By: Hev Nguyen
This is the last post in a series of four detailing a recent trip to Belize. Links for the previous posts are located at the end.
Waking up on our last full day in Belize was a bittersweet feeling. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Maya Beach and was not quite ready for it to end. Thankfully, we had a fun adventure scheduled for the day. Upon the recommendation of our hotel staff, we planned a hike through the Cockscomb Jaguar Preserve.
The guide picked us up at 8 am and we drove north off of the peninsula into the mainland. Along the way, banana plantations lined the roadway. Our guide was kind enough to stop and explain how the farmers protected the crop and other facts about growing bananas. Next, we stopped at a small store- “Maya Center Women’s Craft Shop”. My husband and I looked around and purchased a few souvenirs, while the guide prepped lunch for later in the day.
We drove along a mostly dirt and gravel road for a few miles into the jungle until we reached the Jaguar Preserve. After a few minutes of getting settled, our guide explained how and why the Cockscomb Jaguar Preserve was created.
The World’s First Jaguar Preserve— Concerned about jaguar killing by trophy hunters and people who considered it a threat to livestock, in 1982 the Belize Audubon Society asked the New York Zoological Society to asses jaguar abundance in Belize and recommend a suitable area for a Jaguar Reserve.
Alan Rabinowitz was recruited to conduct the study on jaguars in Belize. More than anywhere else in Belize he found that Cockscomb Basin had a remarkably high jaguar density and was an ideal location for a jaguar preserve.
In a two year study these traps were used to capture seven jaguars. Once fitted with radio collars and released, they were tracked with antennas to find out what they needed to survive. The results of this study were used to establish Cockscomb as the world’s first Jaguar Preserve.
The history surrounded the creation of the preserve was fascinating. Currently, there are 63 jaguars located inside the preserve. Tourists or hikers are unlikely to encounter any jaguars, but there is evidence of their presence throughout the hike. We saw one jaguar foot print and our guide kept mentioning when he smelled jaguar urine (I could not smell it..).
Throughout the hike, our guide taught us about how the Mayans utilized many of the plants in the jungle for medicinal purposes.
After a couple hours, we returned to the front main entrance and enjoyed lunch at the picnic tables. Then, we changed and prepared to go tubing in Stann Creek. The water was calm and we were able to enjoy the jungle from a much different (and cooling) perspective.
At the exit of our tubing adventure, we began to hike back. Almost immediately, our guide noticed a group of howler monkeys. He started imitating their noises to get the monkeys riled up. Clearly, they are called howler monkeys because of the loud deep howl they make. The monkeys were high in the trees, but would jump from branch to branch and shake leaves down to the floor. It was exciting to be so close to these creatures- basically interacting with them- while in their natural habitat.
We decided to continue forward and hiked up to see one of the waterfalls. Our guide was full of energy and ran ahead of us several times, making us wonder if we were lost. We enjoyed having a guide who was extremely knowledgeable about the wildlife and Mayan history, but also laughing and enjoying himself along with us. The hike to the waterfall is full of very narrow ups and downs, so others should be warned that slipping, tripping and/or falling is almost guaranteed to happen. As we got closer, we could hear the rush of the waterfall and then a couple minutes later we arrived. It was beautiful!
We enjoyed the cooling water and each took a turn underneath the waterfall. The pressure of the water is intense, yet exhilarating. My husband decided to wander off a bit on his own and discovered a natural water slide nearby. I very carefully climbed over the wet slippery rocks to join him. As the stream continued, the water flowed over a group of rocks. The constant pressure created a smooth natural water slide into a separate pool of water. Unfortunately, I did not take any pictures because getting to this area meant immersing ourselves completely in water and my camera for the moment was my phone. We took turns on the water slide and then carefully climbed back to the waterfall where our guide was waiting.
It seemed like a much shorter hike back to the main trail and finally back to the entrance. According to my phone, our total hike was just over six miles and included the equivalent of 41 flights of stairs.
I highly recommend visiting the Cockscomb Jaguar Preserve. Tourists and hikers are permitted without a guide (there is a small entry fee), but I would encourage having a guide teach you about the history of the preserve, the wildlife and how the Mayans utilized the resources of the jungle. The excursion was extremely educational, but also full of adventure.
Read more about our trip to Belize: