It’s no doubt that one of Belize’s largest draws is the diversity of animals that call our country home. From odd-looking national animals and having the only jaguar preserve in the world, travelers continuously flock to the deepest parts of Belize for a glimpse of the elusive ocelot or to pet scaled friends. If animals – furry or not – bring you joy, here are the best places in Belize to visit if you’re an animal lover.
- Community Baboon Sanctuary. Located in the eccentrically named village of Bermudian Landing in the Belize district, this baboon sanctuary is technically a misnomer. Home to thousands of howler monkeys, these swinging critters aren’t kept in cages – instead the sanctuary spans over 20 miles, and over 200 private landowners in seven villages have voluntarily pledged to conserve their land for the protection of the Black Howler Monkey habitat.
- Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Preserve. The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is the only known jaguar preserve in the world. The site is located in the Stann Creek district and easily accessible off the Southern Highway. Want to get a glimpse of a jaguar while there? The chance to see one is by going on an evening guided tour. If night hiking and giant predators are not for you, there are plenty of animals to see during the day, including pumas, margays, ocelots, kajous, deer, peccaries and tapirs.
- Iguana Conservation Project. Located in the adventure hub of San Ignacio, the Green Iguana Conservation Project is a favorite of many locals and travelers alike. They aim to conserve and look after the endangered Green Iguana species in Belize using interactive exhibits and programs to help educate visitors and create awareness among the general public. Here, visitors are given the opportunity to mingle with these wonderful reptiles and also learn about the incubation, hatching, rearing and releasing process.
- Belize Zoo. ‘The world’s Best Little Zoo’ as the locals say. Caring for orphaned, rehabilitated and rescued animals, the Belize Zoo is about an hour away from Belize City and perfect for a quick stop on your way to the Cayo District. Here, you’ll meet Lindo the jaguar, Cortland the Margay and the famous Sparks, the tapir! The establishment also hosts interactive tours where you get one-on-one supervised time with the animals.
- Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary. For the birders out there, Crooked Tree is a must-do when visiting the Belize District. Getting there is an adventure in itself, driving on a dirt road flanked by a lagoon. The Sanctuary spans 16,400 acres and includes more than 3,000 acres of lagoons, swamp and marsh. You can take a canoe for a close-up look at crocodiles, iguanas, turtles, coatis and (depending on luck and time of year) the jabiru stork. The peak time to spot some amazing birds is in the dry season, from November to May. However, on any given day you are likely to see 20 to 40 different species.
- Crocodile safari. If you’re really up for an adrenaline-inducing adventure, hop on a Crocodile safari night tour. On this river tour, you’ll be assisting an American Crocodile Education Sanctuary (ACES) trained guide in tagging crocodiles before gently releasing them back into the wild. Don’t worry, only 3-ft and under crocs are tagged!
- Shark Ray Alley. Crocodiles aren’t enough for you? How about sharks? Shark Ray Alley can be accessed from either San Pedro or Caye Caulker, and the experience keeps visitors reminiscing for years. On this boat tour, you’ll explore the protected Hol Chan Marine Reserve where nurse sharks and sting rays are often swimming about getting friendly with travelers. You can either jump in and swim among them for a thrill, or admire from atop the boat. Either way, it’s another experience on the Belize Bucket List.
- Gladden Spit Marine Reserve. Belize doesn’t only have nurse sharks, but whale sharks as well! During the period of March to June, divers make their way to the reserve known as Gladden Spit, just 30 miles east of Placencia, where whale sharks are said to roam during this season. The reserve is also known for its spectacular underwater life, so even if you don’t spot the (rare) whale shark, you can still enjoy the huge schools of spawning fish.
- Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary. An island located a few miles off the coast of Belize City, Swallow Caye is considered a wildlife sanctuary run by the Friends of Swallow Caye (FOSC). This a community-based non-profit focuses on the protection of manatees in the area. The group was organized in 1996 to promote the designation of this area as a Wildlife Sanctuary. Certain tours are able to take you to the protected area where after some patience, you’ll be rewarded with some manatee spotting as they graze on the sandy floors and come up for some air before diving back in again. If you’re super quiet, they’re bound to come close to the surface and say hi to passengers on the boat.
For more information on animal sanctuaries in Belize, feel free to email us at [email protected] or call us toll-free at 1-8800-624-0686.