We began our morning as the sun broke the horizon off the coast of Monkey River Village. Our objective with this early wakeup call: visit the wildlife that call this river home with local guides. Zane, born and raised in Monkey River Village, is working as a guide and raising his four children in the town of 150 people. No matter the distance, he can spot each lizard, every camouflaged bunch of bats, and each bird no matter how big or small. It’s incredible. There is a story to tell behind each animal, each flower, and each bend along the way.

Just as we approached our turnaround point, we spotted a troop of howler monkeys hanging in a Cecropia, or a trumpet tree. What first appeared to be four individuals turned into five as a baby monkey curled out of its mother’s arms. It dangled from the branches and from momma’s tail before returning to the safety of her side. Grateful for our wildlife sightings, we headed towards the ship and encountered a short rainfall. Knowing It wouldn’t be the tropical rainforest without the rain, we continued, smiles and all.

After a gorgeous brunch put on by our galley and hotel department, we had a talk on Reef Fish Identification by undersea specialist Katie M.O. We learned how to best describe fish to identify them: body shape, swimming style, and least importantly, color, as fish commonly change colors to camouflage. Post talk and geared with new knowledge, we sailed to Laughing Bird Caye National Park.

On shore, we met with local guides from SPLASH, a local dive company, to snorkel through the healthy coral habitat surrounding the island. Some of the highlights included colorful parrotfish, butterflyfish, barracudas, brain coral with Christmas tree wrasse, and more. Some of us snorkeled for hours while others gave paddleboarding and kayaking a try. How could a day get any better?

The answer: rum on the sundeck. That’s right, our hotel and bar department wowed us with a Belizean-themed cocktail hour and locally inspired meal to celebrate the spectacular country we are visiting. Hearts full and bellies fuller, we finished the evening with a nightcap of locally crafted rum presented to us from the southern district town Punta Gorda. Another day in paradise here aboard National Geographic Sea Lion.