Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
Created in 1986, after renowned wildlife biologist Dr. Alan Rabinowitz observed an unprecedented population of jaguars, Cockscomb Basin is the world’s first sanctuary for the Americas’ largest cat. From a modest 3,600 acres, the reserve has expanded to 128,000 acres (200 square miles) — a mosaic of river-fed habitats that also support four other feline species (puma, ocelot, jaguarundi and margay), as well as tapir, coatimundi, kinkajou and peccary. This is serious jungle: You may want to keep an eye out for boa constrictors and the highly venomous fer-de-lance snake. In the early morning, it’s possible to see hundreds of different birds, including scarlet macaws and keel-billed motmots; evening is the best time to see mammals as they begin to make their rounds. The banks of South Stann Creek are often pocked with their tracks.
“This sanctuary is a testament to Belize’s commitment to conservation,” says Anna Hoare, executive director of the Belize Audubon Society. “I love to just be awed by the majestic views from Ben’s Bluff Trail.”
While fewer tourists tramp Cockscomb Basin during the May-to-November rainy season, Hoare says that wildlife is much more active. This jungle splendor, 20 miles southwest of the seaside town of Dangriga and a 2 -hour drive from Belize City, demands a few days of exploration; there are plenty of affordable accommodations, from raised tent sites to dorms and rustic cabins.
Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is open daily from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m; admission is $5 (501-223-5004; belizeaudubon.org).