Belize has long been an up-and-coming backpacking destination, and when you consider its incredible Caribbean beaches, islands, and coastline, world-class scuba diving and snorkelling spots (including the Belize Barrier Reef, part of the second largest coral reef system in the world), and Mayan ruins hidden within untamed jungle, it’s not difficult to see why.
This deceptively diminutive nation at the top of Central America is also home to a tremendous diversity of wildlife, particularly marine life, making Belize an unmissable destination for any animal-lover, whether you’re interested in simply sampling it as a tourist, or want to get involved with the many ongoing volunteer and conservation projects there.
Here are just a few of the most amazing Belize wildlife experiences.
Hol Chan Marine Reserve
Part of the enormous Belize Barrier Reef, and not far from the popular Caye Caulker resort to the north of the country, Hol Chan comprises twenty square kilometres of protected coral reefs, seagrass beds (an important habitat for manatees), and mangrove forest.
Thousands visit every year to go scuba diving and snorkelling on the reserve, with different areas being suitable for different skill levels. Depending on the time of year (and a little bit of luck) there’s a chance to see the aforementioned manatees, alongside short-beaked dolphins, nursing sharks, sea turtles, and hundreds of species of fish. No two visits are ever quite the same.
Manatee Conservation Projects
West Indian manatees are one of Belize’s most famous natural residents, and although ongoing conservation efforts have successfully removed them from the endangered list, it remains a species under threat.
Working on a manatee conservation project not only offers you the chance to get up close and personal with these docile creatures, but also perform crucial work in monitoring and protecting their natural habitats to make a genuine contribution in the ongoing conservation effort.
Find out more about joining a manatee conservation project in Belize.
It might seem like a strange idea to visit a country so rich in wilderness and spend even a second in a zoo, but Belize Zoo to the west of Belize City isn’t quite like any other in the world. Its 29 acres have maintained the country’s native environment, adding the bare minimum of paths and fences, making it a manageable microcosm of Belize’s massive biodiversity where visitors can see and learn about it in natural habitat.
Belize Zoo houses 48 species of native animal, a bestiary including jaguars, pumas, parrots, tapirs, monkeys, crocodiles, and boa constrictors. It also runs a number of conservation projects, so you can rest assured that your admission fee is going somewhere worthwhile.
Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
Many backpackers know Belize (rightfully) for its marine wildlife, but fewer are aware that it is a fantastic destination for seeing big cats, particularly the jaguar. Cockscomb has worked tirelessly to help boast the population, and this two-hundred square mile sanctuary (one of the largest protected areas in the country) is now one of the best places in Belize to catch a glimpse of these majestic big cats.
Your best chance for spotting wildlife is to arrive early before the heat of the day sets in and, if possible, not visit as part of a large, noisy tour group – that’s likely to scare the animals away!
Beach conservation volunteering
Any visitor to Belize is likely to spend a good portion of their time lounging on the beach – frankly, it would be rude not to. There’s also the option to take it a step further by volunteering to help protect important beach environments, giving you plenty of chill out time alongside working hard to conserve these vital ecosystems for the future.
This provides the opportunity to work closely with locals, and to visit a range of Belize’s environments, including beaches, islands, coral reefs, mangrove forests, and more. You’ll undertake surveys and other research as part of ongoing conservation efforts, and experience a huge selection of marine wildlife while giving something back to this amazing country.