Trip report, South Stann Creek, Belize

Trip Report: South Stann Creek, January 11, 2010
Location: Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary to Southern Highway, south of Dangriga, Belize
Participants: Tom Moran and Amy Marsh, Fairbanks, Alaska
Length: 5-8 miles (?)
Time: 4 hours

The South Stann Creek float is a wonderfully scenic and occasionally thrilling trip that begins near the park headquarters of the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary (aka the Jaguar Reserve,) six miles west of the Southern Highway in east-central Belize, and ends at a takeout near the highway. The only way to get to the sanctuary is by an overpriced taxi from the highway, making leaving by packraft all the more satisfying.
The Sanctuary actually manages the first portion of the float as a tubing river, and put-ins and takeouts are clearly marked on park maps. The tubing portion, which heads through lush jungle, is Class I and easily negotiable on packrafts. To packraft to the road, you simply put in at one of the tubing spots and keep going past all of the take-outs.
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The first hour or so of the river is mellow Class I, then things pick up dramatically. A series of short, periodic Class II rapids through the jungle lead to a mile-long stretch of Class II-III drops and chutes cutting through an eroded limestone landscape.
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These are an absolute blast – fast, fun and steep but not especially scary, with no inopportunely-placed giant rocks in any of the chutes.
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The river reverts to Class I after that, passing through a placid stretch of orange groves and stands of bamboo. Interesting wildlife sightings here, including some turtles and a small crocodile that seemed more afraid of us than we were of it.
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One final, brief drop sits near the highway (which you’ll be able to hear), close to a small building on the right side of the river. Around here the foliage also turns into something of a tangle and a couple of portages become necessary. At that point it’s a good idea to start scanning the shore for takeouts. We took out on the right side at a spot that turned out to be maybe 300 feet short of the highway bridge. On the road, buses pass by hourly heading both north and south.
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We did this trip at the tail end of rainy season; water levels at other times may vary widely and affect floatability.