Summiting Victoria Peak in Belize

by Carolee Chanona

Rising abruptly from the lowlands, the jagged Cockscomb Mountains are an impressive mass of rock visible from the coast. Within this range, Victoria Peak Natural Monument boasts the title of the highest mountain. And with a height of 1,120 meters, Victoria Peak is also the second-highest elevation in Belize. During Belize’s dry season, hikers have a unique chance to conquer the 27-kilometer Victoria Peak Trail. 

“Dead Man’s Camp” 

The odyssey begins within the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary’s park headquarters – the last bit of civilized comfort and online distractions. The innocent Victoria Peak Trail signage gives way to a mostly flat old logging track that twists northwest towards the Peak itself. A quick stopover at the 13km helipad includes a refreshing respite at the provided picnic tables along the banks of the Sittee River, as well as a chance to take in the expedition ahead. ATVs are available up to this point.

Epidendrum ibaguense

Epidendrum ibaguense. Image via Belize Audubon Society

Most groups are able to push through to 19 km on Day 1; the ascending and descending undulations quickly change to up, up and up. “Heartbreak Hill” does not shy away from its name, but make sure to look around while catching your breath. Fresh Jaguar prints in the soft sand will create new motivation and remind you that you’re in one of the earth’s last truly wild places. With the shift in altitude and humidity, you’ll soon reap high elevation species such as Brown Violet Ear Hummingbirds, Crested Eagles, and the Fiery-Colored Orchid (Epidendrum ibaguense). At “Deadman’s Camp” a.k.a 19 km, enjoy a well-deserved massage from the mini-waterfall and stream. Over a campfire, share stories of the day with a soothing bowl of carb-loading noodles; licking flames will synchronize with laughter and counter the cool night air of the jungle.

27 Kilometers to Summit 

Image via Jacob Koop

Exhaustion teases on Day 2 but is quickly replaced by the exciting prospect of standing tall upon the heights of the Maya Mountains to marvel at its beauty from 360 degrees. Today, you’ll need an essentials-only daypack, a deep breath, and one foot in front of the other. The moist, dwarfed elfin forest starts the final ascent from “The Saddle” to Summit. Rope and harnesses are necessary for the short rock gulley climb amongst a sphagnum moss blanket, but with a final push of both exertion and exhilaration – you’ve made it!


A stretch before the summit requires a short climb. Image via Harvey Valenzona

All the while, the emerald expanse of the Stann Creek District fans out in the distance below. Whether you reach the summit or not, standing in awe of a mountain is one of the few experiences that leave us feeling rooted – fully connected to the world and its intricacies. Victoria Peak Natural Monument is no exception to being a pocket of wonder and refuge to those looking for a deeper connection than WiFi.

Victoria Peak Natural Monument

Image courtesy Roni Martinez.

The VPNM trail is reserved for intrepid hikers. Choosing to embark on the 27 km one-way trail requires the company of a licensed tour guide. After all, there is magnetism in wild places – one that calls to us on a spiritual level. Surely a bucket list item for the self-proclaimed weekend warrior, connect to a higher sense of adventure in Belize with the Victoria Peak Natural Monument. 

Victoria Peak Trail

Photo by Carolee Chanona

All groups must book in advance with the protected area co-manager, Belize Audubon Society (BAS). Both Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Victoria Peak Natural Monument are BAS sites. For non-profit and non-governmental organizations like BAS, sustainable tourism is used as a tool for conservation. 

Feature Photo courtesy Belize My Travels
This article was first published on May 2nd, 2020.

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