The World’s First Jaguar Reserve is in Belize
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.
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.
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.
Accommodations at CBWS
Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary offers basic overnight accommodations. It is not a jungle lodge but it provides comfortable lodging for hikers and wildlife enthusiasts. Meals are self-catering- there is a communal kitchen with stoves and crockery and cooking utensils for rent. Visitors are required to bring their own food and water.
Our private cabin boasts a spacious verandah, outdoor seating, wildlife views and a comfortable living area. It can sleep a maximum of six (6) people (one double bed and two bunk beds). Pillows and sheets are provided and lights are solar powered. The private bath has a cold-water shower and composting toilet. Price – US$53.50 per night for the cabin
From its large verandah, the dormitory has relaxing views of the Outlier Peak and the jungle. It sleeps a maximum of 24 people in four (4) separate rooms. There are three bunk beds with pillows and sheets in each room. Lights are solar powered. Separate male and female bathrooms have cold-water showers and composting toilets. Price – US$20.00 per person per night
The White House:
This house provides secluded, self-contained accommodations at the entrance to the park. Backing onto the river and jungle, the wildlife is abundant – and easily viewed from the screened verandah. The house has its own kitchen and dining area, with refrigerator, stove, cutlery, crockery and cooking utensils. The two bedrooms both contain a double bed and a bunk bed each. The bathroom has flush toilet and cold-water shower. Price – US$75.00 per night for the house
Mujan Naj (Bird House):
Our newest cabin has an attractive screened living area with table and chairs- ideal for relaxing after a long day of hiking. It sleeps a maximum of four (4) people. One bedroom has a double bed and the other bedroom has a bunk bed. It has a private bathroom with flush toilet and cold water shower. Price – US$75.00 per cabin per night
Centrally located, this cabin accommodates a maximum of ten (10) persons, in bunk beds (pillows and sheets are provided) in a total of three (3) rooms. Bathroom facilities (cold water shower block and pit latrines) are shared. Price – US$8.03 per person per night
To book accommodation please e-mail the Belize Audubon Society with details of the dates of your stay, the number in your party, and which accommodation you would like to stay in. A deposit will be required.
Visitor’s Information and Park Rules
Entrance fees are BZ$2.50 for nationals and BZ$10 for non-nationals. Opening hours are 7:30am – 4:30pm.
To help us maintain the park’s pristine condition we ask that all visitor’s observe the following regulations:
- Please buy your entrance tickets at the Maya Center craft shop, before registering at our visitor’s center.
- Please do not harm/attempt to capture any animals or birds.
- No fishing or hunting is allowed.
- Do not litter. Leave trash in bins provided.
- Cooking is only allowed in designated areas.
- Please do not bring pets into the park.
- No firearms are allowed.
- Please stay on the trails at all times.
- Don’t use shampoos, soaps or detergents in the waterfalls or rivers.
What to Bring
Bring sturdy shoes, long sleeved shirt, long pants, insect repellent, sunscreen, and plenty of water.
All school groups are welcome, please register with our head office in Belize City, prior to your visit.