Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary – A Birder’s Paradise

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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.

Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary

The trails throughout Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary are well-maintained and easy to follow. Image credit: Greg Todd

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.

Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary

The waterfalls and rivers within Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary provide refreshing respite from the Central American heat and humidity. Image credit: Greg Todd

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!

Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary

The Keel-billed Toucan is only one of nearly 300 bird species that can be found in Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary.

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.

Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary

It is estimated that between 15 and 20 healthy jaguars live within the borders of Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. Although sightings are very rare, visitors can sometimes find fresh jaguar tracks along the many trails. Image Credit: Greg Todd

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

You’ll be surrounded by beauty of all kinds while hiking the trails of Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. Image credit: Greg Todd

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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Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary

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40 thoughts on “Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary – A Birder’s Paradise

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      It is, James. I’m hoping that before we leave Belize we can go back there and take one of the guided evening hikes.

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      It is a cool place. I love the national parks, sanctuaries, preserves, etc. here. They are much more rustic/primitive than those we find in the developed world. To me, that adds to the wild and/or natural experience. There are no trams, souvenir shops, concession stands, etc. Just you and the experience you choose to have there.

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      Stacie – This would be an awesome outing for a family with young children. There are new things just waiting to be discovered around every corner.

  1. Sarah Bailey

    Wow this looks like such an amazing place, I bet there is so much to see and discover as you go around as well. It is lovely that such a place is there allowing animals to thrive.

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      Sarah – I think Belize does a pretty good job trying to conserve and preserve, especially considering how tiny of a country it is and the limited resources they have.

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      Jeanette – I’ve always said I would love to spot a jaguar in the wild … preferably from the safety of my car! LOL

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      We head back to the States in another six weeks. I’m sure it won’t be long at all before I’m missing the natural beauty of Belize.

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      The whole country of Belize is pretty “natural.” Even if you’re not in a sanctuary or preserve you have a good change of seeing a lot of wildlife.

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      That’s awesome, Amy! I love Belize. This is my fourth time here. Every time I’ve come I’ve gone to see another archeological site.

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      Michelle – Actually, it’s very easy to get to Belize from the US. It’s just south of Mexico’s southeastern border.

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      I love bird watching everywhere I go – even here at the house I have feeders up and I’m constantly looking up to see what’s there. This sanctuary was a bird watcher’s paradise.

  2. Kathy

    Those are some beautiful photos. I have never actually seen a toucan in real life. That is one bird I’d really love to see.

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      Kathy – They are beautiful. They are so unusually-shaped that you can tell what kind of bird they are even at the very top of a tree several hundred feet away.

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      I agree, Jocelyn. I love taking my grandkids to places where they can learn to love nature and the outdoors.

  3. Tim B

    I would love to explore this place with my kids! Maybe we’ll make it to Belize someday. Thanks for the suggestion and sharing some great pictures!

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      I hope you do make it down this way, Tim. It is a perfect place to visit if you’re wary of foreign travel. They speak English here and there are all types of landscapes to explore.

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      I highly recommend it, Bradley. my husband and I have traveled a lot in Central America – Belize, Nicaragua, Guatemala … and Belize is our favorite.

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