THE SIBUN RIVER

The Sibun is one of Belize's major river systems. Along with the Caves Branch River and Dry Creek, the Sibun River drains a major portion of the northeastern section of the Maya Mountains. The river has many faces as it winds its way from deep within the interior of the country to the mouth just south of Belize City. Though the river travels a little over 50 miles from source to mouth, the many twists and turns translates into over 100 miles of actual river.

Where the river leaves the mountains, farms grow a variety of crops on the wide flood plains and highly rich limestone soils. Once past the bridge on the Hummingbird Highway the Sibun River flows through limestone hills that are pockmarked with caves. Few recent settlements have grown along the banks of the Sibun, though development is now on the increase. The mouth of the river is constantly mined for sand.

The following photos of the river and brief text help to reveal the many faces of the Sibun River. Use the map to the left and click on any of the sections of the river that interest you. You can also click on any of the small images to bring up a larger version of the same image. Then use your "BACK" button to return to this page.


The Source

Maya Mountains, Source of the Sibun

The Maya Mountains cover a third of Belize and protect the most remote and inaccessible tropical forests of the country. This rugged part of the country contain steep sided valleys, towering waterfalls and numerous small streams draining each mountain valley. While the exact source of the Sibun is unknown, we can follow the contour maps up the watershed to find that the southern end of the Sibun splits up into many of these small streams.

Waterfalls into Sibun Watershed

Most of these small feeder streams drain individual mountain valleys. Not only do they drain the heavy wet season rains, but they are also fed by the extensive underground aquifers of the Maya Mountains so that even during the dry season, these streams run. Double, triple or more waterfalls are a common sight along the upper Sibun. This water is the coolest and best tasting water you could ever imagine.

Fish jumping up stream

We were very surprised to find small unidentified fish trying to head up many of these smaller feeder streams. If you sat and watched for a while, you would see hundreds of little minnows leaping into the falls. Larger ones would sometime make it, but the small ones never would. The upper watershed of the Sibun River is surprisingly rich with fish life.

Map |Sibun Source |Sibun Citrus | Caves Branch | Coastal Road | River Mouth

Sibun Citrus

Citrus groves

As the Sibun River leaves the rugged Maya Mountains, it travels through a beautiful valley called the Sibun River Valley. Here the river meets one of the major roads in Belize, the scenic Hummingbird Highway. Here is also where the first settlements on the river appear. You will often find settlers doing wash in the river just below the groves of citrus which blanket both banks of the river.

New citrus groves

Citrus is one of the largest industries in Belize. With over 75 years of experience, Belizean Citrus has won awards from around the world. Most of the citrus industry is located in the Stann Creek Valley, but recently the industry has expanded to other places around the country. Where cacao once grew along the banks of the Sibun, now citrus blankets the plains as the Sibun leaves the Maya Mountains.

Most of the groves along the Sibun River are relatively new - within the last 10 years. Other crops include bananas and various fruit trees. Citrus need non-acidic, well drained soils and a good dose of sunshine. Lime is often added to the soils to lower the pH, but those groves near the limestone hills have a natural supply of lime to keep the soils perfect for growing citrus.

Map |Sibun Source |Sibun Citrus | Caves Branch | Coastal Road | River Mouth

Caves Branch

Inside Footprint Cave

The Sibun River has many tributaries. Three main rivers drain the northeastern portion of the Maya Mountains - Dry Creek to the East, Sibun in the middle, and the Caves Branch to the West. Caves Branch is a very important river to Belizeans, for along its banks lie some of the most productive archaeological sites in Belize.

Entrance to Footprint Cave

The Branch River drains karst topography. Karst topography is actually ancient limestone reefs. This whole part of Belize was once underwater and supported a wealth of marine life, enough to build reefs hundreds of feet high. As the limestone erodes, massive cave systems are formed. The river will often disappear into caves all along its route. Within these caves lie artifacts from the ancient Mayan civilization. Names of the caves such as Petroglyph and Footprint often reveal what was found inside. All of these caves are dangerous and should never be entered without the proper equipment and a local guide.

The Sibun also flows through karst topography along part of its route. This is one of the most rugged and beautiful stretches of the river. Karst hills, covered with thick tropical forest line both sides of the river. This is the habitat most under pressure from developers as the soil is rich and the scenery beautiful.

Map |Sibun Source |Sibun Citrus | Caves Branch | Coastal Road | River Mouth

Coastal Road

Construction on the River

This portion of the river is probably the most impacted of all stretches. The new Coastal Road from Dangriga to Democracia crosses the Sibun near the Western Highway. Farms, Tourist resorts and communities are springing up all along the river here. Sand and gravel for construction are mined along the river banks and sand bars.

Wildife corridor habitat

There is a lot of concern in Belize over this portion of the river because of its importance as a wildlife corridor. Environmental groups and scientists in Belize have joined forces with other groups from around Central America in forming wildlife corridors. These corridors are meant to allow wildlife uninterrupted tracks of forest and protected areas through which to travel. Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, situated along the Sibun river is a critical protected area to complete a north south wildlife corridor through Belize.

Map |Sibun Source |Sibun Citrus | Caves Branch | Coastal Road | River Mouth

River Mouth

Mouth of Sibun River

The Sibun ends its journey to the sea just south of Belize City. The mouth of the Sibun is dominated by mangroves and a winding, sinewy track. A few homes and farms are perched on the banks of the lower reaches of the river, but mainly only passing boats and manatee are to be found. The mangroves are an important habitat for Belize both in terms of protection of the shoreline from the eroding force of hurricanes; and for the wealth of marine life which feed on the debris and leaves trapped by the mangrove roots.

Sand Lighters on their way to the Sibun

The mouth of the river is heavily mined for sand. Local sailboats called "sand lighters" set out each day from Belize City for the short ride to the mouth of the river. Then anchoring the larger boats offshore, the men take smaller boats called dories to shore and fill the dories with sand. The dories return to the larger sailboats again and again unloading the sand. Finally as evening draws near, the sand lighters set sail for Belize City, unloading their cargo on the front streets of the city where anyone needing sand can purchase it.

Map |Sibun Source |Sibun Citrus | Caves Branch | Coastal Road | River Mouth

The River |The Team |The Expedition |Sibun Ecology |Home Page
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