Belize

Cockscomb Jaguar Reserve: hikes and jaguars in the Belize jungle

Did you know that the very first jaguar reserve was established in Belize? It’s Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, near the beach paradise villages of Hopkins and Placenia. This green jungle is the perfect place for the most beautiful hikes and to spot wildlife. That won’t be a jaguar probably, but bird watchers and other animal spotters will definitely enjoy themselves in this jaguar preserve in Belize. Thrill-seekers and adventure lovers might just come for the hike, the stranded plain and a refreshing dive at the waterfalls.

The highlights of Cockscomb Jaguar Reserve

It is estimated that between 40 and 60 jaguars live in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary! And other large cats are also found here. That makes this Belize wildlife sanctuary a unique place for wildlife lovers. Unfortunately, few visitors will spot a jaguar, but it is not impossible. That will of course happen more often at night than during the day. Night tours with a park ranger are therefore also possible.

Tip: along the access road to Cockscomb is a cool traffic sign with a jaguar. You don’t have to take that warning seriously, but the sign is nice for a photo. Unfortunately, we did not succeed in that.

For those who don’t come to Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary for the jaguars, there are many other animals to be spotted. Birdwatchers in particular will love Cockscomb. We have absolutely no knowledge of birds, but found all colorful birds still breathtakingly beautiful.

We were mainly drawn to Cockscomb because of the jungle hikes and waterfalls. The trails through the green jungle are really beautiful and a dive under a waterfall is wonderful at this kind of temperature.

The aircraft wreck is another great highlight. Not far from the visitor center and 100 meters from the motorway there is an old wreck. The plane was once used by a researcher in the park. He caught jaguars and fitted them with transmitters. During flights he caught the signals to map their movements. It went wrong during one of those flights. Due to heavy weather the plane ran into problems and eventually crashed here, near the runway. The pilot managed to land the plane pretty well, because it is still virtually intact. All passengers survived the crash.

The hikes in Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary

Cockscomb is one of the most accessible parks. Almost all hikes can be done in a few hours and most visitors therefore combine at least two. On a map at the entrance all hikes are indicated, including length and difficulty.

The paths are all well laid out and maintained, so there is no difficulty in that. The difficulty level is mainly in the steeper parts.

The “easy trails” are almost completely flat. Especially popular are the trails with which you can tube over the river. For 15 Belizean dollars you can rent a tube at the visitor center. You then take it to the start of the tube route (tubing entrance on the map) and leave the river at the exit. Then you walk back to the visitor center.

The “moderate trails” are also not that heavy and do not last long. Here you will occasionally rise and descend a little. We walked the “plane wreck trail” and the “antelope trail”. The trail to the plane wreck is only 100 meters long, so we wouldn’t call it moderate. But you do have to cross a river and before that the path goes down and up again. The antelope trail is one of the longest routes with more than 7 kilometers. It is a nice jungle trip under the trees and definitely recommended.

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Of the “strenuous trails”, the Tiger Fern Trail in particular is popular. This is one of the toughest routes in the park and will take you to the Tiger Fern Waterfall. We walked the Ben’s Bluff Trail to a waterfall and vantage point instead. There were a few steep sections, but you can walk to the waterfall in 30 to 45 minutes. The water was cold, but we could really use that in this jungle heat.

Tip: don’t forget to rub in again after a dive under the waterfall.

The toughest hike is the one to the Victoria Peak. Both this hike and the one to the Outlier Trail cannot be made without a guide.

Which trails we did during our visit? From the visitor center we first went to the plane wreck. Then we walked via the Tinamou Trail to the Antelope Trail; we ran it all the way. Then we walked to the Ben’s Bluff waterfall and back again. We left around 7 in the morning and were ready again around 11, so including all (photo) stops and swimming at the waterfall. As you can see, you can easily combine several trails with each other.

Where do you sleep?

You can spend the night in Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary itself. On the website you can read exactly which accommodations there are (campsites and different rooms / houses). Remember that they are all very basic and for that comfort also quite pricey. You can only book through the park itself, but there is no booking facility on the site. Unfortunately, we never responded to our e-mail messages to book a place to sleep, so we recommend calling for a reservation.

Cockscomb is close to the little beach town of Hopkins. We would therefore recommend that you look for a place to sleep there. Click here for our selection of sleeping places. We slept at Coconut row ourselves. Hopkins is a small and nice beach town with supermarkets and eateries. That is a lot more practical than in the park itself.

Tip: don’t think Tutzil Cottages is a practical base for your visit. We thought to spend the night here within walking distance of the park entrance (as indicated on the map on Booking.com), but that turned out not to be the case. In reality the hotel is at Maya Center, another 10 kilometers away from the entrance. This leaves you with no other option than a long hike to the entrance or to use the expensive taxi service from the owner for 20 USD (only one way). As you are in the middle of nowhere, you can only buy your dinner and breakfast from the owner (pricey, not recommended). The rooms themselves are very basic, not cottages and not worth your money either.

How to get to the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary?

Cockscomb is located in the heart of Belize, around Hopkins. The park is approximately 10 kilometers from the main road through the country. The place where the road to Cockscomb begins is called Maya Center.

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The easiest way to get there is with your own (rental) car from Hopkins. It is a ride of approximately 30 minutes. The part from the main road can be quite bumpy. A 4WD is not necessary for this gravel road, but drive very carefully and pay attention to the (many) pits. We would definitely go for this option next time and rent a car (for a day).

Many tours are also offered in Hopkins. Sometimes this is with a guide, but most of the time it only means transport (without a parking fee). We saw prices of 95 USD (so 190 Belizean dollars). You can easily get a rental car for a day for a better price if you are with several people. You can find a rental company in Hopkins itself. (Tip: keep in mind that fuel is pricey in Belize and so do not only take the rental price into account when calculating your costs.)

You can also try a combination of public transport and taxi. With luck and haggling, you can arrange a taxi from Hopkins to Cockscomb for 35 USD. That is quite pricey, so you might prefer to use public transport. Buses run from Hopkins to the south; these can drop you off at the exit to Cockscomb in Maya Center. These buses just don’t go very frequently.

But then you still have 10 kilometers to travel from Maya Center. That is of course possible on foot, but that is really quite a long (and boring) piece. You can take a taxi from Maya Center. They are almost always ready at the exit and otherwise you can quickly arrange one at the gift shop there. A single ride costs 40 Belizean dollars (20 USD) and we think that’s pretty expensive for the short ride.

Lifting is also an option. That is probably not entirely possible from Hopkins to Cockscomb in one go. There is also a chance that you still have to pay a taxi for the last 10 kilometers, because it is not a case of traffic coming and going on that road.

Other practical tips

  • You are here in the jungle, so prepare for many mosquitoes here. Therefore apply a lot of insect repellent and wear long (airy) clothing. And even then you will get a lot of bites unfortunately.
  • Don’t forget your sunscreen. A large part of the hikes is in the shade of the trees, but you’ll burn quickly here in the sun.
  • Bring your swimwear with you for a refreshing swim.
  • The park has fixed opening times, but there aren’t always park rangers at the entrance to pay for entry. Then simply pay afterward.
  • There is no restaurant in the park and at the visitor center you can only get yourself a coke or water.
  • There are spiders and poisonous snakes in the park. You will rarely see the spiders during the day, but you can come across the snakes. We were therefore very happy to be wearing our sturdy and high Keen hiking shoes.
  • Hiking shoes are nice to bring, but not essential for most trails.
  • There is only a map at the visitor center. So take a picture here or download our picture to navigate during your visit.

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