As one of Central America’s most popular tourist destinations, Belize is famed worldwide for its pristine Caribbean waters, lazy days spent sunbathing, and its stunningly gorgeous barrier reef, one of the finest places worldwide for snorkelling and diving. Equally incredible, however, is the richness and abundance of wild animals in Belize, locked away in the acres and acres of impenetrable tropical jungle which dominate the country.
Like many tropical countries, Belize’s terra firma is simply teeming with wildlife, exotic and colourful and––oftentimes––passing right under our noses undetected. Belize has drawn animal lovers from all around the world for years, and will continue to do so as long as its wilderness is preserved.
The jungle is an alien place, and we as humans are not finely attuned to its layers upon layers of colourful vibrant chaos. If you look closely and listen closer, however, you can often witness life here which is to be found nowhere else on earth…
Spotting Wild Animals in Belize
To see a wild feline––particularly one of the ‘Big Four’––in its natural habitat is an incredible thing.
The lion and the leopard are in Africa; the tiger is in Asia . . . .
In Belize the jaguar, and to see one of these in the wild is one of the most powerful and soulful experiences of a lifetime. These creatures are unbelievably reclusive, and even in the sites where they are most frequently spotted (Chan Chich and Rio Bravo Conservation Area) oftentimes the most a visitor will find is tracks, or perhaps the remains of a recent meal. Despite the slim chances however, people do see them here and, for the avid traveler, it is definitely worth pursuing.
That said, the surest way to see one of Belize’s jaguars is in the Belize Zoo in the capital, an alternative perhaps far less desirable but also far more dependable.
The zoo is, in fact, a place where most of Belize’s more exotic and elusive animals can be seen in relative abundance, so nature-lovers should definitely give it their consideration.
In addition to jaguars Belize is home to several smaller species of wildcats, including the cougar (belonging to the same family as the jaguar but not counted among the ‘Big Four’ as it does not roar); the ocelot; the margay; and the jaguarundi. While all of these are rare and secretive, a sighting of a jaguar in its natural habitat is undoubtedly the highlight for most travellers.
Wild Monkeys in Belize
The black howler monkey is an endangered species, currently existing only in Southern Mexico, Northern Guatemala, and Belize. These animals can be seen in many of the country’s wildlife conservation areas, mostly along the Belize River. Ideal spots include (like jaguars) Chan Chich and Rio Bravo; additionally Cockscomb Basin and Lamanai. Howlers live in troops which range over large areas of land, which they protect and guard by means of––as the name implies––howling to ward off predators and rival troops. As twilight falls, you can often hear the eerie, fearsome howling––more akin to roaring, some say, than proper howling––echoing far across the treetops, often as far as two miles.
Another primate found in Belize is the elusive spider monkey, a small and graceful monkey which swings effortlessly through the upper canopy by means of its long limbs, prehensile tail, and lack of opposable thumbs.
Venom! Snakes and Spiders in Belize
Most of Belize’s most colorful creatures are also its most deadly––those with venom. In typical tropical fashion, Belize’s jungles are home to a staggering array of venomous vipers, spiders, and frogs, all of which can inflict serious damage if threatened or unwittingly startled. Caution is always advised when venturing out into the jungle, taking up piles of discarded clothes, or donning your shoes for the day. Just keep in mind that animals generally leave humans alone unless startled, threatened, or otherwise provoked. Simple alertness and respect can typically keep you safe.
Among the most notable venomous animals are:
- Black Widow spider
- Brown Recluse spider
- Central American Coral Snake
- Poison Dart Frogs
- Mexican Cantil
- Neotropical Rattlesnake
- Various Pitvipers
- Mayan Coral Snake
Various Scorpions are also present, though once again fatalities are extremely rare.
Birdlife in Belize
Belize is paradise for birders. The jungles; the grasslands; even the coastlines and lagoons . . . . all are perfectly suited to host a wide variety of feathered life, and Belize continues to draw birders from all across the world as the country manifests new species every single year. Some of the most common areas include:
- The entire Orange Walk Region. About 400 species can be found here, and offers the allure of ancient Mayan ruins besides (Lamanai is particularly good for birds).
But more specifically . . . .
- Rio Bravo
- Maya Mountains in the west
- Tikal region (edges into Guatemala)
- Pook’s Hill
Marine Life in Belize
As one of the finest scuba and snorkelling destinations in the world, Belize boasts a stunning array of marine life. Jaguars and howlers and birds of a thousand colours are incredible; but the underwater creatures are actually perhaps the single greatest draw for animal lovers in Belize.
Firstly, there is just the sheer amount of life and colour. The atolls; the reef; the balmy climate of the tropics . . . . this all creates an extremely calm and sheltered stretch of water, the absolute perfect environment for marine life to flourish in astounding colour and diversity.
Barracuda; angelfish; clownfish; parrotfish; groupers . . . . all can be found here in unbelievable abundance, in addition to a striking diversity of sponges and corals. Something as simple as taking a morning swim in the reef can reveal numbers and species that you never knew existed. For serious fish experts however, there are several species local to Belize which stand out dramatically from all the rest:
- Various Rays. The common Eagle Ray tends to scud along in the murk of shallower sections of water, near various docks and beaches. Its cousin however, the Spotted Eagle Ray, is a creature far more striking, gliding along through deeper waters in gentle graceful silence, moving with the classic fluid beauty so strongly associated with its family
- Various Sharks. Hammerhead, Nurse, Reef, Sandbar, and a variety of other sharks are also common to the area. As with the jaguar, to see one of these predators moving powerful and fluid through its natural habitat is an experience that is deeply powerful. While they generally leave humans alone, simple caution and commonsense is of course advised when viewing the more dangerous species of sharks.
- Whale Sharks. The largest fish in the world, these gentle behemoths can reach lengths as great as sixty feet or so, though those spotted are typically only half that length. Incredibly mild and completely harmless to humans, they often feed offshore near Placencia in the springtime.
- Manatee. Seemingly everybody’s favorite mammal, the manatee is––like the whale shark––a creature both incredibly rare and incredibly gentle, though the manatee is not nearly so large. Often grazing in extremely shallow waters, it is unfortunately common for these animals to be scarred or even killed by the propellers of boats passing overhead, and manatees have become tragically few in recent decades. Belize is one of the finest places in the world for spotting them however and they can often be seen along the Monkey River tour or else feeding seasonally around the cayes.
- Other common favorites include sea turtles, dolphins, and even the occasional sighting of sperm whales, which can approach fifty feet long!
The wild animals in Belize have been drawing animal and marine life lovers for years because of the stunning diversity and easy accessibility of its wildlife. Are you yourself a traveler who always loves to explore the local wildlife wherever you go? What has been your favorite destination worldwide, and where have you had the most memorable wildlife encounters? Leave a comment below and be sure to check out Belize if ever you have the opportunity.
About The Author
Cal Bailey runs MountainLeon.com – a travel blog he started after a two year long travel journey. If you want to hear about great backpacking and travel tips, make sure you read his latest blog posts.