An Amazing Day Hiking, Tubing and Sliding at Cockscomb Wildlife & Basin Jaguar Preserve

Many people visualize the ocean and the coral reef when they hear about Belize – I know I certainly did when I moved here.  And that is how Belize is first seen by many.  Even the very first visitors – the Spanish & British colonized along the coast – because much of the mainland was (and still is) dense practically impenetrable tropical jungle.

Even the jaguar’s need game trails to follow through it.


But that beach-centric vacation idea is changing FOR SURE.  The mainland is packed with amazing stuff to do.  AMAZING.  And this past week I finally got to explore one of the biggest pieces of protected land in Belize – the Cockscomb Wildlife Basin and Jaguar Preserve.

Ever wonder what was in the lower left quadrant of the country?  Basically mountains and jungle and much of it is protected – see all that green down there?


An American zoologist, Alan Rabinowtiz, was invited down in the late 70s and through a ton of hard work (and a plane crash) convinced the government of Belize to set aside hundreds of thousands of acres for 60 jaguars.  Setting up the only jaguar reserve in the world.  He later did something similar in Myanmar and Thailand.  You should google this guy.  Super inspirational – he is called the “Indiana Jones of Big Cats”.

SO – I was spending a day at Cockscomb.  About a 40 minute easy drive from Placencia.  With Doyle Gardiner, a much respected Placencia native who is the only one who can bring you on the natural rock water slides.

Basically – I had no idea what I was signing up for.  Hiking?  Outdoorsiness?  Man…this trip was so much more.

After pick-up (we were a group of about 10), we drove to the park.  We stopped just outside in Maya Center to check out the gift shop.  Lots of very pretty Maya crafts from the local ladies cooperative.


We drove up the dirt road, passed the jaguar crossing sign above and ran into this guy.  Let me just answer your question – this is the only jaguar that we’d be seeing that day.  In fact, Doyle has seen 3 of these cats in 14 years of touring here.

These animals have no interest in seeing people.


I was ready for a day of hiking.  Pick up had been at 8am, we were promised back at 5pm.  A FULL DAY OF HIKING.  (Secret ugh.)  But this trip is SO MUCH MORE.  Hiking, tubing and the last part – the “natural water slides”.  Crazy rock hiking, slipping, scrambling and sliding and totally EXHILARATING.

And you MUST GO with Doyle who helped pioneer this crazy adventure with his mentor.  Not just because he is fantastic but he is currently the only guide that is allowed to take you down this stretch of river, down these natural water slides and from this moment forth, I will call it “Doyle’s Run”.

Okay.  Too many words.  Let me show you the pictures.

About 25kms away (and still within the park) from the front office is Victoria’s Peak – the highest in Belize at 1120 meters (yes…I switched over to the metric system in this paragraph).

Getting up there is an EXTREMELY strenuous 3-5 day hike.  Here’s the list of warnings…


And I just found that google says there is a peak 4 meters higher in Belize.  Hmmm…

Doyle started us out with a brief overview of the park and our day.  There are tons of hiking trails that you can do guided or solo.

IMG_0683JAGUAR!  We saw the original cages that Dr Rabinowitz used to trap and collar the jaguars.  Well…the second prototype.  His first wooden cages got ripped to shreds after the cats ate the bait pigs.


We headed out on our first trails – we saw birds, a baby armadillo, MASSIVE ant hills…

IMG_0689…we ate termites, cohune nuts…


we saw ridiculously massive trees like this buttressed ceiba…


beautiful rivers and streams…


and this bug bigger than my hand.


Definitely the coolest bug out there.

Though this ant that could hold up an entire stick in her pinchers (and was used by the Maya to close wounds) was a contender.


And winner of my coolest bird seen?  The black curassow.  Handsome, big and right in our path.  And this is so not my picture but he looked just like that!


Next up?  A hearty lunch of BBQ chicken and veggie rice and then Tubing.  In the cool river…the very one that actually built the Placencia Peninsula by pushing river rocks and sand out into the ocean.  Over hundreds of thousands/millions of years, it pushed out 16 miles of sand forming Placencia.

So that is why the sand is so different there as opposed to the cayes.  It’s actually river rock.

After a short hike with our tubes, we were in.



Small rapids, a few “butts up” and lots of twists and turns.  I love tubing and it’s the most relaxing beautiful way to see birds and the jungle.

IMG_0712 IMG_0718

Next?  Adventure #3 – by far the most adventurous.  This was also the one that I knew least about…the natural waterslides.

We hiked out to Ben’s Bluff Waterfall…no need for tubes anymore.  This would all be done on your butt.IMG_0722

It’s really gorgeous out here.


This one we would not be sliding down…but it was fun to all swim into the small cave underneath it.


Our whole crew got in there…a good way to get wet and the start of our CRAZY, “are we really supposed to be doing this?” adventure.



We geared up for the 6 natural slides.  We had hiked up the hill…this was the way to get down (well…unless you wanted to hike back down – and that is certainly an option.)

Time to trust Doyle.  Let’s do this.

We started small.  At each slide, we got full instruction.  Sit straight up.  Keep your arms in.  Don’t lie back.  Go.

Here was number one – one of the smaller slides.

IMG_0734 Sliding FAST down a rock slide into a deep pool of cool water.  MADNESS!  And super fun.  And scary and FUN.

At the biggest slide – one with two levels, we needed a little instruction.  The message?  Trust Doyle!


Because halfway down he is going to catch you so you don’t fly off the rock ledge.  You slide pretty much full force right into him.


HOLY CRAP that is so awesome.  And added to my list of amazing things I’ve done in Belize. And want to do again.  You have GOT to try this.

By the end (about an hour?  I couldn’t tell I was so giddy), we hiked back to homebase and celebrated the fact that we were KINGS OF THE JUNGLE.

I’m serious.  This sliding gave me some sort of natural high.  I almost got a glimpse into the world of thrill seeking.  But let’s be straight.  This is about as far as I go.


THIS TRIP ROCKS.  Absolutely crazy, I can’t believe I just did that, ROCKS.  Go on it.  When in Placencia, ask your hotel or around town and go on it.   Here is his tour group information!

I’m still basking in the after-glow of my adventurousness.


Doyle let’s you know everything that you should bring.  Bug Spray (I was pretty good about application but I think I got my three bites when I came out of the river), sun block, a change of clothes, pocket money, shoes you can use for hiking and those that you don’t mind getting wet.

Otherwise, food, drinks, transportation is all included.  For $90US!  A serious deal.

And if you want to see the big cats, you MUST go to the Belize Zoo.  It’s absolutely fantastic.  AND you can visit my friend the purring puma.




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