Posts tagged ‘belize’

See a Jaguar in Belize

By Jacob Aldridge

Today’s Itinerary

How did you sleep last night? It’s hard to be fully rested when you know there are jaguars (and 4 other big cat species) wandering around outside – every rustle, every noise, makes you wonder what’s happening.

How many jaguars are left in Belize?

Less than 800 – will we see one? Photo by Eric Terdal, CC License

Whichever genius in the everydaydream holiday group brought ingredients for a cooked breakfast deserves to be knighted! What a fantastic start to a Tuesday that will involve a lot of hiking and swimming in our quest to experience the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary (where we arrived last night).

There’s no fixed location in the 128,000 acre sanctuary where you are guaranteed to see jaguars (or any of the other big cats – Puma, Ocelot, Jaguarundi, or Margay). Rather than wander aimlessly and hope, we’ve planned a day that will be a lot of fun even if the cats stay away.

Jaguar Crossing Sign

Of course, there’s no guarantee they will cross while you wait! Photo by ambertq, CC License

Our main destination is Tiger Fern falls, actually two waterfalls that are an easy-enough walk through the sanctuary. We reach the first not long after the heat of the day sets in, so it’s a blissful hour spent swimming here. Cockscomb (named after the nearby mountain that looks like a rooster’s comb) is not exactly a secret, but it’s hardly an easy tourist destination to access. Add to that remoteness the sheer size of the sanctuary, and it’s entirely possible to spend a few days camping and hiking here without coming across another human. Certainly, our swim feels more like a private experience than a public pool.

Waterfall Swimming! Photo by ambertq, CC License

Waterfall Swimming! Photo by ambertq, CC License

We turn, and begin the hike (via a different path) back out. Naturalists (not to be confused with Naturists especially when travelling) are confident that there remain many undiscovered species within the Cockscomb Basic, particularly in the harder to access West Basin. There’s every chance our group could be the first people in the world to spot a specific species of butterfly or plant – although, unless you’re a botanist with Central American expertise, I doubt you’ll know it when you see it!

And just when we begin to feel that this trip – amazing as it has been – would end without spotting a big cat, there one is. The jaguar is only outgrown by the lions of Africa and the Tigers of Asia – it’s large, gorgeous, endangered (hence the sanctuary), and intimidating even as it moves softly through the jungle some way off the path. It feels almost rude to photograph the cat, infringing as we are upon his preserve. For the few moments he (and, based on the size, it’s definitely a male) is visible, our whole group feels like they’re holding their breath – nobody wants to disturb the moment.

What's that through those trees?

JAGUAR! Photo by Brian Fagan, CC License

And that’s the moment we will hold with us tonight. Probably for longer, but definitely for tonight as we embark on another Central American overnight bus experience. Last weekend we boarded in a city and ended on a tropical paradise; and tonight will be the same, as we don a cardigan and climb aboard the notoriously chilly overnight bus from Belize City to Cancun, Mexico.

Want to go? Need to know!

Does anybody think we spent too little time in Belize City? What are your tips for long bus rides? Share them with the world in the comments below.

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Waving the Flag in Belize City

By Jacob Aldridge

Today’s Itinerary

There’s something special about starting a new day on island. Even when you know the plan is to head back to the mainland (and we have a mid-morning water taxi back to Belize City), it really does feel like you are completely separated from any worldly concerns you may have. Caye Caulker, off the cost of Belize, certainly feels that way.

Belize City boats

Lobster Boats in the harbour of Belize City. Photo by Roger4336, CC License

Our first destination after the water taxi delivers us to Belize City (and we walk across the manually controlled Swing Bridge) is the Museum of Belize, an opportunity to brush up on our history (not really) and see inside the former prison cells (really). The permanent exhibits here are a juxtaposition of the English colony (stamps and coins for example) and the much older indigenous history of the region (Maya Masterpieces is a must).

The history of Belize is emblazoned on their national flag, and the imagery there is so rich that their flag contains more colours than the flag of any other nation (12 in total, the next nearest is 9). And the flag forms a highlight in the Museum tour, where you can see a torn and dirty example that was found in the ruins of the World Trade Centre, after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Unlike the neighbouring Guatemala which was properly settled by the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th Century, Belize was controlled as a British Colony from 1862 to 1981; English remains the official language. So when someone in Guatemala says “look at the Colonial buildings”, expect to see ruins and bungalows up to 400 years old (oh, and they’ll probably say “mirar los edificios coloniales”); when someone in Belize says “look at the Colonial buildings”, expect grand houses from the mid 1800s!

Government House Belize City

Government House, a Belize House of Culture. Photo by Roger4336, CC License

One such example is today’s Government House, originally built in 1815 and opened to the public as an event venue in 1998. There are art exhibits on display here, but our visit is from the outside and as an opportunity to feel some more of Central America’s varied history. Continuing the flag theme, it was here in 1981 that Belize’s national flag was official raised for the first time.

And take a look at the brick Cathedral of St John across the road – it’s the oldest Anglican Church in Central America. (Which, to be fair, is a bit like pointing out the oldest Mayan Temple in Great Britain.)

And then, surprise surprise, there’s another bus trip to enjoy! (Experience? Survive? If you missed our tips for long bus rides, you can read them here.) This one is not so bad, 3.5 hours from Belize City in the direction of Punta Gorda. We’re travelling with James Bus Lines – and while they’re excellent, we can’t say the same for the roads!

We’re delighted to be exiting the bus, and just in time to grab our tickets at the Maya Center adjacent to (well, a $US15 taxi ride from) the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary.

Welcome to Cockscombe Basin Wildlife Sanctuary

Welcome to Cockscombe Basin. Photo by ambertq, CC License

This sanctuary protects all five of Belize’s big cats: Jaguar, Puma, Ocelot, Jaguarundi, and Margay. While coming out here meant extra time in a bus, it was well worth it as we settle into our ‘White House’ accommodation within the Cockscomb Basin. There’s just enough time as the sun sets to cook our dinner in the kitchen provided, and base ourselves on the screened-in verandah to watch the evening wildlife emerge.

What is a jaguarundi?

What is a jaguarundi? This is a jaguarundi! Photo by Alena Houšková, CC License

What is a Margay cat?

What is a Margay? This is a Margay! Photo by Malene Thyssen, CC License

No Jaguars tonight – we might have to look further afield tomorrow.

Want to go? Need to know!

  • Water Taxis run regularly between Caye Caulker and Belize City.
  • Looking for a place to eat in Belize City? We could suggest one, but really you want to read this article from the fabulous San Pedro Scoop.
  • The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary offers a range of places to sleep, depending on your travel preferences (flush toilet or pit latrine?) and the number of people you’re travelling with (we find dormitory bedding adds to a group holiday experience, and detracts from a couple’s romantic weekend in Belize!)

Does anybody think we spent too little time in Belize City? What are your tips for long bus rides? Share them with the world in the comments below.