Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary was the world’s very first jaguar preserve. Located in the Stann Creek District of Belize, it’s just a few miles south of the capital city of Belmopan. But jaguars are very elusive and sightings are rare, so the park is better known for its hiking trails, waterfalls and abundance of neotropical birds. Unlike some other wildlife preserves, Cockscomb Basin also has overnight accommodations, offering both cabins and campgrounds. Greg and I stopped by for a short hike, but I can’t wait to go back and spend a lot more time.
Hiking in Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
The trail network in this sanctuary is the best of all others in Belize. There are many easy hikes, such as the self-guided nature walk and others of a mile or less. The various trails cross through many different habitats within the sanctuary and get progressively more challenging. The granddaddy of them all is a 17-mile, 4-day climb to Victoria Peak. This trek requires a guide and is recommended only for those who are extremely fit. It can also only be attempted during the dry season. In all there are 15 named hikes: five are rated easy, five are moderate and the last five are considered to be strenuous.
Birdwatching in Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
If you’re a birder, you will definitely want to visit this sanctuary. Nearly 300 bird species have been recorded within its borders including White-collared Manakins, Macaws, Keel-billed Toucans, Montezuma’s Oropendola, Clay-colored Robins, Collared-seed Eaters, Masked Tanagers, Social Flycatchers, Crimson Collared Tanagers and the Great Curossow. I spotted nearly a dozen different species just around the office and parking lot, before I even hit the trails. So be sure to bring a good pair of binoculars and your field guide – this place will definitely keep you busy!
Other Wildlife in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
In addition to the nearly 300 bird species, Cockscomb Basin is also home to many mammalian species, some of which are endangered. Wildcats such as the Puma, Ocelot, Jaguarundi and Margay inhabit the area and can sometimes be spotted at night. Species like the White-lipped Peccary, Paca, Tayra, Brocket Deer, Otter, Coatimundi and Howler Monkeys roam throughout the sanctuary and can sometimes be spotted as well. Your best chance for spotting these wildlife species is to take a guided evening tour offered by many of the lodging purveyors in the immediate area.
Facilities at Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
- This park offers nice restroom facilities which also provide a place to clean up after a hike or change clothes after an afternoon of tubing in the river.
- There are three covered picnic areas – two for small groups that offer some privacy and one larger one that would be good for a larger school group or tour.
- You can rent an inner tube at the office for a very reasonable fee. At the time we were there they were only $2.50 US.
- Overnight facilities are also available that include primitive camping, rustic cabins and dormitories.
Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary Directions, Cost and Hours
Belize doesn’t have a whole lot of paved highways so finding the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is easy. It’s located about 20 miles south of Dangriga off the Hummingbird Highway (also known as the Southern Highway). You turn west onto the dirt road adjacent to the Maya Center Women’s Group Gift Shop. There’s a big sign there – you can’t miss it. Then just follow that road about six miles until you get to the sanctuary.
There is a fee to enter the sanctuary; at the time we went the cost was $10 BZ per person. You can purchase your tickets right there at the gift shop or at the sanctuary office. If you choose to get them at the gift shop, please also consider making a purchase from their craft selection to help support the local residents.
The sanctuary is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
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