Guanacaste National Park (GNP) is a popular getaway, located only two miles from the capital city of Belmopan at the confluence of the Belize River and Roaring Creek. The park’s small size of 50 acres allows visitors to observe wildlife and tropical vegetation readily.
At GNP, it is easy to learn about plants and their traditional uses, fungus farming leaf-cutter ants, or the mini-ecosystem inside a bromeliad. Its habitat is known as a secondary broadleaf forest, which benefits many birds and wildlife, including the shy and secretive “tiger cat” or Jaguarundi and Black howler monkeys.
GNP is a place of natural and cultural features which illustrates the human and environmental interrelationships which has helped to form Belize. Connecting the highlands and the Caribbean coast, the Belize Old River was a major transportation route for the Maya people. Maya pottery and other artifacts were found during trail development and there is a suspected chultun (underground storage chamber) within the park. The river was also used to transport logwood and mahogany to the coast for export to Europe. Prior to its designation, the actual area of the park had been cleared for cattle pasture and was used by locals as a recreation, fishing, and hunting area. Visitors can now enjoy the bird observation deck overlooking Roaring Creek, where trains had once crossed. Lizards can be found basking in the sun at the site of an old quarry. In many ways GNP is symbolic of the balance between people and the environment.
The park was named from a very large and unusually old Guanacaste tree, spared by woodcutters because of its split trunk. This park features several large Guanacaste trees which are known for being one of the largest tree species in Central America with its wide-reaching branches that supports a variety of orchids, bromeliads, ferns, cacti, lianas and vines. The Guanacaste tree is highly prized for its resistance to insects and decay and is a choice timber for making dugout canoes or dories. The La Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge is an annual event held in March, visitors at GNP can cheer on the competing participants as they race by in canoes and traditional dories. This competition is the longest race of its kind in Central America.
Visitors can enjoy various recreational and educational activities throughout the year at GNP. The park provides a picnic area, interpretive displays, two miles of maintained trails, a bird watching deck, and a clean swimming area. It is a perfect environment for a class field trip or family gathering. In addition, join us in December for the Belmopan area Christmas Bird Count to see what winter birds can be found in Guanacaste National Park.
The History of Guanacaste National Park
The area was part of the land bought to build Belmopan and while it was under construction, the area was the back garden of the British site engineer. As a member of the Belize Audubon Society, he was a keen naturalist, and before his departure he zoned it as a reserve in the development plan for the area. Subsequently, it was gazetted in February 1973, under the Crown Land Ordinance as a National Park. Freehold was given to the BAS under the condition that the site be managed as a bird sanctuary or National Park. In 1975, at the request of BAS, its name was changed to Guanacaste Park. For many years, Guanacaste Park was managed by volunteer labor and donated materials. After 1987, there were BAS personnel at the park full time. First, was Peace Corps Volunteer, Matthew Miller, who is now the Director of Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.
On April 22, 1990 (World Environment Day) Guanacaste was declared a National Park. Villagers from nearby Roaring Creek participated in a Community Workshop in October of 1992. They formed the “Friends of Guanacaste” support group and provided valuable input into the Management Plan for Guanacaste National Park, which was completed in 1993 by a committee headed by Peace Corps Volunteer, Robert Mackler.
An educational display was prepared by Peace Corps Volunteers, Bonnie Gestring and Rebecca Nealy. The Guanacaste Education Center was officially opened on March 18, 1994, and dedicated to Peace Corps Belize in recognition of their volunteer service to the Belize Audubon Society’s Protected Areas Management and Environmental Education Programs.
Guanacaste National Park is the most accessible of the Belize Audubon Society managed protected areas; located less than two miles from the capital city of Belmopan at the intersection of the Hummingbird and Western Highways. Buses can be stopped right outside the park.
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