The Belize River forms the rear edge of the Lower Dover Field Station property in between Little and Big Barton Creeks in the Cayo District of Belize. The river’s main tributaries are the Macal and Mopan Rivers which spread it’s catchment further across the boarder into Guatemala. These two rivers meet to form the Belize River east of San Ignacio at “branch mouth”. The Belize River winds through Belize east to west for about 180 miles, which is amazing because the country is only 68 miles wide! The “Big River” empties into the Caribbean Sea in Belize City.
In Mayan times, the Belize River was the main transportation network linking major Mayan sites in the Peten/Tikal region of Guatemala with the Caribbean Sea. Mayans used hollowed out canoes called dories to transport goods and conduct trade throughout this major thoroughfare. In fact, up until the middle 1900’s when the Western Highway was built, traversing the Belize River by boat was still the only way to travel between Belize City and San Ignacio (a multiple day trip).
The current theory about the significance of the “Lower Dover” Mayan site indicates its importance as an link in this ancient trading network. At the very least it was a trading outpost, but perhaps it even served as a “toll zone” as a way for royalty to control the flow of goods to and from the sea. From the “lookout” ruin it would have been possible to have a 360 degree view of the entire Belize River Valley, and the tributary of Big Barton Creek.
During colonial times, the British utilized the Belize River flood season to send their Mahogany and Logwood logs harvested from Western Belize to the ports of Belize City. Lower Dover gets its name from the British logging camp located nearby that coined the area Dover because the white cliffs found on the river’s edge reminded them of their home in England. Many of the huge Mahogany trees are now gone because of over-harvesting, but it is still possible to see these trees grow naturally when walking the medicinal plant trail at Lower Dover. We also do our part by replanting as many Mahogany trees as we can throughout the dense jungle found around the Jungle Lodge area.
Every year in March, coinciding with the local holiday Baron Bliss Day, there is a 4-day canoe race that occurs on the Belize River called the Ruta Maya. The race recreates the trip Mayan merchants took when trading goods from the land to the sea. The race starts in San Ignacio and ends in Belize City and caters to both professional and amateur riders in 8 different divisions of competition. Teams consist of 3 paddlers who camp out at 3 different stages before finishing on the fourth day. It is possible to sit and watch the competitors on the first day of the race from the Lower Dover rock beach along the Belize River.
The Belize River remains at high levels for most of the rainy season, which makes it difficult to navigate due to submerged trees and thorny bamboo lined banks. However, during the dry season, the River becomes a great place to swim, fish, or canoe. Anglers looking to catch catfish (locally called baca) or even the elusive tarpon can try their luck from the banks of Lower Dover Field Station and Jungle Lodge. Bush-man Dan is a great fishing guide and will even teach you to fish the Belizean way, with hand-line, not fishing poles.
Swimming is also a pleasure because the water is surprisingly warm due to the tropical sun. There is a large sand bar in the middle of the Belize River at our “rock beach” which is amazing to relax at in the afternoon as hundreds of parrots fly overhead to their nesting location.