Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary

Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary

The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is Belize’s most famous sanctuary and one of its biggest protected areas. This great swath of tropical forest became the world’s first jaguar sanctuary in 1984, thanks to the efforts of American zoologist Alan Rabinowitz. Today this critical biological corridor is home to an estimated 40 to 50 jaguars and a vast array of other animal, bird and botanical life.

The unpaved, 6-mile road to the sanctuary starts at the village of Maya Center, on the Southern Hwy, 5 miles south of the Hopkins turnoff. The sanctuary office, where you pay admission, is at the end of the road. The office has trail maps (BZ$5) plus a few gifts, soft drinks and chocolate bars for sale. You can also rent binoculars (BZ$5 per day).

The visitor sighting book records instances of people spotting jaguars (often on the drive in), so it is possible. But, despite its size, the sanctuary itself isn't big enough to support a healthy breeding population of jaguars. However, its position adjacent to other reserves and swaths of jungle make it part of a biological corridor that, many believe, offers promise for the jaguar's future in Central America.

Belize's four other wild cats, the puma, ocelot, margay and jaguarundi, also reside in and pass through the sanctuary, as do tapirs, anteaters, armadillos (the jaguar's favorite prey – crunchy on the outside, but soft and chewy on the inside), brocket deer, coatimundis, kinkajous, otters, peccaries, tayras iguanas, local rodents such as gibnuts, and other animals native to the area.

The sanctuary is also home to countless birds: over 290 feathered species have been spotted. Egrets, hummingbirds, the keel-billed toucan, king vulture, great curassow and scarlet macaw are just a few that live in or pass through the park.

There's also a thriving community of black howler monkeys living close to the visitors center. If you don't see them near the center, you'll definitely hear their eerie, cacophonous howling if you stay overnight. Large boa constrictors, small (and deadly poisonous) fer-de-lances and tiny coffee snakes are some of the snakes that call the sanctuary home.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary attractions

1. Serpon Sugar Mill Historical Park

8.33 MILES

This well-kept riverside historical park is the preserved site of the Serpon Sugar Mill, which operated here from 1865 until 1910. There's a small…

2. Mayflower Bocawina National Park

11.72 MILES

This beautiful 11-sq-mile park of jungle, mountains, waterfalls, walking trails, swimming holes and small Maya sites lies about 16 miles southwest of…

3. Billy Barquedier Waterfall

15.52 MILES

This magnificent waterfall cascades into a cool swimming hole located a 15-minute walk off the Hummingbird Hwy (signposted). A further one-hour walk…

4. Marie Sharp's Factory

18.36 MILES

The super-hot bottled sauces that adorn tables all over Belize and beyond are made from habanero peppers here at Marie Sharp's Factory, 8 miles northwest…

5. Gulisi Garifuna Museum

18.42 MILES

This museum, operated by the National Garifuna Council (NGC), is a must for anyone interested in the vibrant Garifuna people. It brings together artifacts…

6. Pen Cayetano Studio Gallery

19.84 MILES

Renowned throughout Belize for his art and music, Pen Cayetano's workshop and gallery displays Garifuna artifacts and crafts. It also has works of art and…

7. Drums of Our Father's Monument

19.97 MILES

This monument in the traffic circle south of Dangriga's main bus station underscores the importance of percussion in Garifuna (and Belizean) life, with…

8. St Herman's Blue Hole National Park

29.92 MILES

The 575-acre St Herman's Blue Hole National Park contains St Herman's Cave, one of the few caves in Belize that you can visit without a guide. The…