Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
The Jaguar Preserve is located in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. In 1984 the area was first declared a forest reserve, then in 1986 a small portion was declared a sanctuary. In 1990, the sanctuary was expanded to include the entire forest reserve, resulting in a total protected area of over 100,000 acres. Located at about Mile 14 on the Southern Highway, the road into the reserve is about 7 miles. Entrance fees to the park can be paid at the Visitor’s Center in the village known as Maya Center.
Belize is home to the world’s first Jaguar Preserve, with an estimated 15 – 20 healthy jaguar population. While the elusive jaguars live in this jungle, it is almost certain that you will not see one.
Every guide emphasizes that only with a great deal of luck can you catch a glimpse here, and your chances improve if you are walking the trails at night, or very early in the morning. Consider yourself lucky if you see some of the other species of cats, such as the ocelot or margay. Wildlife abounds in the jungle, and if you are walking the trails during regular hours, in the middle of the day, expect to see numerous birds, butterflies, flowering plants, and magnificent trees. Other small animals such as peccary, and coatimundi have also been seen on the trails.
Basic accommodations are available at the Preserve, including some cabins without electricity, some with solar powered energy, a dorm and conference facility for student groups, and a camping ground. This area was once a logging camp, and much of the forest in the immediate area was once logged. Logging came to a halt when the area was established as a reserve. The forest is considered a ‘secondary moisture forest’ because of the logging, and today the jungle is completely re-grown, and continues to grow.
There are many trails in the Jaguar Preserve, all of differing lengths and levels of intensity. A one-minute hike off the road into the reserve, just before arriving at the base camp, is the site of a plane wreck. The 4-seater Cessna crashed back in 1983 or 1984 when Alan Rabinowitz chartered it to do a routine tracking of the signals on the collars of the jaguars (neither the pilot nor Alan were seriously injured in the crash). Alan had studied the jaguars, and had worked with the locals in finding them, placing monitoring devices, and tracking their movements. Airplanes were used to track the signals, and their movements were recorded and studied. The plane, which encountered problems on take-off, causing it to crash land, is now overgrown with shrubs and vines, and is an interesting sight and story.
The hike to the famous waterfall is an excellent photo opportunity, and highly recommended. It is about a 30-minute hike, so consider taking a cool drink, and maybe a light snack. Be sure to wear your swimsuit, as a swim in the pool and under the fall will give you the energy you need for the return hike.