall in the forest to visit a Green Iguana conservation center, and finish the day at Mayan Ruins that overlook the town of San Ignacio. We'll have dinner in San Ignacio, followed by a structured reflection and group activitiy before bed.||Maya Mountain Lodge, Crystal Paradise Resort or similar|
|9||San Ignacio||We'll spend our last full day in Belize exploring the Cayo District's extensive karstic cave systems by canoe or inner tube! We'll look for Mayan remnants in these caves, then return to Cristo Rey for our last afternoon in the rainforest.||Maya Mountain Lodge, Crystal Paradise Resort or similar|
|10||San Ignacio - Belize City - USA||Depending on the flight time, we will leave the Cayo District in the morning and visit the howler monkey sanctuary, where we have the chance to get up close and personal with these protected species and learn from local experts about the long-running, community-based conservation project that is protecting them. We'll grab a final lunch together, then board our flight home!||Home!|
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In order to provide a safe and memorable experience, we follow strict guidelines when choosing program accommodations. Walking Tree partners with locally-operated, three-star equivalent hotels and guest houses which are centrally located, clean and safe.
ECOMAR Research Station
Founded in 2009, the St. George’s Caye Research Station & Field School supports archaeological and marine research for visiting professors and their students. The facilities at ECOMAR are based on traditional Creole colonial architectural styles, students will share screened-in dorm rooms with bunk beds and private bathrooms. As water conservation is a integral part of island life, power is generated each night, and hot water and air conditioning are not available. Students will be grouped in their rooms according to gender and availability.
Maya Mountain Lodge
This Belize jungle lodge is famous for the friendly staff who provide a home away from home for travelers looking for an adventure base in Western Belize. Located near San Ignacio, Belize, this eco-friendly, family run Jungle Lodge has cottages, rooms & efficiency apartments. Students will be grouped according to gender in the rooms, which have access to free Wi-Fi and A/C as well.
Once your flight has been secured the itinerary will appear here.
Remember that Walking Tree is not responsible for checked baggage fees. Please visit the airline’s baggage webpage to learn if you should expect to pay anything.
We will provide a group manifest – complete with reservation codes and ticket numbers – to the Group Organizer/s before departure but travelers will need to check in at the airport in order to receive their boarding pass. We recommend arriving no later than three hours prior to the scheduled departure but for specific details on exactly where and when to meet on the day of departure, please contact your Group Organizer/s.
FLIGHT INTERRUPTION DELAY OR CANCELLATION
Air travel is unpredictable. Regardless of proper planning, there may still be instances when a flight is delayed or cancelled due to weather, mechanical problems, labor strikes, etc. Please note that in such an event, Walking Tree Travel (WTT) is not financially responsible for unanticipated costs incurred by travelers. Our programs officially begin and end in the destination country and because our staff doesn’t fly with the group, Group Organizers (the traveling faculty member/s) become the front-line advocate for the group. In most cases of cancellations or delays, the airline will be the one who re-books travel or possibly arranges a hotel and food the night. Our primary role will be to keep families updated and advocate as best we can for a quick and effective resolution to the situation.
Host Community and Project Details
ECOMAR MARINE BIOLOGY CENTER at ST. GEORGE’S CAYE
Historical St. George’s Caye is less than 10 miles from Belize City and one mile from the Belize Barrier Reef, making it an ideal location for getting to and from the mainland and reef ecosystems. The Caye, and the other cayes, reefs, and estuaries that surround it, collectively make up Belize’s section of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, a chain of barrier islands stretching from Mexico to Honduras that together comprise the largest coral reef ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere. This “seascape” is also the second longest reef in the world, and is home to hundreds of invertebrate and vertebrate species such as whale sharks, Antillean manatees, and hundreds of mollusks found nowhere else in the world. The unique geology of the region and the biodiversity it harbors make it a priority conservation area, and one of Sylvia Earle’s “Hope Spots.”
During our stay in Belize, we will be partnering with ECOMAR, and organization that coordinates marine biology and conservation projects that focus on conserving the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System and World Heritage Site, along with the associated marine ecosystems and the diverse marine life that is so important to the people that live near the coast. ECOMAR’s mission is to help local people, governments, and visitors learn more about the marine ecosystems that support their livelihoods. “When resources users are more knowledgeable about the ecosystem processes they take ownership of the environment and become involved in protecting these valuable natural resources.”
They do this through a variety of programs that we will learn about and participate in, including sea turtle nesting and in water studies, coral reef ecology studies, manatee and conch research, and a variety of other marine biology research education programs which we will learn about during our stay. We are privileged to be guided in our work by local and visiting researchers who are experts.
What follows is a sample packing list that is provided as a guideline. Feel free to augment as you feel necessary. We recommend you bring a larger piece of luggage like a roller, duffel bag, or backpack, as well as a smaller backpack that you can bring on hikes, weekend excursions and shorter activities.
“Less is more” is a packing tip we encourage for all our travelers. The list below should cover everything you would need, but know yourself and what you are comfortable traveling with. We suggest bringing only as much as you would be able to carry on your own.
Finally, we recommend consulting a weather forecast for your destination.
- Socks (a mixture of good hiking socks and casual socks)
- T-shirts or work shirts (some quick dry)
- Long sleeve shirt
- Set of pajamas
- Light sweater
- Rain jacket
- Travel/athletic shorts that are breathable and light
- Comfortable/hiking/everyday pants (NOT all jeans)
- 2 nice shirt/top to be worn to more formal dinners (girls might want a skirt or something a little nicer for such occasions)
- Durable athletic/hiking shoes
- Sandals (Chacos/Tevas etc)
- Long-sleeve rash guard, to protect from sun while snorkeling (mandatory)
Important: Snorkeling gear (mask, snorkel, and fins). Visit your local dive shop or sports equipment store and have the staff fit you with a mask. A good fitting, comfortable mask and a well-sealed snorkel can make or break a snorkeling or diving trip, so make sure to try it on and practice at a local pool a couple times before you travel. Snorkeling gear can be rented at ECOMAR for a fee of $11.75/day, and this is not included in the cost of tuition. If you plan to not bring your own gear, please bring enough cash to rent gear for the duration of your time at ECOMAR.
BRING THE BASIC TOILETRIES YOU NEED PLUS:
- Reef-safe or mineral sunscreen (mandatory), mosquito repellent, and aloe vera – Read list below
- Band aids, Neosporin and other basic first aid supplies
- Hand Sanitizer
- Medication in properly marked original container
- Lip balm
*Those with long hair, a small bottle of conditioner for tangled hair
- Small backpack
- Journal and pen
- Ziplock bags to keep valuables out of humidity and water.
- Debit card/US Dollars (we recommend about $50-$150, depending on amount of desired souvenirs, extra items etc.)
- Durable water bottle
- 1 quick-dry towel (1 big one or 2 small ones)
- Batteries and/or portable cell phone power banks
- Deck of cards or other portable games
CORAL REEF SAFE TOILETRIES
- Sun Block.
- Badger Broad spectrum SPF 35 zinc oxide
- Thinksport SPF 50 Sunscreen
- All Good SPF 30 Sport Sunscreen Lotion
- Babo Botanicals SPF 30 Clear Zinc Lotion
- Suntegrity Natural Mineral Sunscreen
- Raw Elements SPF 30 Certified Natural Sunscreen
- Stream2Sea SPF 30 Mineral Sunblock
- Mama Kuleana Waterproof SPF 30 Reef-safe Sunscreen
- Mosquito repellent
- It is very important to know that all items must be Deet Free.
At a minimum, one experienced Program Leader will travel on every trip. In addition to this full time leadership presence, Walking Tree has additional support staff in all destinations and 24/7 support from our headquarters in Denver, Colorado. Below you’ll find a list of the team members involved in the planning, organizing, and leadership of your program.
Co-Founder of Walking Tree Travel and Business Lead - Denver, CO
Colby College – B.A. International Relations and Government
While at Colby, Gabriel spent a semester in Spain at the University of Salamanca studying contemporary Spanish politics and Spanish language. He also lettered for four-years on Colby’s lacrosse team and earned All-American honors. After graduating, Gabriel hit the road. He fished commercially in Alaska, taught in Chile and China, led programs for students in Spain and Costa Rica, and traveled to over 50 countries and all 50 states in the USA. Regardless of where Gabriel is located, he is constantly haunted by his naive faith and unconditional love for Denver sports teams.
Guillermo Montoya Berganza
Guatemala & Belize Country Director
Universidad Rafael Landivar – B.A. Marketing with emphasis on Advertising
Postgraduate studies in Business Management, Costa Rica and India
Guillermo was born and raised in Guatemala. He has traveled throughout North and Central America, and parts of Europe and India. His first intercultural experience took place in North Dakota and Canada as an exchange student. He then volunteered with an international organization in Guatemala that provides educational opportunities to young students. Through this organization, he became a guide for a Latin American student group in Norway and Denmark, giving him the opportunity to explore several European countries and find his traveler spirit. Guillermo lives in Antigua, Guatemala, where he works to support independent coffee farmers and an artisan community and leads programs throughout Central America. He speaks both Spanish and English and enjoys adventure travel, photography and history.
Below is a list of the travelers enrolled on the program.
Blog and Communication
During travel we will work hard to keep families updated as frequently as possible with blogs and photos, giving you peace of mind that your traveler is safe and thriving on their program. Students regularly contribute to these posts, giving parents a great way to vicariously track the progress of the trip. You will receive an email notification when the first blog is posted, after which we recommend you check in regularly via the black “Program Blog” button at the top of this page.
Beyond this proactive approach to communication during the trip, most destinations are wired enough to allow participants semi-regular access to WiFi so you can also expect to communicate with your traveler directly. Ask your Walking Tree representative about the degree of connectivity on your program.
Walking Tree has developed a curriculum of activities meant to help travelers get the most out of their trip before departure, during travel and after they return home. These simple and engaging activities are meant to spark discussion, frame experiences, and prepare participants to travel ethically and effectively both on this trip and on future adventures.
Standards of Behavior
In order to run a safe and successful program, it is important that we create an environment of trust, security and respect. All individuals participating in our programs are required to take responsibility for their actions and adhere to a high standard of behavioral conduct. Any of the following are grounds for early dismissal or in-country consequences at our discretion.
- Possessing, consuming or distributing alcohol or illegal drugs
- Associating with participants while they are in possession of or are consuming or distributing alcohol or illegal drugs
- Behaving in a way that consistently damages the group dynamic or jeopardizes personal or group safety. This includes consistently displaying a negative attitude, intimidating or excluding other participants, sneaking out, disobeying group leaders, and any other behavior that is not conducive to an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect.
GROUNDS FOR DISMISSAL OR IN-COUNTRY CONSEQUENCE
- Getting a piercing or tattoo
- Stealing, or deliberately damaging or defacing any personal property, buildings or materials
- Threatening with or using weapons
- Riding mopeds, motorcycles, or any other type of unauthorized vehicle
- Being out of designated area or accommodations after curfew
- Breaking group rules
These standards of behavior are essential for the successful completion of a travel program. Please take the time to review these rules as a family and make sure everyone understands and agrees to them before choosing to travel with us.
Health and Safety
We strongly recommend visiting the CDC Belize website to get the most updated information on health and vaccination considerations in your destination country. In addition, we encourage you to consult with your personal family physician so you can be as informed as possible when making important decisions about vaccinations and other necessary health-related preparations before travel.
Beyond these recommendations, our in-country staff prepare meticulously for all programs. Walking Tree will register our programs and travelers with the U.S. Department of State Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) in case of emergency. In country staff also verify the safety records of our partner organizations, vendors, and transportation providers, thoroughly vet homestay families via in depth interviews and home visits, and keep up on important current events in the region.
Program Leaders are seasoned travelers who are CPR and First Aid certified, undergo thorough training in crisis management, and participate in a multi-day leadership training retreat. We do our best to prepare for any eventuality and have detailed emergency protocols for our leaders, in-country staff and U.S.-based staff.
We receive medical disclosures from all participants to ensure we are able to meet every students’ needs during the program. Please inform us immediately of any additional health issues that you did not list during your initial registration process. Program Leaders will also hold an online information session before your departure, as well as an arrival orientation in-country, in order to give participants important instructions on food safety, hygiene and preventing injury and illness. Leaders and in-country staff always respond immediately to any mental, physical or emotional health issues and follow comprehensive emergency protocols.
While we work hard to ensure the safest experience possible for our travelers on program, experience has taught us that travel can come with risk. For this reason, we recommend that all travelers consider protecting their trip and travel investment by purchasing a travel protection plan with a Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) provision.
To make this process as easy as possible, we have partnered with Travel Insured International, one of the most respected providers in the industry. Begin by taking a few minutes to get a quote here.
IMPORTANT NOTE: in order to secure coverage with CFAR included, you must purchase the plan within 21 days of the date your initial payment or your deposit for your trip is received. You must also insure 100% of the prepaid, non-refundable trip costs that are subject to cancellation penalties or restrictions and cancel 48 hours or more before your scheduled trip departure date. Please note that CFAR is not available to residents of New York.