Cockcomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is recognized internationally as the world’s first jaguar preserve. It is also known for its spectacular waterfalls, mountain views, nature trails, and rich diversity of neotropical birds. The tracks of wildcats, tapir, deer, and other wildlife are often seen on hiking trails or along the bank of South Stann Creek. Plan an extended visit so that you can appreciate all that Cockscomb has to offer. The park has cabins and campgrounds for overnight visitors. Please visit our accommodation page for more details.
People who understand the value of Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary know that it is much more than a natural area set aside for jaguars. The area was also designated to protect the upper watersheds of important river systems that deliver ecosystem services to people. Cockscomb has two distinctive basins, which are separated by a ridge of land. The East Basin drains into South Stann Creek and the West Basin drains into Swasey River, a tributary of Monkey River. In the Maya Mountain extension of the Sanctuary is Trio Branch, this ultimately drains into Monkey River Watershed.
Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is a reservoir for biodiversity. Hundreds of species of plants with exotic leaves and flowers, colorful insects, singing birds, furry mammals, scaly reptiles, and wide-eyed amphibians live in this complex tropical forest community. Each one has a function that serves the community as a whole. Each one is adapted to the conditions that make the community unique. The mosaic of ecosystems in this rugged landscape suggests the limited extent of our knowledge of the Sanctuary’s biodiversity.
"The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is a magical place where wonders and diversity are accessible to both the casual and serious visitor."
World Wildlife Fund
The forest at Cockscomb is a tropical moist forest. Warm temperatures and high rainfall with very little wind make the forest humid all the time. Tropical moist forests are 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 (February to May). It is still very wet- with about 100 inches of rainfall every year. A weather station maintained by the Forestry Department at Cabbage Haul Gap fire tower has been collecting weather data since 1965. Rainfall in the Basin is probably higher, making it one of Belize's wetter areas.
Tropical forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Not only does this negatively impact the plants and wildlife, but the water cycle itself is disrupted, and the consequence is increased erosion because there is no vegetation to act as a "buffer" to hold the water in the plants and soils. We must carefully protect what is left because humans are members of the forest community with the power to conserve or destroy it.
The History of Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
In the early 1980’s, concern for the jaguars of Belize was raised from two different places. James Hyde, Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Natural Resources had been approached by a concerned citrus farmer who had encountered jaguars in his orchard. At the same time, Archie Carr III, Assistant Director of the International Division of the New York Zoological Society, ran across references to jaguars in Belize in hunting magazines. He was in contact with Dora Weyer and asked if BAS would like a study of jaguars in Belize. Alan Rabinowitz, a graduate student at the time, was commissioned to determine the jaguar population.
Through Dr. Alan Rabinowitz's ecological study conducted between 1982 and 1984, it was observed that the Cockscomb Basin contained the highest density of jaguars ever recorded. Therefore, in 1984, the area was initially declared a forest reserve with a “No Hunting” ordinance to protect the large jaguar population and other wildlife that make this place their home. However, after much concern that the Cockscomb Basin Forest Reserve was not protecting the jaguars' habitat, a small portion of the Reserve was declared a wildlife sanctuary on February 26, 1986.
Ignacio Pop and his son, Pedro, were hired as the first wardens. On February 6, 1988, His Royal Highness Prince Philip, International President of the World Wildlife Fund, visited Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. He presented an award to Ignacio Pop and planted a mahogany tree. When you visit Cockscomb you can see how tall the tree has grown and visit with Mr. Pop, who still works at the park.
Over the years the Sanctuary has expanded from 3,600 acres to 128,000 acres. The Maya Mountain extension in the south connects Cockscomb with Bladen Nature Reserve. This makes a continuous corridor of protected areas totaling 250,000 acres.
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.
By Plane Flights are available from Belize City to Dangriga (Maya Island Air or Tropic Air) and take approximately 20 minutes. From Dangriga either take a taxi (US$75) to Cockscomb or take a bus to Punta Gorda and ask to stop at Maya Center.
Plan Your Visit
Hours of Operation
Nationals- BZ $2.50
Non-nationals- BZ $10.00
Did You Know?
The jaguar is the largest spotted cat in the world.