National Parks, Reserves and Protected Areas in Belize

by Larry Waight
Tiger Fern Summit Cockscomb Hiking

Many visitors to Belize are astounded by its natural beauty and its many ecological treasures. The Government of Belize knows that the country’s future is closely tied to preserving its natural environment and promoting eco-tourism. After all, almost half the country is under protection; this includes protected areas, marine reserve or wildlife sanctuary. Here are just a few you should not miss.

Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary

The world’s first jaguar preserve is a magnificently scenic park where you can spot several different big cats including ocelots, jaguars, and pumas. That is, if you’re in luck! Co-managed by the Belize Audubon Society, the sanctuary covers more than 128,000 acres of pristine, unspoiled mountains, rainforest, lakes, waterfalls, and wetlands. You can walk along well-marked trails and look for toucans, hummingbirds, gibnut, and even pecarries. Conveniently, the sanctuary is about 20 miles south of Dangriga in southern Belize.

cockscomb basin

All Belize Audubon Society parks have reopened and are Gold Standard certified. 

Shark Ray Alley

This protected waterway lies just outside the Belize Barrier Reef, which is itself a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the second-largest coral reef in the world. Besides, Shark Ray Alley is a prime breeding and feeding area for manta rays and nurse sharks, all of which are harmless to humans but impressive to watch. If you want to snorkel or scuba dive around these sea creatures, your guide must have a special government license.

Rio Bravo Conservation Area

red bracket deer programme for belize ecotourism

The Rio Bravo Conservation Management Area is likely one of your best places to spot wildlife.

This huge, densely forested conservation area shares land with the massive Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala and the Kalakmul Reserve in Mexico. Encompassing more than 250,000 acres of protected forest, it is home to hundreds of exotic birds and tropical tree species. The conservation area is home to all of Belize’s native species of big cats including jaguars, jaguarundi, margay, ocelots, and pumas. Explore with Programme for Belize

Hol Chan Marine Reserve

Located close to Ambergris Caye, Hol Chan is the oldest preservation project in Belize and one of its most precious. It began as a community effort to stem the destruction of habitats from fishing and diving. Today, the reserve is internationally recognized as an important marine reserve. It is filled with colorful creatures including corals, rays, sea turtles, manatees, eels, barracudas, and seahorses. Visitors can boat, kayak, scuba dive or snorkel in the reserve.

hol chan

Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve

This reserve stands out because it’s the only one in Belize that isn’t tropical rainforest or jungle. The reserve protects more than 100,000 acres of evergreen trees marked by granite hills, the Maya mountains and some of the most impressive waterfalls in Belize. It is famous for its many lakes, pools, and streams where you can swim in pure, sparkling water. The reserve is close to San Ignacio in the Cayo District.

mountain pine ridge road

Shipstern Conservation and Management Area

If you are a bird enthusiast, you must visit this top birding site located about an hour from Orange Walk Town. Not to mention, the reserve includes the Butterfly Breeding Center and the Shipstern Lagoon. It is a combination of wetlands and rainforest; the area protects hundreds of bird species including egrets, kingfishers, flycatchers, toucans, macaws, parrots, eagles and coots. However, the reserve is also home to a variety of wildlife including armadillos, lizards, crocodiles, tapirs, pumas, margays, deer, foxes and raccoons. 

Header photo via Instagram @helenaontherocks

Related Articles