Jaguar Creek

The History of Belize’s Rainforest: From Ancient Maya Civilization to Modern-Day Conservation Efforts

The little country of Belize, located on the northeastern coast of Central America, is well-known for the incredible variety of life that can be found in its tropical rainforests. There are an astounding number of plant and animal species in this country’s tropical Rainforest, and some are at risk of extinction. The jaguar and the scarlet macaw are examples of such fauna and flora. The ancient Maya culture and more recent efforts to protect the region’s unique ecological diversity are inextricably intertwined with the tale of Belize’s Rainforest.

Figure 1. Belize Rainforest.

Maya Civilization

During the hundreds of years that the ancient Maya civilization flourished in Belize, its citizens built many of its villages and ceremonial sites amid the country’s dense jungles. These people developed complex agricultural techniques, including terracing and irrigation systems, to cultivate staple foods like maize, beans, and chocolate. In addition to their complex writing and mathematics system, the Maya were responsible for developing a highly advanced calendar and astronomical system. They left behind several architectural and artistic marvels that amaze visitors today, including stelae, ceramics, and sculptures.

Figure 2. Maya Ruins in Belize Rainforest.

History of Deforestation

However, starting in the nineteenth century and continuing until the early twentieth century, British loggers began cutting down the forest for its mahogany and other valuable hardwoods. . The Rainforest and its biodiversity suffered severe harm due to this widespread destruction. Large swaths of forest were cut down, and the remaining forest was fragmented and altered by the logging industry, devastatingly affecting the survival rates of many species. The global economic downturn and stricter legislation in the middle of the 20th century led to the demise of the logging industry. However, the repercussions of this decline are being felt today.

Figure 3. British Loggers in Belize Rainforest.

Modern Day Conservation Efforts

Recent years have seen the establishment of conservation projects to preserve the rich biodiversity of Belize’s jungle. Creating protected areas is one such project; examples include national parks like Blue Hole National Park and wildlife sanctuaries like Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. Damaged forest areas have been restored thanks to sustainable logging practices and restoration initiatives that ensure the forest’s resources are used ethically. Public education and awareness campaigns aim to raise understanding of the need to preserve the Rainforest and promote sustainable practices among locals, farmers, and tourists. The purpose of these actions is to raise awareness about the need to protect the Amazon Rainforest.

Figure 4. A Map of Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary.
Despite this, the Belizean Rainforest is still in danger from illegal logging, poaching, and climate change. Rainfall patterns, temperatures, and sea levels are predicted to shift due to climate change, affecting the forest’s ecosystems and unique species.
In addition to its environmental benefits, Belize’s tropical Rainforest is a crucial contributor to the country’s economy since it attracts ecotourists and produces valuable resources, including medicines, alternative building materials, and lumber. Seeing the unique and exotic plants and animals, as well as the ruins of the ancient Maya civilization, is a major draw for ecotourists worldwide. Non-timber forest products provide economic value to the local population by collecting items like fruits, nuts, and medicinal plants .

Figure 5. Belize Natural Resources Income (2013 – 2015). Source:


The uniqueness, abundance of species, and cultural significance of Belize’s Rainforest are all results of the country’s long history. The Maya civilization thrived in this area and left some stunning monuments and works of art behind. British logging operations devastated rainforest ecosystems and their flora and fauna in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Protected regions and national parks, reforestation initiatives, sustainable logging practices, educational initiatives, and more work to keep rainforests thriving for future generations. Ecotourism, medicinal plants, and sustainable forestry bring money into the Rainforest despite illegal logging and climate change.

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At its height, Belize was home to over 100,000 people who lived in Mayan Caracol cities and ceremonial sites amid the country’s jungles. The spectacular pyramids and plazas of Caracol attest to the city’s richness and prominence during this era when it was a political and commercial center. Caracol was also one of the most significant ceremonial places in the Maya civilization, serving as a religious and cultural hub. The city’s sway went far beyond its bounds, and its sphere of power included a region encompassing modern-day Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. This period is considered by many to be the height of the Maya civilization, and it demonstrates the significant role that the Rainforest had in the development and growth of Maya society.


To learn more about beautiful Belize, explore our blog.

To learn more about beautiful Belize, explore our blog:

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