Belize is home to some of the most amazing wildlife on Earth, from jaguars to tapir to crocodiles. Here’s how to see them in person.
One of the defining characteristics of Belize is an almost universal cultural appreciation of local wildlife. And there’s a lot to appreciate: jaguars and other big wild cats, colorful parrots like toucans and macaws, and strange creatures from tapir to snake-mimicking caterpillars. Fortunately for visitors, access to witnessing wildlife without disturbing it is easily available, with knowledgeable guides ready to share their knowledge. From a pleasant stroll through the Belize Zoo to hardcore wildlife camping in the Chiquibul Jungle, there is a wildlife experience for everyone in Belize. Just remember—do not feed the wildlife and only go on tours with recommended guides.
Tag Along With Crocodile Conservationists
WHERE: Ambergris Caye
When the sun goes down on La Isla Bonita, the crocodiles come out. For only $50 you can tag along with the American Crocodile Education Sanctuary (ACES) team on a nighttime boat tour through the mangrove lagoons of Ambergris Caye using a flashlight to spot the red-orange reflective eyes of local crocodiles, all while learning about this magnificent dinosaur-like species. And if you’re lucky, your hosting conservationist will even catch and relocate a croc, giving you the chance to take photos and even gently touch the creatures to better understand this misunderstood species. Visit the American Crocodile Education Sanctuary to plan your trip.
Wildlife You’ll See: American Saltwater Crocodiles
Go Wild in a Jungle Lodge
WHERE: San Ignacio
The great thing about a jungle lodge is the ability to be surrounded by Belize’s rainforest without sacrificing the benefits of modern luxury, and The Lodge at Chaa Creek balances this very well. Besides the wild howler monkey, amphibians, and birds (like toucans) that call Chaa Creek home, one of the most popular attractions at the resort is the Blue Morpho Butterfly Exhibit, where visitors can interact with the iridescent blue butterflies found only in certain parts of Central and South America. It’s also a great way to learn about the life cycle of butterflies and their natural habitat.
Wildlife You’ll See: Blue Morpho butterflies
INSIDER TIPBlue Morphos close their wings and hide their blue while landed, but are more likely to spread their wings if it’s sunny. Bring a quick camera to get a better chance at capturing that shot.
See it All at the Belize Zoo
WHERE: Western Highway
What started as an impromptu wildlife rescue center logically evolved into a zoo showcasing the vast beauty of Belize’s faunal diversity with over 170 animals. The Belize Zoo is home only to native species, including jaguars—both regular and melanistic (black)—the formidable harpy eagle, keel-billed toucans (the country’s official bird), tapir, and so much more. Exploring the Belize Zoo is a great way to experience the creatures that call Belize home while being educated at the same time. Though the animals at the Belize Zoo are obviously not in the wild, supporting the zoo, their rehabilitation efforts, and educational programs helps ensure that the relatives of those animals can continue to thrive in the wild.
Wildlife You’ll See: Black jaguars (panthers), harpy eagles, tapir, crocodiles, monkeys, and many other creatures that are part of Belize’s native wildlife.
INSIDER TIPThe Belize Zoo is the first wheelchair-accessible nature destination in Belize.
Spy the Home of the Man O' War Bird
WHERE: Man O’ War Caye, Belize Barrier Reef
The Man O’ War is an impressive bird with an equally memorable alternative title: the magnificent frigatebird. What is so magnificent about these creatures is that they have the largest wing-area-to-body-weight ratio of any bird, meaning they can stay in flight for unbelievably long periods of time. One frigatebird was recorded as having stayed in flight for more than two months! That’s why Man O’ War Caye, declared a sanctuary, is such a special destination: it’s where the frigatebirds come to rest and roost, making it one of the very few places in the world to spy a frigatebird while it’s not flying.
Wildlife You’ll See: Man O’ War (magnificent frigatebirds), boobies, and other seabirds.
INSIDER TIPRaggamuffin Tours, operating out of Caye Caulker, offers a 3-day sailing tour down Belize’s coast that includes a stop at this notable location.
Save the Scarlet Macaws
WHERE: Chiquibul Jungle
This is a rare opportunity to be on the front lines of defending an endangered species while simultaneously experiencing the genuine, virgin rainforest and all the wildlife within. Thanks to the ceaseless efforts of Scarlet Six Biomonitoring, scarlet macaw populations have increased from 200 to 300 in the past few years, largely as a result of guarding the nests of fledgling macaws, who are at risk of being poached for pets. Volunteers camp (along with a guide) at nests along the Raspaculo River for up to two weeks at no cost, experiencing the ultimate jungle camping opportunity including up-close interactions with Belize’s wildlife.
Wildlife You’ll See: Belize’s 300 remaining scarlet macaws, and every other creature the jungle has to offer.
INSIDER TIPThis is an extreme outdoors situation with lots of down time, plus genuine risk from poachers and wildlife. However, it’s an amazing learning experience and there very well may be nothing else quite like it in the world. Do your research, come prepared, and make a difference.
Cuddle with Green Iguanas
WHERE: San Ignacio
The Green Iguana Conservation Project at the San Ignacio Resort Hotel is one of the most popular activities in the city for tourists and locals alike, granting visitors the opportunity to get up close and personal with one of Belize’s most intriguing creatures. This highly interactive exhibit puts green iguanas literally into the laps of guests while they learn about the life cycle and conservation efforts in action for this threatened species. The iguanas will eventually be released into the wild to continue increasing their numbers, but they are bred on a continuous cycle so there are always plenty of lizards to see.
Wildlife You’ll See: Green iguanas
Go Birding with the Best
From seabirds to colorful parrots, Belize is home to a wide range of beautiful birds, making it one of the top birding destinations in the world. The Audubon Society is the world’s premier bird-related organization, and the Belize branch is extremely active. Join them for census, seasonal bird counts, and one of their most successful programs, the Urban Bird Watch, which introduces the concept of birding and bird conservation to those living in the bigger cities of Belize. This is a unique, free way to explore the birds of Belize while getting to know enthusiastic locals who will also be able to impart their knowledge of the local wildlife.
Wildlife You’ll See: Up to 566 different species of birds
Track Jaguars in the Night
WHERE: Cockscomb Basin
Belize is home to the world’s third largest cat, the jaguar, which is alive and well in all of Belize’s protected parks, especially the Cockscomb Basin. This elusive creature is as beautiful as it is mysterious, and the best chance of seeing one is to go deep into the jungle. The Cockscomb Basin Night Tour with DTOURZ is known for their luck in sighting wild cats, but the three-plus-hour hike through the nighttime rainforest reveals many more species beyond the jaguar. Sightings aren’t guaranteed, but visitors will learn the basics of tracking animals, and if they’re lucky, spot the spots they came to find.
Wildlife You’ll See: Jaguars, howler monkeys, tapir, and crocodiles
Horseback Ride to Mayan Ruins
WHERE: San Jose Succotz
Ruins of Mayan civilization can be found throughout the country, but because the communities were abandoned long before modern society arrived, nature moved back in. This makes visiting ruins like Xunantunich compelling not just for the history, but for the natural beauty. A unique way to take in the howler monkeys and birds that call these ruins home is to explore the region by horseback, which can be done from places like Hanna Stables, which sits on a piece of land where local wildlife—like the funny-looking Potoo bird—also love to visit.
Wildlife You’ll See: Howler monkeys, birds, reptiles and amphibians
Be Rapt by Raptors
WHERE: Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve
Belize may be small, but it is incredibly diverse, from the people to the creatures to the biomes. On the Western border of the country, there is a huge forest reserve called Mountain Pine Ridge made up primarily of pine trees (and related plant species). It’s an excellent place to go looking for raptors, or birds of prey, in the wild. The Belize Raptor Research Institute is a great resource for determining the places to spot raptors, and often lead birding trips into the reserve. Keep a keen eye and bring a pair of powerful binoculars, as raptors like to fly high.
Wildlife You’ll See: Raptors: hawks, kites, vultures, falcons, and other birds of prey
See the World's Second Largest Barrier Reef Before It's Gone
For those who do not know, coral is in fact an animal—a marine invertebrate to exact. Coral colonies create some of the most important ecological systems in the world, and Belize happens to be home to the second largest one in the world, after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Snorkel or dive anywhere along the coast to witness the fascinating colors and structures that corals comprise, plus the millions of animals that call the reef system their home, including barracuda, majestic eagle rays, and pufferfish. Coral reefs are essentially the “rainforests of the sea” and make for an unforgettable wildlife experience.
Wildlife You’ll See: 106 different types of coral, more than 500 fish species, and other marine life like turtles and crabs.
INSIDER TIPWith Belize’s recent exploration for oil along the reef, getting the chance to see these corals thrive may be a time sensitive opportunity.
Snorkel with Sharks and Stingrays
Belize’s coastline along the Caribbean Sea teems with colorful fish and one-of-a-kind wildlife. From Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, relatively small vessels are constantly bringing curious visitors to snorkel in a marine area along the UNESCO Heritage reef that’s home to hungry sharks and stingrays. The sharks are nurse sharks, which are often likened to big catfish, but it’s not recommended to get close, nor is it advised to touch them. Still, it’s a pretty incredible experience to swim with sharks and stingrays under any circumstance.
Wildlife You’ll See: Nurse sharks and stingrays
Plan Your Trip with Fodor’s Belize Guide
Swim with Whale Sharks
The only thing that could make swimming with the world’s largest fish—the 40-foot whale shark—more magical is the fact that in Belize, it can only be done during the days surrounding the full moon. These majestic creatures migrate through Southern Belize every spring, and April and May are the ideal months to see them. The fish congregate around Gladden Split, a very unique portion of the Belize Barrier Reef. Tours are available out of nearby Placencia during “whale shark season,” and visitors can choose to either snorkel or scuba dive with the surprisingly gentle creatures. Because the whale sharks congregate in open ocean, this experience is recommended for strong swimmers and experienced divers/snorkelers.
Insider tip: Bring an underwater camera: this is one fish you won’t want to forget.
Wildlife You’ll See: Whale Sharks
Plan Your Trip with Fodor’s Belize Guide
Witness the Majesty of Manatees
Playful manatees love the warm waters off the coast of Belize, and they can often be spotted from the beaches in Hopkins or any of the coastal villages. Manatees pop their heads up above the water, and at first glance they look just like humans taking in the view of the beach. A more guaranteed way to find these unique animals in the wild is to take a tour out of Caye Caulker. Tour guides take visitors to known manatee feeding grounds to catch a glance of the beasts, and while it’s illegal to swim with the manatees, watching them frolic in Belize’s blue waters is an experience all its own.
Wildlife You’ll See: Manatees
Plan Your Trip with Fodor’s Belize Guide