The nature of rivers is the flow of water, carrying rain, nutrients and life from highlands to the sea. During the journey from altitude to sea level, tropical rivers support an astonishing array of life.
The headwaters of most rivers lie deep within the Maya Mountains. Here the forest is dense, tall and mostly untouched. The water is cold, clear and spring fed as it gurgles out of the ground, merging with other streams and eventually grows into a rapidly flowing upland river. Wildlife abounds - tapir, warrie, herons, kingfishers and more center their activities around these upland waterways. Trails which meander alongside these rivers are excellent ways to spot wildlife or bird watch.
As the upland rivers make their way toward the sea, the vegetation will change to tall riverine forests, and the river will grow in size as more tributaries coalesce into one. Fruiting trees will appear along with monkeys, iguana, turtles and toucans. The best way to experience this part of the river is to float canoe, dugout or kayak. You can also move upstream with the help of a small motorboat.
As you near the mouth of the river, the vegetation again change to predominantly mangrove. Some of the mangrove stands lining the winding rivers are magnificent - tall, knarled and stilted. The mangrove is home to another community of animals. Coatimundis, crocodile, boa constrictors and an amazing number of birds. During the migration months (September through November and again March through May), many songbird migrants travel through the mangrove, taking advantage of the large amount of insect life thriving there. This habitat is perfect to sit still and bird watch, letting the birds pass by you.
Easily the most popular river tour is the Monkey River. The Monkey River winds its way southeast from the Maya Mountains through dense jungle forest and mangrove swamp before emptying into the Caribbean Sea. It is a popular jungle river trip, well-known for its wildlife sitings, great tarpon fishing and jungle walk tours. Both day and night tours are offered from Monkey River Town.
The Monkey River tour is available from both Placencia, 14 miles to the north, or Monkey River Town at the mouth of the river. Just up river from the mouth, the river is lined by dense, mangrove. As the boat cruises quietly along the red mangrove-lined riverbank, keep a sharp eye and ear for wildlife - numerous iguanas basking on high branches, turtles on partially submerged logs, crocodiles on the banks, and birds crossing overhead. The mangrove will gradually fade into tall riverine forest. You know you have reach the forest when you hear an unexpected roar of Howler Monkeys, locally called "Baboons". The loud roar is made possible by a specially shaped bone in the throat which acts as an amplifier. Howling can be heard as far as a mile away.
Further up the river, your guide will pull the boat over for a jungle experience on foot. The guide leads the way through the forest, maneuvering past cohune palm, thorny vines, and banyan trees. Most guides are knowledgeable about the use and preparation of many medicinal plants that grow within the forest.
Soon enough you will arrive at a troop of howler monkeys munching on fruits in the trees above. These monkeys travel in small units, usually consisting of one dominant male plus several females with their young. Each adult animal weighs about 15 to 25 pounds and effortless move with the forest canopy. Sometimes, troops send a "get lost" message by dropping small branches and leaves down on visitors peering up.
After a trek through the forest there's swimming on a secluded sandbar, fly fishing for tarpon, or just lie back and enjoy the river as you float back toward the mouth and Monkey River Town.
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