Belize Middle School Expedition

In Belize, thick jungles hide ancient temples, and a dazzling marine world lies just off shore. Discover fascinating ecosystems from our base at a wildlife sanctuary, and get to know local Belizeans while working on service projects in a rural community. Then travel by boat to a research station on Middle Caye, and swim through an underwater world of brightly colored coral, sea turtles, and tropical fish. Explore the diverse cultures and ecosystems of Belize while learning about marine conservation and Maya culture.

July 6 - July 15, 2019
July 20 - July 29, 2019
Airfare is not included. We have arranged a round-trip group flight between Miami and Belize City.

Trip Highlights

  • Tour the Belize Zoo rehabilitation sanctuary at night and observe jaguars, tapirs, and boa constrictors in their natural environments.
  • Stay on the tiny tropical island of Middle Caye, and snorkel the world’s second largest barrier reef.
  • Team up with Belizeans to work on service projects at a local village.
  • Step into the world of the Maya while exploring ancient cities and tubing through underground ritual caves.


Days 1-5

Arrive in Belize and travel to the Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. This jungle reserve is home to miles of nature trails and is adjacent to the Sibun River, making it a great place to go hiking, swimming, and canoeing. Settle in with your fellow travelers, and prepare for your adventures among the rainforests, reefs, and ruins of Belize.

Encounter native wildlife on a behind-the-scenes nighttime visit to the Belize Zoo, a rehabilitation sanctuary where orphaned and rescued animals are kept in their natural environments. An after-hours tour will allow us to observe animals—like jaguars, tapirs, and boa constrictors—while they’re awake and active. Hear from zookeepers about the threats facing Belizean wildlife, and learn about their initiatives to reintroduce animals back into the wild.

Discover the world of the ancient Maya while exploring the ruins of cities built over 1,000 years ago. Visit Xunantunich, where excavated temples, homes, and ball courts set the scene of daily life in the Maya empire. Climb the steps of the El Castillo temple, one of Belize’s tallest manmade structures, and take panoramic photos of the far-reaching jungle canopy. Then venture to the nearby town of San Ignacio to learn about the work of local artisans, visit a chocolate-making facility, and enjoy a traditional Belizean lunch.

After exploring Maya cities, experience a very different realm of their ancient culture: the spiritual “underworld.” Venture into a network of underground caves, tubing along the rivers that wind through mystical rock passages and caverns. With the help of a local guide, seek out ceremonial pots and artifacts that mark the locations where Maya spiritual rituals took place.

Spend time in a local village, and work alongside community members on a variety of service projects. Run an after-school program for young children, learn traditional farming techniques and help plant and harvest native crops, or paint classrooms at the local school. Take a break from your projects to mingle with community members while participating in festive drum circles or learning to cook up Belizean specialties.

Days 6-10

Travel to the coast and set sail for Middle Caye, a tiny tropical island located within the world’s second largest barrier reef system. Stay at the Glover’s Reef Research Station, whose goal is to develop innovative approaches to conserving Belize’s coral reef.

Gear up to snorkel, and swim through the warm Caribbean waters surrounding the island. Discover mangrove forests, seagrass beds, and patch reefs while swimming alongside schools of rainbow-colored fish, sea turtles, and manta rays. Learn about this delicate ecosystem from your professional guides, and talk about the factors impacting the health of the reef, including overfishing, pollution, and invasive species like the lionfish.

On our final evening, we’ll celebrate our adventures and share what we’ve learned about the history, culture, and ecosystems of Belize.

Our middle school expeditions are for students ages 13 or older in grades 7-8, and offer students the opportunity to discover exciting destinations in a fun, engaging, and safe environment. With guidance from trip leaders and a National Geographic expert, students explore a number of themes that enhance their experience and encourage them to deepen the interests they already have, while discovering new ones along their journey. Students travel alongside a team of highly-qualified trip leaders—college graduates with extensive experience in the field, who love working with students. A National Geographic expert joins for a portion of the trip (four to eight days) to share their insights, and inspire students with their passion for the work they do and the places they will discover. The expedition group size ranges between 14 and 18 participants, and the student-to-trip-leader ratio is usually between six and eight to one and never more than nine to one.
On this program, students will spend an estimated 10 hours on community service projects. At the end of the program, students will receive a certificate stating the number of service hours completed. Projects described in this itinerary are examples and vary depending on the needs of the community.
Throughout the expedition, we will stay in dormitory-style accommodations or cabanas. Boys and girls share a sleeping area and bathroom with other students of the same gender.

Greg Marshall, Biologist and Filmmaker

Meet Our Expert

Biologist and filmmaker Greg Marshall invented he Crittercam—a device that can be attached to an animal to study its behavior. Greg's Crittercam has enabled him to document life in the oceans and on land from the perspective of more than 80 species, including blue whales, black turtles, emperor penguins, and most recently, giant oceanic manta rays. Greg will join the Alaska middle school expedition and the July 6 departure of the Belize middle school expedition.

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Birgit Buhleier, Filmmaker and Scientist

Filmmaker and scientist Birgit Buhleier helped develop National Geographic’s Crittercam, a video camera system that has provided fascinating insights into the daily lives of hundreds of species. She has deployed over 100 Crittercams on a broad range of animals around the world. Through her work with Crittercam, she has sidled up to sea lions, studied the secret lives of great white sharks, and dived with hawksbill sea turtles, Birgit will join the July 20 departure of the Belize middle school expedition.

Program Themes

Explore each of these three topics over the course of the program:

Discover the ancient world of the Maya, exploring the ruins of once-magnificent cities and venturing into the mystical caves of the spiritual “underworld.” Examine hieroglyphics carved into grand temples, and look for ceremonial pots and artifacts in underground caverns. As you experience these preserved places, discuss what daily life might have been like at the height of the Maya empire.
Snorkel the second largest barrier reef in the world and examine the marine life living in its extensive coral gardens. Talk with environmental experts about the factors impacting the health of the reef, and learn about conservation initiatives designed to help protect this delicate ecosystem.
Work alongside local community members in a rural Belizean village, assisting in a variety of improvement projects. Plant and harvest native crops to help increase sustainable food sources, or aid in an initiative to connect remote parts of the Belizean countryside by clearing parts of a new trail system.