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Belize Destinations - Sarteneja

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Sartenejans have long made their living from the sea ....

Nestled along the shores of Chetumal Bay lies the fishing village of Sarteneja. Inhabited by descendants of the Mayans and Mestizo's from the Yucatan Peninsula, these natives of Sarteneja sail on handcrafted wooden vessels called "lighters" that sometimes sail as far south as Guatemala and Honduras.

These small boats may sometimes carry as many as fifteen fishermen aboard, as they sail along the coast, and outer atolls searching for conch, lobster, shrimp, and varieties of fish.

When their ice supply becomes low, the fishermen then begin their return voyage, selling their catch in Belize City, San Pedro, and Chetumal, as they make their way home. Upon returning to Sarteneja, they will begin again preparing for the next voyage.

Free Diving for Lobster - The lobster divers of Sarteneja, search for lobster between June and February and in between seasons and they take great pride in maintaining their boats. For the people of Sarteneja, life is never far from the sea. However, like other places in Belize, the traditional economy of commercial fishing is being slowly replaced by tourism.

Shipstern Nature Reserve

In the backyard of Sarteneja, just 3 miles down the road, lies Shipstern Nature Reserve. Jutting into the Chetumal Bay, the reserve covers 22,000 acres of unspoiled, waterlogged jungle, savannah, and mangrove swamp and protects Belize's largest and most pristine tract of northern hardwood forest and mangrove shoreline.

Xo-pol PondSeparating the forest from the lagoon, vast belts of savannah, mudflats, and limestone hills dotted with palm trees, house almost every mammal species found in Belize.

All five species of Belize's native cats,
as well as the tapir, armadillo, peccary, deer, paca, and coatimundis, dwell in the forest and savannahs. The swamps accommodate manatees, Morelet's crocodiles, as well as sixty species of amphibians and reptiles.

The Reserve has established a botanical trail which allows visitors to experience the three different northern hardwood forests, along with savanna and mangrove habitats. Tree species are labeled with scientific and local names. The headquarters provide a booklet explaining the traditional uses and medicinal value of much of the flora along the trail.

A visit to Shipstern Nature Reserve includes a tour of the Visitor’s Centre & Butterfly Garden, the Museum, the Botanical Trail, the new 65-ft observation tower and Mahogany Park. The entrance fee contributes to the upkeep of the Reserve.

Visits to other areas, such as the Shipstern Ruins to the south, or the Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve to the east, can be combined with a trip to Shipstern NR.

The mosquitoes can be quite abundant during certain times. From January through April the mosquitoes are quite manageable and this is the best time to visit.

Shipstern Ruins ~ Maya Archeological Site

One-day excursions to the ruins can be arranged with Shipstern Reserve.  


Basic lodging facilities at the Reserve can accommodate up to eight visitors. Visitors are encouraged to overnight in the picturesque fishing village of Sarteneja, located three miles from the Reserve.

Getting There ....

Private Vehicle
A one-hour drive from Orange Walk. Pass through San Estevan, take the turn to the Mennonite community of Little Belize. Proceed to Chunox. The Reserve is three miles before Sarteneja.

Bus service to Sarteneja Village is available from Orange Walk Town.

Visitors can charter a private boat to Sarteneja from Corozal Town, Ambergris Caye, or Consejo Shores.

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