Jungle hiking and relaxing river tubing in Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in Belize

Enjoy a day well spent in this amazingly pristine rainforest known as the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, known for its’ Jaguars and vast forest. The reserve is well protected and here wildlife thrives, and you can safely hike one or more of the paths if you stay on the trail. End your sweaty hike with a refreshing river tubing experience! You can enjoy it all on a one day trip, but an overnight stay is also possible if you book well in advance (we didn’t!).

Why you should go to Belize

First let me introduce you to the wild wonders of Belize.

Are you considering to skip Belize after all on your Central American travel? You have probably already seen a forest or two on your travels in Central America.. But every forest is different! Listen to the sounds of the rainforest from monkeys and birds as you spend hours hiking through some of the most unspoiled rainforest of Belize on the shaded trails and along waterfalls.

Nature knows no borders. After all, if you travel through Honduras to Guatemala or to Mexico, Belize is considered a great tourist destination. Especially since the national language is English.

Is the forest in Belize rainforest or jungle?

The forest in Belize is tropical rainforest and it is part of the Maya forest (Selva Maya) stretching across northern Guatemala, Belize and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, and it is part of the largest forest (38 million acres!) north of the Amazon forest. You can also call the forest in Belize a jungle.

What animals can I see in Belize?

The rainforest of Belize is home to many animals and plant species, up to 300 bird species are resident there and an additional 100 species arrive during the migration season of the North American birds! This means, you may see birds known from your own backyard, but in the rainforest of Belize!

A beautiful Harpy eagle from the Belize zoo
A beautiful Harpy eagle from the Belize zoo

Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is home to all five (5) of Belize’s cats: Jaguar, puma, margay, jaguarundi, and ocelot. Other mammals include white-lipped peccary, Bairds tapir, sloths, anteater (northern tamandua), howler monkey, spider monkey and many more. Although the rainforest in Belize is well protected, your chances of seeing jaguars are extremely low. They are very secretive, but you can look out four their footprints on the paths. Your best chances are seeing the animals at the Belize zoo or at a Wildlife Sanctuary for animals in rehabilitation.

Howler monkey
Howler monkey
Baird's tapir from the Belize Zoo
Baird’s tapir from the Belize Zoo

How about the ancient Maya culture in Belize?

If you want to see the ancient Maya culture of Mesoamerica in Belize, head to San Ignacio for guided tours. I recommend a guided tour to Caracol to see the ancient Maya culture and ruins! Even though the old Maya culture of Belize is long gone, it is still estimated that 600,000 people live in the Maya forest. Belize is known to hold some of the most multicultural population!

How to get to Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary

You should expect to spend your whole day in Cockscomb Basin, but it is possible to do it along the way if you are on the road and only have a few days to spend in Belize. It is very easy to access the road to Cockscomb Basin via public bus coming either from Dangriga, Belmopan, San Ignacio or Placencia.

My friend and I came from Placencia where we had stayed for two nights, and the next morning we took the bus from Independence towards Dangriga. Following the advice from my Lonely Planet book, we got off the bus in front of the Maya Center (from here you can get good souvenirs after your hike!).

After your visit to Cockscomb Basin you can catch the bus going either north to Dangriga, Belmopan or San Ignacio (and continue to Guatemala or Mexico) or south to Placencia, Punta Gorda (and continue south to Honduras).

Maybe the next hike will be to climb Victoria Peak?

Entrance fees and budget for Cockscomb Basin (on a budget)

The entrance fee to the Cockscomb Wildlife Sanctuary is 10 BZD (price in 2018), and you buy the entrance ticket at the Maya Center by the main road. From here we booked a taxi to drive us into the sanctuary, which was 80 BZD there and back (40 pr. person for two people, a bit pricey but worth it for us!). You can leave this expense out, but there’s a few kilometers walk to get to the start of the trails and the visitors center.

If you do not have any accommodation booked beforehand (for us it was not possible to book it on short notice, this was even in the off-season!), you need to make an appointment with the taxi driver to pick you up for your return to the main road. It is however still possible to walk back to the main road.

There was no cellphone reception inside the reserve except perhaps on the hilltops, so make sure you have an approximate estimate of how long your hike will last.

Things to do in Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary

The jungle hike with waterfalls – The Tiger Fern Trail

We went with the Tiger Fern Trail, which was 6.7 km long and had two waterfalls along the trail. You can get inspiration from the map below (it is situated by the visitors center), but a good idea is to choose the trail beforehand and study it.

Map of Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary with trail names and lengths

We did the hike on a sunny day and it took us around 3.5 hours. There was about 800 m elevation up, down to the waterfall and then back up again, be prepared for this especially if you have knee issues or not used to hiking.
I brought 3 liters of water, lightweight hiking boots and a hat to protect me from heat exhaustion (I got it anyway! At this point I was happy about our 40 BZD return lift to the main road). See my full packing list at the end of this post!

The hike was wonderful with lots of wildlife such as snakes, tarantulas (yikes!), manakins and more. For wildlife photos from this trip, please browse my Wildlife Gallery here.

Breathtaking views awaits!

The waterfalls are worth the hike so be sure to bring or wear swimwear, since you can swim in the small pond under the falls. We sure did!

One happy hiker with her price! A small but gorgeous waterfall.

As you can see from my photo I wore a long sleeved sports top to protect me from evil bloodsucking insects!

Float through the rainforest while river tubing in Cockscomb Basin

After the strenuous hike, we went river tubing. I had never tried this before, and I was a bit nervous at first.

I wore flip flops and a bikini and of course the vest. The hike to the river is about 1 km, and I don’t recommend wearing flip flops! They fell off my feet a couple of times during the river tubing, which made some parts a bit stressful. But it doesn’t have to be! Danika wore Crocs, they were quite handy!

Other than that, treat yourself with this experience. When you float under trees with green lianas and colorful birds flying over you a sense of tranquility sets in. The speed of the river is quite fast at some sections, but mostly it was relaxing to float down the river.

Danika took this cute photo of me – true ‘Follow me to’ style!

If you are a good swimmer, this can be done solo, but I’d recommend going with someone. It makes everything more safe if something happens along the way.

A personal bird favorite for me was the Ringed Kingfishers flying repeatedly above us while floating in the river, it is the biggest Kingfisher species in the World!

Packing list for a one-day trip to the jungle

Sunscreen, hat, bug spray, plenty of water, sturdy shoes and hiking socks, bikini, towel, waterproof shoes, long sleeved pants and shirt, camera, binoculars, lunch, lock for your bag while you river tube, enough cash for the taxi, entrance ticket and tubing.

Let me know in the comments if you have any thoughts on this post, information missing or suggestions on better trails to do!

// Rie

DISCLAIMER: I visited the sanctuary in Autumn 2018, and prices, trails, access and more may have changed!

© All photos are my own and may not be used without permission.

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