Stann Creek, Belize
“Take only photographs Leave only footprints”
A light drizzle has just transformed into a rush of water pouring down on us as we listened to Doyle, the self proclaimed best tour guide of Cockscomb in all of Belize, enthusiastically tell us how an American man named Alan Rabinowitz had struggled for years to convince the powers that be that the damp, mushy soil we stood on must be conserved to keep wild jaguars from becoming extinct.
Thanks to the efforts of Mr. Rabinowitz Belize is home to the world’s first and only Jaguar preserve – the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, 150 square miles of land restricted from hunting, fishing, logging or any other kind of habitat destruction. This area of tropical forest is unique, the first and only sanctuary set up for the conservation of Jaguars. The Jaguar Preserve offers incredible hiking trails through pristine lush jungle filled with wildlife, rivers and waterfalls. Although there’s an estimated 200 Jaguars living in the preserve its likely you could hike here everyday for years and never lay your eyes one.
Not letting the now slight sprinkle deter us we trekked into the bright green jungle, so beautiful I can’t help but feel like we might stumble upon a National Geographic crew making their next film right around the dirt trail we were headed on. The first part of our all-day tour was to learn about the plant’s and their natural uses to the Mayans who roamed this land.
Pictured above are Malay apples – a sweet fruit that turns red when ripe. We found a single ripe fruit hidden on the ground and gave it a bite – as my teeth carved their way into it a sweet juice dripped from my lips. It tasted like a cross between a red apple and a pear.
Next we saw pineapple and cashew trees. Cashews grow individually from the bottom of the cashew fruit and are encased in a toxic skin that has to be carefully removed before exposing the edible and tasty nut inside. Doyle told us of his youth, selling the roasted cashews to make a buck – and the long, grueling process of creating a finished tasty product by hand. Eating a can full of cashews will never be taken for granted again.
After a short rest and some amazing Belizean lunch, we hiked to the river which we would inner-tube down until intersecting another trail; leading us to a waterfall.
Surprisingly, few bugs were letting their presence be known, but one was not the least bit shy, or hard to find. Leafcutter ants were busy going about their day, running up and down their ant-highways with chopped up leaves on their backs.
Tubing down the river was great fun, dodging branches and vines along the way… due to recent weather the water level was high, and the current fairly swift.
After exiting the river all I could see ahead was the incline of the hill we had to tackle next, soaking wet, in mosquito infested bush. Under Doyle’s direction we made a hasty retreat up the hill with the pesky blood sucking insects hot on our trail. A solid 15 minutes and a couple dead mosquitoes later I couldn’t tell if I was still soaked from the river or my own sweat. Just as our legs began to fatigue the slightest sound could be heard, the familiar noise of water being pulled down by gravity onto rocks. It was sweet music to my ears. We had reached the waterfall and wasted no time testing the temperature and jumped right in.
The cool water was refreshing and rejuvenating. We swam inside and took a shower, wiping away the layered mixture of dirty water, sweat and bug repellent. Next we were off to slide down the rocky creek and back to civilization. See one of the many fun rock slides in the video below:
As we left the creek behind and headed back this magical place offered one last surprise.
Before anyone could speak a word I was on my hands and knees, crawling while trying to focus my camera. I shot photos while simultaneously admiring the bright green reptile’s stunning beauty. It was a four or five foot long bright green parrot snake, non venomous for those of you that are reading this and freaking out.
It was the perfect end to a great day at the Cockscomb Wildlife Sanctuary.
Tips before visiting:
- Bring insect repellent
- Wear light clothes, it’s hot and humid
- Bring water, stay hydrated
- Don’t forget the insect repellent
If you’re staying near Placencia ask around for Doyle, or DTourz (no website currently). He came highly recommended and I can’t imagine anyone giving a better tour of the preserve than him. The price (from any company) run roughly $80 USD per person.