Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary (Stann Creek District, Placencia, south-central Belize) — 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, accommodation 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 to support a healthy breeding population of jaguars, but it adjoins other reserves, thus promising a hopeful future for this emblematic and threatened big cat. Belize’s four other wild cats – the puma, ocelot, margay and jaguarundi – also live here, as do tapirs, anteaters, armadillos, snakes brocket deer, otters and birds galore. You may even spot a black howler monkey. Tours can be arranged in Maya Center and are usually conducted by Maya who were relocated there.
Getting There: Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is located off the Southern Highway, approximately 20 miles south of Dangriga. The entrance is at Maya Center Village, where the Maya Center Women’s Group collects the entrance fees to the protected area. From here, the actual park is six miles down a dirt road. Visitors can drive, hike into the park (roughly 2 hours), or hire a local taxi from the village (US$12.50 one-way).
By Vehicle- For those renting vehicles, a four-wheel drive is recommended and necessary in wet weather. From Belize City, the journey takes approximately 2.5 hours. Take the Western Highway out of Belize City, turn left onto the Hummingbird Highway (signposted to Belmopan), then right onto the Southern Highway (signposted to Punta Gorda), just six miles before Dangriga. The turnoff to Cockscomb is located at Maya Center, about 20 minutes after turning onto the Southern Highway. Visitors should park at the turnoff, and pay the entrance fee at the Maya Center Women’s Group Gift Shop and then drive up the dirt road six miles to the Cockscomb Basin Visitor Center.
By Bus Bus- services from Belize City to Punta Gorda will stop at Maya Center, if requested (about 3.5 hrs). All buses stop in Dangriga before proceeding south.