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Top tips for jaguar spotting in Belize

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The elusive big cats have been the subject of many Central American adventures and, as home to the world’s first jaguar sanctuary, Belize is the perfect destination to spot these felines in the wild.

Although they are found from Arizona to Argentina, it is Belize that is home to one of the healthiest populations of jaguars in the world. The famed big cats are the largest in the Western hemisphere and live within the lowland forests and coastal areas. Although jaguar numbers in Central America continue to decrease, the anti-poaching laws in Belize and the existence of nature reserves such as the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary mean that population numbers remain healthy. Due to the protected status, nature enthusiasts flock to the region to spot the notoriously stealthy cat in its natural habitat.

The jaguar is doing well in its protected Belize habitat

The jaguar is doing well in its protected Belize habitat

Perched on the eastern coast of the continent, Belize is the youngest nation in Central America and home to verdant green jungles, the beautiful Maya Mountain range, exquisite coastlines and ancient ruins of the Mayan kingdom. The vast network of national parks, nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries makes Belize the perfect destination for nature and wildlife enthusiasts looking to see some of the world’s most sought-after creatures in their natural habitat.

The keel-billed toucan inhabits the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary

The keel-billed toucan inhabits the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary

The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, a nature reserve in south-central Belize, is often the first stop on any wildlife adventurer’s journey to Central America; the protected region is home to mature forests, fauna and extensive watersheds as well as a host of mammals, reptiles and birds who have made their home on the eastern slopes of the Maya Mountains. The reserve, founded in 1990, was the first wildlife sanctuary set up to protect jaguars in their natural habitat and is regarded by many to be the premier site for their preservation in the world. This lush jungle setting has allowed for a safe habitat for the jaguars to be established and for them to reproduce, something which has greatly aided the number of the big cats remaining in the wild to remain stable. Another phenomenal spot in Belize to sight jaguars in the wild is the Gallon Jug area which forms part of Central America’s jaguar corridor. Marc di Brita of Chan Chich Lodge, a 130,000 acre private reserve in Gallon Jug and Belize’s premier jungle retreat, has a few top tips for spotting the jaguar in the wild.

Where is the best place in Belize to spot jaguars?

Over 44% of the land in Belize is protected as either a nature reserve or national park which provides plenty of opportunities to embrace the beauty of the region and the fantastic animals and birds that can be found there. Eco resorts provide the best opportunity to catch sight of exotic animals in their natural habitat, as lodges tend to employ local guides who have grown up on the land and know the trusted trails inside out. This lifelong experience and extensive first-hand knowledge of the region helps to ensure visitors have the best chance of spotting a jaguar in the wild. 

When is the best time of year to spot jaguars in Belize?

Big cats are most active during the height of the rainy season in June and July; visiting during these months definitely increases your chances of spotting a jaguar in the wild however they are often spotted as late as December if you’re in the right place. For those looking for a little sunshine with their wildlife adventures, the veteran guides at the Chan Chich resort recommend any time between October and December as the best time of year to spot big cats in the wild.

You stand the best chance of seeing a jaguar in the wild in Belize

You stand the best chance of seeing a jaguar in the wild in Belize

The animals tend to be less nervous during the rainy season which runs from mid-June to November, as the beating of the rain helps to disguise their sound as they prowl through the jungle. Visiting during the tail end of this period has proved successful for many of the guests at Chan Chich. It’s always best to remember that as jaguars are nocturnal creatures, your best chance of spotting one will be late in the evening so be prepared to stay up late.

What other animals can be spotted in the region? 

There are many reasons to visit Belize’s jaguar corridor. Our nature reserve is also home to many other members of the big cat family: jaguarundis - a small wild cat native to the region; margays - a small, solitary nocturnal feline; oselots - more commonly known as the dwarf leopard; and cougars. In addition to the big cats there are over 44 species of bats to be spotted, as well as Yucatan Black Howler and American Spider monkeys, tapirs, grey foxes and coyotes.

A howler monkey

A howler monkey

Beyond the mammal population, the forests of Belize are home to a vast variety of birds ranging from toucans to hawk eagles, black-throated shrike tanagers, tody motmots, and slaty-tailed trogons, perfect for any keen twitcher. Keen-eyed visitors can spot over 570 bird species in nature reserves across Belize, a vast variety of reptiles both in and out of the water, the ever-present howler monkeys as well as their larger feline friends.

How long would you recommend staying at a nature reserve to have the best chance of spotting a big cat?

To stand the best chance of spotting a jaguar a three- to four-night stay is recommended. The longer the time spent in Belize, the more opportunities there will be to catch a glimpse of the mysterious feline.

Belize is the perfect destination for nature enthusiasts, thrill seekers and those looking to relax in an exotic and enchanting environment. British tour operator, Belize Revealed, specialises in creating tailor-made travel packages to the region, ranging from single-destination escapes to multicentre adventures. The team is able to use their extensive knowledge of the region to create bespoke itineraries, ensuring that you’re able to make the most of your holiday. From arranging travel and transfers to hotels and excursions, Belize Revealed can help you create a truly individual experience. Contact the team to start planning your next escape on www.belizerevealed.co.uk  or 01932 424252.