Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, established in 1990 is world renowned for being the first jaguar reserve. This “one of a kind” reserve was established as a result of jaguar studies conducted in the area by Alan Rabinowitz. Besides being the home to Belize’s largest cat, the Sanctuary protects the headwaters of two major river systems and supports an abundance of hardwood vegetation and a diverse faunal assemblage.
See also: Belize Sea Tours
Over 128,000 acres of lush jungle are ringed by the spectacular Cockscomb Mountains. The wonders and diversity are accessible to both the casual visitor and the serious naturalist through a series of nature trails. These trails vary in degrees of difficulty ranging from an easy hour-long stroll along the river to a four (4) day challenge of conquering Victoria Peak . The Victoria Peak trail is only accessible during the dry season and requires a permit and a tour guide (experienced guides can be hired from the local communities buffering the sanctuary).
The trail system within the sanctuary provides breathtaking views across the Basin and waterfalls abound. If the hiking is too much, relax with a swim or try tire tubing down the river.
Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is home to all five (5) of Belize’s cats: Jaguar, Puma, Margay, Jaguarundi, and Ocelot. It is estimated that over 80 resident Jaguars are in the area. Belize’s national animal, the endangered Baird’s Tapir also inhabits the Basin and over 290 different species of birds have been recorded.
The jaguar is the third largest cat in the world after the Tiger and Lion, and is the only member of the large cat genus to live in the Americas. An adult male may weigh up to 200 lbs and measure 6 ½ feet from nose to tail. The CITES Red List (International List of Endangered Species) declares the jaguar as in need of international protection.
See also: Maya Ruins & Jungle Package
Jaguars are often found in dense forests and swamps with good cover and easy access to water. The best time to spot one is at dusk or dawn. When the ground is damp, look out for the Jaguar tracks on any of the trails.
Some groups of Maya, known as the Jaguar people, worshipped the jaguar or “Baalum” believing their kings would reincarnate into these cats and so killing a jaguar was a serious crime, punishable by death.
With over 20 miles of maintained trails, you are offered many opportunities for hiking and wildlife and bird watching over a variety of terrain.
Two of the trials at CBWS are specifically designed educational trails with accompanying information packs and pamphlets.
For those hiking on the Tiger Fern trail and the trail to Ben’s Bluff, bathing in the cooling waterfalls is a must.
More fun can be had in the water with tube floating and swimming in the South Stann Creek. Visitors with their own equipment can take advantage of the exciting canoeing and kayaking possibilities.
As might expected in such a wild and remote setting, wildlife abounds- Tayra, Neotropical River Otter, Kinkajou, Baird’s Tapir, all five species of wild cat, and numerous snakes and reptiles. Over 290 species of birds have been recorded here, from the beautiful Scarlet Macaw and the majestic King Vulture to many tiny hummingbirds.
The Sanctuary also has an educational Visitor Center with interactive displays, wildlife specimens, and a spacious conference room ideal for school and other large groups.
There are three designated camping areas in the Sanctuary, the first next to the Sanctuary headquarters and the others are on the trails, for the more adventurous. Alternatively, we have a wide range of accommodations – from the communal dormitory to the totally independent White House- all set in the picturesque jungle.
Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is located six (6) miles off the Southern highway, approximately 20 miles from Dangriga (the nearest town). The access road to the Sanctuary is located in the village of Maya Center where the Maya Center Women’s Group is responsible for the sale of entrance tickets. The entrance fee is US$5.00 and the tickets can be purchased at the Maya Center Women’s Group craft shop located at the head of the access road (immediately off the southern highway).
By private vehicle:
The journey takes approximately 2 ½ hours from Belize City – take the Western highway out of Belize City, turn left into the Hummingbird Highway (follow sign to Belmopan and drive past Belmopan), then turn right onto the Southern Highway (follow sign to Punta Gorda). Drive approximately thirty-minutes down the Southern Highway to the village of Maya Center; turn right into the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary access road (signposted on the highway). Drive six miles on unpaved road to the visitor center.
By public transportation:
The Southern transport bus line traveling from Belize City to Punta Gorda will stop at Maya Center if requested (approximately 3 ½ hours). From Maya Center, Cockscomb Basin is a six (6) mile hike, or a US$15.00 taxi journey.
You can fly from Belize City to Dangriga via Maya Island Air or Tropic Air. The flight takes approximately 20 minutes. From Dangriga either take a taxi to Cockscomb or take a bus to Punta Gorda and ask to stop at Maya Center. From Maya Center , Cockscomb Basin is a six (6) mile hike or a US$15.00 taxi journey.