No trip to Belize would be complete without a day spent trekking through the humid and dense jungle, navigating through muddy terrain, seeing prints left by jaguars and pressing forward with that distinct feeling that something or someone is quietly watching you.
The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary provides this experience in spades. It’s 150 miles of protected tropical forest with trails for all fitness levels. These trails lead to utopian waterfalls where you’re unlikely to encounter another human.
It’s also the world’s only jaguar preserve providing a home to over 200 of these stealthy felines. If you’re worried, though, about becoming a jaguar buffet, relax. These cats hunt at night and it’s highly unlikely you’ll spy more than a paw print as you venture forth.
The sanctuary is run by the Belize Audubon Society and entrance into the park is $10.00 US. When you arrive you’ll see a small visitor center/gift shop on your right. Stop and pay a visit inside where you can get the low down on all your hiking options.
If it’s early, you may want to tackle a trail called The Outlier. This takes 6-8 hours and is fairly challenging.
Or if you’re really feeling ambitious, you can set out with a guide on the 3-4 day excursion to Victoria Falls and really earn some bragging rights.
But for those of us wanting a more pleasurable trek with enough oomph to provide a workout, but not so much that you’ll want to collapse in your hotel room instead of going out for cocktails at the end of the day, one of the moderate trails suits just fine.
The employee in the visitor center will happily direct you over to a bridge that leads dead into the jungle with plenty of mud, plant life, and hundreds of species to birds to watch out for. You’ll also pass a wrecked plane.
Further in the mud ceases, but the terrain gets steep. You’ll have help climbing though, with plenty of well anchored ropes with which to hoist yourself up.
A bit further along the way, after the need for the ropes has ended, you’ll come upon exactly what you’ve been looking for: a private paradise right out of Fantasy Island, complete with a pool to swim in and a gorgeous waterfall.
To get the most out of this experience, my advice is to make a few preparations: wear good boots, a swimsuit and shorts (it’ll be hot and humid) and carry a good amount of water. Bring water shoes if you can to help navigate yourself into the pool from the rocks. Also bring bug spray and plan to reapply.
And if you do spot a jaguar, don’t panic. It’s just more material for that great hiking story you’re going to tell over cocktails at the end of the day.
Brett Renee Stone is a managing partner and director of communications for Palm Reef Resort.