Outdoor sights in Belize
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This is Belize's most famous, and one of its biggest, protected areas - the huge swath of tropical forest became the world's first jaguar sanctuary in 1984. Today it's home to an estimated 40 to 50 jaguars and a vast array of wildlife. Visits are restricted to an eastern pocket where there's an information center, accomodation and walking trails.
Cockscomb became a forest reserve and no-hunting area in 1984. A small part of it was given sanctuary status in 1986, and the rest followed in 1990. The people of the Mayan village of Quan Bank were compulsorily relocated - many now live in Maya Center and make a living from the sanctuary.
The sanctuary itself is not big enough…
If you are wild about the rainforest, plan to spend a day at the Ixpanpajul Nature Park, a nature preserve and activity center. It’s not a huge place, but it packs a lot of fun into its 450 hectares, and it takes place at all levels of the rainforest. If you are partial to the canopy level, you will enjoy the Tarzan Tour, or zip-line, or you can saunter at your own pace along the Skywalk, a network of hanging bridges at the same level. You can explore the understory on horseback or by mountain bike, and arrange birding tours and night safaris. Simple cabanas and campsites are also available. Ixpanpajul is about 10km from Santa Elena on the road to Río Dulce.
This is a beautiful park of jungle, mountains, swimming holes, waterfalls, ancient sites and nature trails - keep your eyes peeled for black howler monkeys. Don't miss the partly excavated Mayflower Mayan site, featuring two pyramids, which was occupied between AD 800-900, or the Maintzunun temple mound.
For a longer visit, stay at Mama Noots Jungle Resort - a beautiful, spacious plot which is run entirely on renewable energy. Some 238 bird species have been identified here. Mama also offers some adventurous guided hikes in the national park, and great Belizean and international food served in a spacious, thatch-roofed restaurant.