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The far western section of Orange Walk District is a wild area of virgin forest, remote farmlands, and underexplored Mayan ruins. It is also home to one of the country's premier and most unique nature lodges, Chan Chich Lodge.

Rio Bravo Conservation Area

Administered by the nonprofit Programme for Belize, this 105,218-hectare (260,000-acre) tract is a mix of virgin forest, sustainable-yield managed forest, and recovering reforestation areas. The goal of the project is to combine sustainable management techniques with educational and tourism uses in a model that can prove the practical benefits of forest preservation and conservation. The land is home to nearly 400 bird species and over 200 species of tropical trees. It also supports a healthy population of most of the new-world cat species, and is one of the best areas in the Americas for spotting a jaguar -- although these sightings are far from common or easy to come by.

La Milpa

Located inside the Río Bravo Conservation Area, La Milpa is the third largest Mayan site in Belize, behind Caracol and Lamanai. Enshrouded in jungle and just barely beginning to be excavated, La Milpa is a great site for budding archaeologists and those looking for a sense of what it must have been like to discover and begin uncovering an ancient Mayan city. Set on a high ridge, La Milpa was once a great ceremonial city. So far, at least one Great Plaza, numerous smaller plazas and courtyards, and two ball courts have been uncovered. The main plaza is one of the largest such public spaces yet discovered in the Mayan world. Polychrome pottery from various periods as well as numerous carved stelae have been uncovered. In 1996, excavation of a royal tomb here revealed a male skeleton buried with an elaborate and beautiful jeweled necklace. Ongoing archaeological research is being led by Boston University, in conjunction with the National Geographic Society and Programme for Belize.

A visit to La Milpa ruins is usually combined with a stay at La Milpa Field Station , although it is possible to do it as a day trip from Orange Walk or on your way driving to or from Chan Chich Lodge. In any event, you will need permission and a reserved guide arranged in advance by calling the Programme for Belize (tel. 227-5616; www.pfbelize.org).