One of the most interesting things we did in San Cristobal, Mexico was visit the Orquideas Moxviquil botanical garden.  The garden is a preserve for over 600 species of Chiapas orchids, cacti, bromeliads, ferns, and other flora.  Most of the specimens were rescued from within the Chiapas state from sites that were disturbed by human activities.  

It was a little over a mile from our hotel as the garden is north of the city in a more rural area, but we had a beautiful day for it.  We had a bit of difficulty finding the entrance and ended up hiking along a woodland trail in the Moxviquil Reserve (which the garden is part of).  We finally realized that we were not in the right place, back-tracked, and went farther up the road where we saw this sign.
Before we knew it, we found the gardens up the road just a bit.
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Love their fencing and gate
This place was absolutely gorgeous!  The owner met us and gave us a quick tour as he had to get back to a ceremony there on the premises.  We spent a good long time walking around and looking at orchids and other specimens.  And after we'd seen all the plants, we spent a good amount of time bird-watching -- of course we had brought our binoculars!
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Calla Lily -- one of the few non-native plants in the garden
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I'm looking for birds in front of the office where we paid our entry fee
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Charming office -- loved the metalwork on windows and door
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The hothouse -- very unique!
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Owner showing us something inside the hothouse
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Spore pattern
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A real beauty!
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Artsy outhouses
This sculpture demonstrates the natural erosion process of a cube.
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Amphitheater for classes and ceremonies
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One last look at the hothouse showing its unique architecture
We'll have to do a separate blog post with bird photos, as well as one about the wonderful woodland hike we took in the Moxviquil Reserve behind the Orchid Garden.  In the meantime, check out the Orquideas Moxviquil website for much more information on this unique and fascinating site.  We would love to go back again and hope to get the chance to.
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We had a great visit!
 
We already introduced you to Hickatee Cottages near Punta Gorda town in a previous post, but we wanted to share more about this gem of a place to stay in southern Belize.  There was so much to love here, from the peaceful setting with so many plants, to the resident howler monkey troop, to the lovely, comfortable cottages, to the cooling dipping pool, to the fantastic food, and last but not least, to the helpful and knowledgeable owners, Ian and Kate.  I'm sure a lot of folks who stay here spend most of their time venturing out on excursions during the day, but we really enjoyed just hanging out here, watching birds on the grounds or on the road right outside.  The natural setting can't be beat, and as you enter the gates you can actually feel your stress slipping away.

Flora and fauna

Here are some of the plants and animals we enjoyed seeing around the grounds.  There are great identifying signs for many of the plants.  Some we'd seen before in other spots but hadn't known what they were, so it was helpful to put a name with a face, so to speak.
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This little "Jesus lizard" really blends right into the ground -- look very closely or you'll miss him!
Belize has more different species of butterflies than I've ever seen in one place. and there were numerous specimens flitting around at Hickatee.  Many are brightly colored and so striking.  It is very hard to get photographs since they often don't want to alight even for a few seconds, but Barry got a couple nice shots.
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This butterfly perfectly coordinates with the "hot lips" plant it was enjoying
We're going to have a separate blog entry for most of the birds seen on this trip, but here is one that properly belongs here, as it was nesting right on outside the office/restaurant building.  Check out this adorable ochre-bellied flycatcher sitting on her sweet little nest:
The nest was a bit too high up to see inside, but Barry was able to hold his camera up above and shoot down into the nest when she took a break.  What a thrill when he uploaded the photo to see two sleeping nestlings!
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Every baby bird is like a miracle to me

Hiking Trails

There are numerous cleared trails in the jungly woods on the Hickatee Cottages property that we yearned to explore, but this being rainy season, we weren't able to check them all out.  We did hike as many of them as we could manage without being up to our ankles in water, but a return visit during dry season will be necessary to finish our exploration. 
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Trail signs
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Look for the rare bottle trees along the trails
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Very high water in the creek from heavy rain the night before
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Bridge constructed of a huge log that probably fell across the creek
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Beautiful, tiny female American Pygmy Kingfisher posed for us for a long time
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Could go no further on this trail!
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Jungle setting was magnificent

Howler monkeys right overhead!

We saw this troop of five howlers nearly every day, which was very exciting.  I mean, come on, how often do you get to live among howler monkeys, for goodness sakes?!  One afternoon they were moving from tree to tree right over the Hickatee cottages, stopping to eat leaves on occasion, and we got many great looks at them.  Barry got some great photos, so I've included quite a few below since it was so hard to choose the best ones.

They made me a little nervous when they got kind of close, but they were fascinating to watch, and didn't seem too fazed by us; or at least they didn't make any howling noises.  We did hear some very loud howling, which sounds more like the roar of a HUGE, hungry lion, late at night, but those were probably from a different troup across the road, judging from the direction they appeared to come from.  Even when they woke me up, hearing them roar was a huge thrill, since I felt perfectly safe in the cottage, yet electrified by their primal calls.
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See the baby on his Momma's back?
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This guy did all sorts of gymnastics to find the very best leaves
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Ahhhh...that's the one I wanted!
Stay tuned for Part 2 -- for more photos of lovely Hickatee Cottages, including our ever-popular FOOD photos!
 
Just some of the pretty flowers I saw blooming around our building and our side of Grand Caribe yesterday morning...
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Pretty little mystery bush
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Bougainvillea
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Double Hibiscus
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Single Hibiscus
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Bougainvillea above, Hibiscus below
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My favorite Hibiscus