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.