When we arrived Belize, we instantly fell in love with the chilled out vibe and stunning sunsets. Teeming with incredible wildlife, a friendly Caribbean vibe and lots of diverse eco-systems, Belize is an incredible place to visit. Discovering Cockscomb was a real joy and we loved our time hiking in Cockscomb Wildlife Basin in Belize, the first Jaguar Reserve in the world.
Originally we weren’t planning on spending too much time in Belize. It’s relatively expensive in comparison to much of Central America and neighbouring Guatemala. But we found the people so friendly and the scenery so lovely, that we continued exploring.
Speaking to other travellers, we told them of our plans to go down to Placencia in the south of Belize after leaving the island paradise of Caye Caulker. Other travellers that had travelled from that direction encouraged us that it was worth deviating off the usual gringo trail to visit this area. Talk about the first Jaguar Reserve in the world just down the road from Placencia really piqued our interest.
Once in Placencia, we met a guy that had visited Cockscomb Wildlife Basin on a day trip. He had hiked to a waterfall had gone tubing down the river. Apparently the hiking trails were brilliant with vast views over the jungle. During his visit he felt like he had the park to himself, not seeing anyone other than the staff working at the park. His descriptions made us want to go hiking in Cockscomb Wildlife Basin!
Tours in Belize are quite expensive for anyone travelling on a budget. If you take the extra time to get there yourself, prices are a lot cheaper. Always keen to do activities on our own initiative, we were hopeful that a ‘do it yourself’ method would be more adventurous. We started to try and find out how we would get to the Jaguar Reserve.
We found the Cockscomb website – www.belizedudubon.org – and found lots of useful information about Cockscomb and the other natural monuments they work to preserve. Cockscomb was first established as a Forest Reserve in 1984 and later as a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1986.
The Cockscomb Basin in 122,260 hectares and the entire area and Victoria’s Peak (3,675 feet) are managed by the Forest Department and the Belize Audubon Society. The name Cockscomb comes from the formation of the mountain range in the shape of a Cock’s comb and is home to over 323 species of birds.
Upon reading the website we found that we could actually stay in the park (availability allowing). This would allow us to stay longer than the day guests and allow us to get up early and start a hike before it got too hot.
After sending off an email, then a follow-up email and another one for good luck (no luck!), we started to see our dream of hiking in Cockscomb Wildlife Basin disappear. Then the owner of our incredible hostel in Placencia offered us her phone and told us to call them.
The first number didn’t connect but then the second number listed did. Success! We explained our plans to the guy on the phone. We’d like to stay two nights in the rustic cabin (a private twin) which was great value at 40BZ a night (the same as two dorm beds in a shared room).
After a little confusion and being told there was no availability in Cockscomb, we eventually got a rustic cabin booked for one night for the following evening. The first hurdle of accommodation had been overcome! We had somewhere to stay.
Table of Contents
What you need to bring:
If you are planning on hiking in Cockscomb Wildlife Basin, here is some essential gear you need to bring.
- Water to Go bottle. Hiking in the jungle you need to ensure you keep hydrated. We love these Water to Go bottles with their inbuilt water filter because you can refill them with any freshwater source, knowing that 99.9999% of all contaminants will be eliminated. A water bottle not only saves you money but you drastically reduce your single-use plastic usage and always have access to drinking water. Get 15% off with the code ‘EATWITHWALKER‘.
- Mosquito repellent. If you are like us, you’ll get absolutely munched the moment a bit of unprotected skin is exposed. Skin so Soft is an absolute life saver!
- White tiger balm. To put on the bites to relieve itching.
- Food for the duration of your stay. There is a kettle and a gas hob in the kitchen, so you can cook up a storm.
- Hiking shoes. Hiking in Cockscomb Wildlife Basin, we were glad to have our Timberland boots on some of the steeper trails. With poisonous snakes in the area, we were glad to have our ankles protected.
- Swimming stuff / towel / biodegradable suntan lotion. You are allowed to jump in the waterfalls in the park. Yes, they are freezing but so refreshing after a hike in the hot sun.
- Flip flops so you can have a shower. Don’t expect warm water, but after hiking in Cockscomb Wildlife Basin, cold water is rather refreshing. You might just want to protect your feet a bit.
- Headlamp/torch. You need some light when heading to the outside loos. You must always check before you sit down, in case something nasty is lurking around!
- Belize SIM card if you need access to the internet. There is no WIFI, so it’s an ideal time to do a digital detox.
How to get there
We got the 10.30 am bus from Placencia going to Dangriga. As they loaded our bags we asked to be dropped at the Mayan Women’s Craft Centre at the entrance to Cockscomb Basin. The bus moved slowly picking up locals. When we got to the Placencia airport we had to wait as a small aircraft took off, which added to the adventure.
As the bus trundled forward, suddenly it started to rain a lot. It had rained during the morning in Placencia and Lydia the lovely owner of Anda Di Hows (the best and most secret hostel / beach haven in Placencia) said it was because Placencia was sad we were leaving. After originally booking for only 3 days but staying for 7 days, we were sad to leave too.
After an hour and a half on the bus, we arrived just before 12 noon, at the Mayan Women’s Craft Centre. The rain had suddenly stepped up a notch just as we reached our destination. With the rain pouring outside we quickly ran for shelter in the centre. There we signed in, bought our tickets and ordered a taxi from the ladies in the centre.
We’d read a blog saying the Mayan Women’s Craft Centre would call a taxi for you if you didn’t fancy the 6-mile walk in. Lugging around the food for our stay and our huge bags, a walk in the torrential rain didn’t even cross our minds!
We asked how much the taxi would cost and how long it would take. We were rather shocked that they were charging $40 BZ for a 15-minute taxi ride. However, we had very little choice but to pay the price.
The taxi arrived quickly and going up the muddy, pot holed road we were instantly glad we were in a taxi. The drive was really cool and we saw the lush vegetation increase the further we went into the jungle. We were excited that we were entering the park, but also hopeful that the rain would stop soon.
If you are coming from Dangriga, then you will pass the Mayan Women’s Craft Centre en route to Placencia. Just tell the bus driver that you need to be dropped off here if you are coming from that direction.
We also met another traveller who told us they got a taxi from Dangriga to Cockscomb for $30 BZ. If you do this you’d avoid paying for the (overpriced) taxi from the Mayan’s Women’s Centre.
Upon arriving at the main office, we headed in to escape the rain. It was relatively quiet as we arrived, with only a handful of tourists hanging around and we hoped that we could extend our stay. Hopefully, some other guests had been put off by the rain and wouldn’t want their accommodation.
The nice lady on reception found our booking and signed us in. We saw the rather empty room register and chanced our luck, asking if perhaps a two-night stay was possible.
We were in luck. After being told on the telephone that the place was fully booked, it seemed that there were only 3 other tourists staying overnight whilst we were there!
From the main office, we could see all the trails to be walked and knew one-day hiking in Cockscomb Wildlife Basin wouldn’t be enough.
We found it very easy to extend our stay once in the park (early December 2019). We even met some other people that just turned up without a reservation and got a room. However, we never got a response to our emails, so definitely call rather than email to get a cabin in the park.
After having paid we made our way to the rustic cabin which was very close to the main office. The hut was basic, with a tin roof and thin room partitions to make the hut four twin rooms.
There are two single beds in the room and a cabinet that can be locked to hold your belongings (bring your own padlock).
There is an electrical outlet in the room. The room is not fancy. If you do not like insects this may not be for you. But it was cheap and all we needed for a two-night stay.
There is no WIFI so please be aware of this – we had expected to be able to check bus timetables and book accommodation for our next stop. No such luck. We were totally cut off and actually, it really added to the experience.
You may want to bring earplugs. Due to the thin partition walls, you can hear everyone staying in the rustic cabin. We heard people talking at 4 am like there was no one else in the cabin! So if you are a light sleeper and easily woken, earplugs are a must.
In addition to the rustic cabin, there are lots of different accommodation types to suit all budgets. From private cabins to dorms to a campsite. All options are listed on this link – Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary accommodations.
We’d read that there were no restaurants or cafes in the park on another blog we read before arriving. We weren’t sure whether this information would be out of date, so we decided to be prepared and we bought some food in with us from Placencia.
After checking in the manager of the park took us to an outbuilding where he provided us with brand new pots/pans/cutlery/cutting boards and knives for the duration of our stay. It was really impressive that they were so well stocked.
We decided to cook in bulk and made a yummy spicy prawn and rice dish. The following day after hiking in Cockscomb Wildlife Basin, we just heated up our leftovers, so we didn’t have to cook twice. Having the fridge there helped.
We always travel with silicone tupperware containers and a cooler bag so that we can cook in hostels. This was ideal for our trip hiking in Cockscomb Wildlife Basin.
We did notice that there were a few basic food bits being sold in the Mayan Women’s Centre. Mainly crisps and pot noodles. If you want anything fresh you have to get it in town beforehand.
If you are well prepared it’s easy to bring food into the park and cook it in the kitchen provided. The management there makes it very easy for you to prepare your own meals. The excellent cooking facilities made our visit very economical.
Activities in the park
There are numerous trails to enjoy hiking in Cockscomb Wildlife Basin. The map at the main office shows all the trails. They have a difficulty rating and rough timings on how long the trails take, so you can plan your whole day.
After arriving and checking in, we only had a couple of hours to do a walk. We comfortably finished the walk to Tiger Fern Double Waterfall. It’s a steep climb with benches every 10 – 15 minutes to allow you to admire the local flora (i.e. catch your breath).
Once you’ve navigated your way down to the waterfall, jumping in the cold water is such a spoiling treat. The cold will take your breath away! After you climb all the way back up to the top of the hill to start your descent, you feel like you need to jump in the water again!
Before making your way down, you’ll see some signs to a campsite. WALK UP THERE! We so nearly didn’t, because no one had mentioned anything about the viewpoint.
Literally 100 metres later you are met with the most incredible panoramic views over Cockscomb and Belize’s 2nd highest point, Victoria’s Peak. It was slightly overcast from all the rain we’d had that morning but in no way did it detract from the incredible view.
The following day we started with the Plane Wreck Trail. Only a short trail, we highly recommend going to visit the plane.
Originally used to help track and tag the Jaguars in the reserve. The plane came down during a thunderstorm, but luckily neither the pilot or the scientist were injured. The plane wreck pays homage to the incredible work they do in Cockscomb Wildlife Basin, the world’s first Jaguar Reserve.
Not wanting to return the route we’d just walked down the main road, we then walked the Tinamou Trail. This merged into the Gibnut Trail to take us back to camp. Rather flat trails, they were ideal for looking at the wildlife and all the numerous ants running around on the forest floor.
Once back at camp, we filled up our water bottles, getting ready for a day of hiking in Cockscomb Wildlife Basin. We then headed off to do the Waterfall Trail. This leads onto the Ben Bluff’s Trail which is a strenuous trail. The views from Ben’s Bluff are incredible and well worth being a sweaty mess!
From the top, you get stunning views of Victoria’s Peak and another peak, the Outlier. On the way back down you can jump in the waterfall to cool yourself down. We loved this trail.
In the afternoon we decided to rest our weary legs and take a rest from hiking in Cockscomb Wildlife Basin. They off tubing down the river running through the park (see below for more details). At the tubing exit you walk back down the Rubber Tree Trail and the River Path, so even after relaxing, you’re still exploring the trails.
For our final morning in Cockscomb we decided to walk the Wari Loop / Victoria Peak Path. A very easy trail we saw lots of wildlife, including a deer in the early morning light. It was a great way to warm down our achy legs and to say goodbye to the gorgeous Cockscomb Wildlife Basin.
If you want to do some more strenuous hiking in Cockscomb Wildlife Basin, the Outlier Trail or the Victoria Peak Trails are available. You must have a guide as the walks are considerably longer and may require an overnight stay.
If you stay in the park, you are allowed to go for a wander in the evening. As jaguars are nocturnal, there is a better chance of seeing them at night. There are guided tours that go into the park with a guide. At nearly $150 USD per person, this was way out of our budget.
Staying in the park, we were told by other tourists that you can walk the trails to try and catch the wildlife about their nightly business.
After being told by the manager of the park about all the poisonous snakes and spiders, we decided that with only one torch working, it probably wasn’t a great idea to head out in the dark.
We have since seen a Jaguar and we are glad we didn’t go out and encounter one at night! They are magnificent but absolutely enormous (weighing between 125 – 250 pounds). They are the largest cat in the Americas and having met one face to face would have scared us to death!
Whilst we were in the park, one of the night tours saw an ocelot. The tours travel in a 4X4s so are able to penetrate much further into the jungle. Whilst on foot most people didn’t head too far from the main office.
At $15 USD for two people, this is an incredibly good value activity that you can’t really miss. You pick up your tube and your life jacket at the main office. Then you follow the path down to the tubing entrance.
It’s about a 15-minute walk on a flat path and the tubes are light, so it’s nice to be seeing a bit more of the park. When you arrive at the tubing entrance there is a stick in the water that shows the level of the water and whether it’s safe to tube.
Luckily the water level was perfect for our little trip. There are also a few basic rules to follow but those are very straight forward. Then off you set, floating down the river with stunning flowers and plants on the river bank. There are tons of birds and wildlife for you to watch as you relax in your tube.
We had hardly seen anyone in the park all day. Again with the tubing, we had a full hour on the river without seeing anyone. Just the two of us, floating gently down the river and pointing out birds.
There is one bit in the river when the rapids get a bit more interesting. I floated right and Ads floated left. Mine was like a water park adventure, going down rapid waters and going quickly.
Ads, however, got stuck on rocks and took a lot longer to rejoin the river. So stick right if you see a fork in the river, it’s way more fun!
We’d read a blog that said the exit on the river was easy to miss, but it seems that since that article was written they have invested in a big sign saying ‘EXIT’. There is a metal chain that goes over the river to show you can go no further. So don’t worry, you’re safe.
We absolutely loved the freedom the park gave us to do this activity, trusting that everyone is adult enough to tube down a river unsupervised. Brilliant value and an absolute must-do when visiting the park.
Costs for 2-night stay
Bus from Placencia > Mayan Women’s Craft Centre. Bus tickets: $6 BZ per person = $12 BZ total ($6USD)
Entrance ticket to the Cockscomb Basin: $10 BZ per person = $20 BZ total ($10USD)
Taxi from Mayan Women’s Craft Centre to the Main office in the park = $40 BZ ($20USD)
Two nights in a basic rustic cabin (private room with twin beds, shared bathroom) near the main office: $40 BZ per night = $80 BZ ($40USD)
Total: $76 USD for the entrance ticket, transport and accommodation for two people
Leaving Cockscomb Wildlife Basin
After 2 days in the park and having hiked nearly all the trails, it was time to move on. The next stop for us was San Ignacio, our last stop in Belize before heading over the border into Guatemala.
We arranged to get a taxi down to the Mayan Women’s centre with another tourist staying in the park. Again we were told that the taxi would be $40BZ for the 15-minute trip.
We decided to leave from the Main office at 9.30 am. As we headed down the hill and we were dropped off outside the Mayan Women’s Craft Centre.
Upon arrival we noticed a large group of people waiting at the bus stop opposite the centre so we quickly crossed the busy road, hoping a bus would appear soon.
The bus heading from Placencia to Dangriga picked us up from outside the Mayan Women’s Craft Centre at 9.50 am. $7 BZ for 2 people to Dangriga. The trip was quick and we arrived at Dangriga 10.30 am.
We had asked the taxi driver who drove us to the Mayan Women’s Centre how much it would be to go to Dangriga. $40 BZ to the Mayan Women’s Craft Centre & $80 BZ to Dangriga! The German lady we shared the taxi with said she had got a taxi from Dangriga to Cockscomb for $30 BZ.
As soon as we arrived in Dangriga, we got our belongings and got straight onto a bus leaving for Belmopan at 10.30 am. No waiting. We jumped on the busy bus and we arrived in Belmopan at 11.55 am.
When we arrived, we were told that the bus for San Ignacio was running late. After getting a quick snack, the bus had arrived and we eventually left at 12.10 pm.
We were in San Ignacio in time for lunch where we finally broke our digital detox, found some WIFI, booked some accommodation and started to look at what we’d be doing during our stay in San Ignacio.
Belize Audubon Society
Cockscomb Wildlife Basin is one of the protected areas that is looked after by the Belize Audubon Society. Founded in 1969, the Belize Audubon Society is an environmental organisation, protecting Belize’s areas of outstanding beauty.
These include the Blue Hole Natural Monument, Half Moon Caye Natural Monument, St Herman’s Blue Hole National Park, Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, Guanacaste National Park and Victoria Peak Natural Monument.
Jaguars used to exist from the Southern United States through Central America to Northern parts of South America. But since 1900, Jaguars have disappeared from over half their homeland. Today there are only an estimated 15,000 jaguars remaining in the wild.
The forest at Cockscomb is a tropical moist forest which is found at a greater distance from the equator, where rainfall and day length vary seasonally. They are distinguished from equatorial rainforests by a cooler dry season but still has about 145 inches of rainfall every year. Warm temperatures, high rainfall and very little wind mean the forest is humid all year round.
Tropical forests are disappearing at an alarming rate, which contributes to erosion, disrupts the water cycle and impacts plants and wildlife. We have to protect what is left and we have the power to help the institutions that try to protect these areas of natural beauty.
The Audubon Society aims to teach the public about these beautiful places and their sustainable use. It is a non-governmental membership-based organisation and they are always looking for new members.
If you want to help protect and support Belize’s protected areas, provide environmental education for the youth and stakeholders and aid advocacy for stronger policies that govern conservation, then visit the following link www.belizeaudubon.org/membership.html
We hope you enjoy hiking in Cockscomb Wildlife Basin in Belize, the first Jaguar Reserve in the world. Do you like hiking? Where is your favourite place to hike? Let us know in the comments box below.