Wildlife in Belize

Wildlife in Belize

Despite Belize’s pocket-sized proportions, the Central American marvel packs a punch when it comes to encounters of the wild kind. Tucked between Mexico and Guatemala, the nation only just exceeds Wales in terms of size, yet its dense jungle landscape and superlative barrier reef play host to all manner of flora, fauna and marine life. Tropical forest engulfs about 60% of the country, while over a quarter of its total land area is designated to conservation through a network of national parks and nature reserves; it’s no wonder that wildlife thrives here. Equally impressive is Belize’s 174-mile-long stretch of coastline, dotted with heavenly cayes (islands) and atolls, as well as its UNESCO-listed barrier reef. Come for Belize’s rich array of terrain and tropical climate, stay for its spectacular snorkelling, dreamlike diving and incredible animal discoveries. Read on to find out more about wildlife in Belize…

  1. On-Land Animal Encounters
  2. Take to the Skies
  3. Under the Sea


On-Land Animal Encounters

Inland Belize is a patchwork of thick rainforest, rolling farmland and (unusually for a Caribbean country) pine forests, each playing host to their own cast of critters. Belize’s big cats prowl protected areas such as Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Río Bravo Conservation Area, with the latter said to be home to the continent’s largest population of jaguars. These majestic felines are accompanied by other mammals, such as ocelots, margay and jaguarundi. Belize’s national animal is Baird’s tapir, long-nosed mammals who slightly resemble elephants, although have more in common with horses, zebras and rhinos. To further add to the confusion, locals often refer to these curious creatures as ‘mountain cows’, however in reality they’re much more agile and are proficient swimmers. Tapir Mountain Reserve, located in the Cayo District, works to protect tapirs and is one of the best places to spot them. Providing a never-ending soundtrack at the Community Baboon Sanctuary, situated on the country’s northern coastal plain, are the resident black howler monkeys. Keep your ears peeled as these endangered vocal primates produce one of the loudest sounds in the animal kingdom, with a howl that can be heard up to three miles away.

Howler Monkey in Belize


Take to the Skies

Wildlife in Belize isn’t limited to land animals and if winged wildlife is your thing, there’s an abundance of birdlife – 605 species to be exact – occupying Belize’s skies. Both endemic and migratory species soar overhead, including keel-billed toucans (distinguished by their vibrant, oversized bills), black-collared hawks, woodpeckers, snail kites, hummingbirds, and jabiru storks (which stand up to five feet tall). The north-western Orange Walk District alone is home to over 400 varieties of bird, while 366 have been recorded at the famous Mayan Ruins region of Lamanai. Twitchers should also check out Guanacaste National Park, just north of the capital Belmopan, where the towering trees provide a lofty habitat (up to 100ft high) for black-headed trogons, red-lored amazons and white-breasted wood wrens.

Toucan in Belize


Under the Sea

Belize’s barrier reef is one of the best (and biggest) in the world. If this sounds like a bold claim, you need only sink beneath the surface of the turquoise Caribbean Sea to witness the resident marine life for yourself. Second only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in terms of size, the reef is a long-time favourite among avid divers and seasoned snorkellers, who find themselves sharing the waters with over 500 different sea-dwelling species. Included within this varied bunch are nurse sharks, manta rays, vase sponges, sea feathers and turtles, while some of Belize’s more creative fish species include parrotfish, trumpet fish, angelfish and harlequin bass. The sprawling reef system has been inscribed into UNESCO’s World Heritage Site list since 1996, ensuring that these underwater critters and their coral-filled habitat remains intact and well-protected. A stand-out feature of diving in Belize is the Great Blue Hole, a submarine sinkhole that offers an almost eerie dive experience and is home to several shark species. Whether you’re a well-versed water baby or more of a shore bound paddler, our Original Diving experts can advise on the best places to see marine wildlife in Belize.

Diving in Belize

Written by Luisa Watts