Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary Day & Night Hiking Guide

Hiking views at the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Preserve
Reading Time: 6 mins

The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, located in the tropical forests of the Stann Creek District, is famous for being the first Jaguar Preserve in the world and a top hiking destination in Belize.

The nature reserve spans over 128,000 acres, making it one of the largest protected areas in all of Belize. An estimated 200 jaguars live in the preserve, however, they are shy and the chances of seeing jaguars when hiking are slim. But don’t let that keep you away since there’s plenty of plants and wildlife to see!

Hiking the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Preserve

Visitors can explore dozens of hiking trails at the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Preserve where they’ll discover spectacular waterfalls, beautiful mountain views, and plenty of wildlife beyond the rare jaguar sighting. The wildlife sanctuary is home to numerous plants and animals, including margays, deer, ocelots, pumas, howler monkeys, tapirs, and around 330 species of native and migratory birds.

Here are day and night hiking guides to the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary:

1. Day Hiking Guide

Maya Center Village entrance sign

Getting to the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Preserve involves driving down the Southern Highway for about 20 minutes from Hopkins, or 35 minutes from Dangriga, until meeting the turnoff point to the lovely traditional village of Maya Center. The Maya Center Village serves as the entrance to the wildlife sanctuary.

There are a number of tour operators that can take you to the Cockscomb from Hopkins, including Hamanasi Adventure & Dive Resort. Hamanasi’s tour shuttle typically leaves at 7:00 AM, heading down the Southern Highway for about 20 minutes before stopping for a bit at Maya Center Village, where you can view and purchase traditional Mayan arts and crafts. 

Visitor Center at the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
Visitor Center at the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Preserve

Following this, the shuttle turns off the paved highway and onto the dirt road, driving for another 30 minutes through the beautiful forest until arriving at the Jaguar Preserve visitor center/ museum. At the visitor center, you can learn about the history and ecosystems of the park. And after signing in, visitors can begin the deep jungle hike into the preserve.

The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is quite large, and since Jaguars are creatures that prefer to stay hidden, your chances of spotting a jaguar are very slim. Unless you count the park sign pictured below, which is seen by everyone as they enter the reserve.

Belize jaguar sign

The famous jaguar sign does make a good photo op but before long you’ll turn your attention to the many other beautiful animals and birds that flourish in the reserve.

With your guide’s trained eyes, you are likely to encounter many jungle residents while on the trails. Hikers often see deer, foxes, howler monkeys, and many beautiful birds, all which are truly spectacular. Sometimes you may even get to see a fresh jaguar paw print.

Tiger Fern Falls hiking trail

There are lots of trails to choose from, each with their own personality. My favorites include the Rubber Tree trail, the Wari Loop trail, and the Green Knowledge trail. The trails are well maintained with proper signage, but they are in their natural state and not paved.

Trails in the preserve range in difficulty from flat and relatively easy, to steep and strenuous, and each trail passes through the beautiful pristine rainforest leading to an amazing destination.  With so many options, you’ll be glad to have your guide plan a route that fits the interests and abilities of your group, and to explain some of the unique aspects of this incredible ecosystem.  

Swim at the waterfalls at the Cockscomb Basin

If you like beautiful waterfalls and enjoy mountain views, chose the Ben’s Bluff trail, which offers spectacular views of the Cockscomb Basin and a secluded jungle swim. Be wary though, this trail can be a bit challenging. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes and long pants. After all, you are going deep into the tropical jungle!

2. Night Hiking Guide

Hiking trails at the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary

Yes! The Cockscomb trails can also be explored during the night! In fact, visitors of all ages often ask to do both day and night hikes on the same day, maybe even the same trail, and end up having totally different experiences. Some visitors, however, prefer only hiking the Cockscomb at night, since the temperatures are cooler and the hikes are less strenuous.

During Belize’s dry season, night hikes typically start at 6:45 PM when the sun sets. And during the wet season, the night hikes start at 6:15 PM since the sun sets sooner during this time of the year. Typically, the flatter trails of the easy trails section are great for night hikes. The most popular being the River Path Trail, the Curassow Trail, and the Rubber Tree Trail.

For every night hike, visitors will be given headlamps to spot animals. While they can’t see very far with the headlamps, there are some animals that come near enough to see. Hikers may catch glimpses of bare-throated tiger herons, marine toads, spectacled owls, barn owls, gibnuts, kinkajous, and tapirs. 

Many nocturnal creatures are seen during the Cockscomb night hike

They may also see wild pigs, actually, they would most likely only see a pair of small eyes in the darkness. A trained guide can also often spot wolf spiders or tarantulas, and occasionally, snakes. Many more animals can be heard but not spotted, and sometimes, you can even hear a rare jaguar call. 

Although hiking during the night may make you feel a bit on edge because of the darkness, you do not need to worry because this experience is totally safe. We just ask that you relax and take in the jungle as it comes alive with the sounds of nocturnal creatures.

Know before you go

1. Best time to visit the Cockscomb

At over 100 inches of rain per year, Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the wettest places in Belize, and often quite hot and humid.  February to May is typically a slightly cooler and slightly drier season, while September to March is the season for bird migrations, where the number of bird species present in the Sanctuary increases.  So February or March may be the best of both worlds.

2. What to wear

The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary allows for deep jungle hiking. Therefore you will need to wear sturdy hiking shoes and good hiking clothes that will keep you cool and protected. A lightweight long-sleeve shirt and long pants are recommended. Being adequately covered up is best since you want to avoid being a target for bugs. Also, don’t forget to bring a swimming suit or swimming trunks if you decide to do a hike that takes you to a waterfall or natural pool. 

3. What to bring

When hiking in the jungles of Belize, mosquitoes can be a problem, so bug repellent is key to keeping them away. For hot sunny days, sunscreen is a must, and if needed, rain gear for rainy days. Most importantly, bring a water bottle so that you stay hydrated.

4. What’s the cost

The cost of the Cockscomb hiking tour with Hamanasi is $85 USD per person. This includes an experienced tour guide, park-entry fee, refreshments such as water, lunch, and snacks, and towels if you go swimming.  Transportation is included to and from Hamanasi, but if you are not staying at Hamanasi and want to book with us, arrangements can be made for a local pickup elsewhere in Hopkins.

Guest post

Antonio Rash is a Belizean native, born and raised in Santa Teresa Village in the Toledo District. He has been a tour guide since 2007 and currently lives in Crique Sarco village Punta Gorda. He has been guiding tours in the Cockscomb with Hamanasi Resort since 2015 and loves visiting the jaguar preserve since it involves being close to animals and being one with the jungle. He is proud of his country and loves to show the guests his heritage, nature, and culture.



Reader Interactions


  1. Laura Bryant says

    Hi Lorenzo and Antonio!
    My husband and I would like to hike a long day and night hike when we are in Belize in June.
    What do we need to do to arrange this?
    We are able to enjoy strenuous walks as well as more moderate ones.
    Thank you!

  2. Helene Björncrantz says

    I’m interested of hire a guide for a nigiht and day hiking. We are 4 and like to go Sunday the 3 match

    Best regards Helene

  3. Elli says

    Hello, we would like to hire a Guide for the Park, please let me know if you have any contacts. Thank you!

  4. Shelly Zielinski says

    I will have my own transportation. I need a guide in the park for my group of 7. Email me if you have recommendations.

  5. Siva says

    Hello Lorenzo

    Thanks for the good article. I have my own transport – is it possible to hire a guide at the park entrance ?
    Please send me an email .


  6. Sadiyah says

    Hello! I’m looking for a hiking guy for a daytime hike if you have any contacts for one I would appreciate it so much tks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *