Not far from Itz'ana, about an hour's drive into the forested interior of Central Belize, one of the world's most beautiful and elusive predators gracefully slinks across the damp terrain. It's a jaguar, and it lives in Belize's Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, the world's only jaguar reserve.
Cockscomb Basin covers about 150 square miles of lush, second-growth tropical rainforest. Canopy heights reach a towering 120 feet, fed by up to 180 inches of rain annually, which collects in the basin's countless creeks running down the surrounding mountains.
Since 1984, this precious ecosystem has been protected as a forest preserve, with extra protection coming two years later when the park became a jaguar preserve as well. It's Central America's premier habitat for the endangered mammal, the third largest big cat in the world.
We're so excited to offer our visitors the chance to explore Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, not only because of the opportunity to see jaguars, but also to experience the reserve's other wonders as well. After all, the jaguar isn't the only animal to benefit from a pristine jungle. Also residing in the forest? Other cats like the magnificent puma and ocelot, pint-sized jaguarundi and margay, as well as other mammals like otters, tayra weasels, peccaries, tapirs, howler monkeys, and adorably-round pacas. And that's not even talking about the birdlife. More than 300 species have been recorded in the reserve, including colorful toucans which are Belize's national bird (read all about these birds on our sister resort's blog).
Guests at Itz'ana will want to visit Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary with Doyle Gardiner. Raised right here in Placencia, he was mentored by Belize legend Dave Vernon, who founded the country's National Tour Guide program. Gardiner leads night excursions through the jaguar preserve with his company D Tourz (fun fact: Gardiner's girlfriend, Annalise, is a marine biologist and photographer who has lived in Placencia for the better part of the last decade. Her parents are even homeowners at Itz'ana!). After a hearty dinner near the park, Gardiner takes his small expedition of explorers on a two-hour hike through the jungles before river tubing through the darkness.
Not into a night tour? Gardiner also leads day trips as well, wandering the rainforest and learning about the different types of trees, spotting tarantulas, and drinking fresh water from a hanging vine. Adventurous guests can also try termites—which Gardiner swears taste like mint. He also has an exclusive permit to use the park's rocky slopes as waterslides, so make sure to bring your bathing suit!
Another opportunity for guests to experience Cockscomb Basin like a local is to do what Itz'ana Sales Manager Shay Todd does. On weekend mornings, she gets up early with her friends to drive to the reserve for a rainforest run. If you leave Itz'ana by 7am, you could be back in time for a well-deserved brunch!
The Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Preserve is one of Belize's true natural treasures, and we're so excited for our guests to be able to experience it! Stay up to date on our tour offerings by signing up for a newsletter.