Belize Zoo isn’t like a traditional zoo. You won’t find animals from around the world. No tigers, elephants or penguins. So why go? Belize Zoo is home to over 170 animals with 45 species native to Belize. It’s a unique experience, best described as cross between a rescue centre and a zoo.
None of the animals that live here were taken from the wild. Some were brought in injured or sick. The most common reason is that they were pets that people could no longer care for. The zoo aim to release as many animals back into the wild but those who can’t live their life out at the zoo, cared for by the amazing team.
As the enclosures are created from the animal’s natural habitat, I found it a very enjoyable experience. The animals have plenty of space and genuinely seemed happy and relaxed. The zoo has quirky, hand written informative signs around the paths. Delivering important educational messages but also making you smile too.
So if you love travel and wildlife. In particular, learning about the animals that live here, then Belize Zoo is a must visit for you. For me, as an avid wildlife lover it was bound to be somewhere on my itinerary.
How did Belize zoo begin?
In 1982, Sharon Matola arrived to make a documentary on the rainforest. Sadly, the project ceased and she was left to care for 20 animals. Wow that’s a lot of pets! As the animals had interacted with people they were unable to be released back into the wild. What Sharon did was the most amazing thing, she decided to start educating people about the animals, dispelling some of the myths that surrounded them. And so Belize Zoo was created.
After 9 years, I guess things were getting pretty cramped at home. So in 1991 the zoo was moved to the 29 acre site where you can now visit. Belize Zoo and the Tropical Education Centre (TEC) work closely together on the conservation of Belizean wildlife.
It’s estimated that over 12,000 students have visited Belize Zoo and participated in their educational programs. That’s pretty awesome. This quote is painted on the entrance wall. A great message to deliver:
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated” Gandhi
What’s the best time to visit Belize Zoo?
The obvious time is of course to go during normal opening hours 8.30pm to 5pm. However, as I ended up staying at the Tropical Education Centre (TEC), a couple of miles down the road, this opened up the option of visiting at night. I was lucky enough to be able to join another smaller group for the night tour. Then the next morning I returned to visit the zoo in daylight hours.
To help you make your decision I’ve described my experience at both night and day time:
My night experience at Belize zoo
The night experience is a guided tour; there’s no option to go it alone. The tour starts in the small indoor area, where there are two snakes a fer-de-lance and a boa constrictor (in reptile tanks not on the ground I would like to add!!)
We start learning about the 8 poisonous snakes in Belize. Oops, I am now seriously regretting wearing sandals for my night tour at the zoo. Who knows who we might meet!! The fer-de-lance is the most common of the venomous snakes in Belize and can grow up to 8 feet long. Arhh that’s bigger than me! Well bigger than most people ha ha. The snakes will only attack if provoked. It’s useful to know what it looks like in case we see one on the tour or indeed during the rest of my trip in Belize.
The idea of the night tour is to show you some of the animals that are nocturnal, therefore more active at night time. So don’t expect to see every animal in the zoo on the tour. And also some of my photos were rubbish so I have swapped for the day time pictures!
Our next stop is the playful possums who are pretty active, followed by the white-tailed deers. Opposite them is a friendly Tapir. I have never seen one before and had no idea how big they were. Although you might think similar to a pig, they are in fact related to horses and rhinos. We have some treats with us so he gets fed with some healthy snacks. He’s a herbivore so munching on a carrot. Tapirs are endangered due to hunting and loss of habitat.
Now on to the big cats or some not so big. There are 5 species of cat in Belize and 4 out of 5 live here at Belize Zoo. Our first one is the margay. We then meet the puma and ocelot. The sign next to him explains how these beautiful cats are now illegal to hunt (thank goodness) but it would have taken 100 ocelot to make a coat. That’s a scary number. I am so glad it’s illegal now.
And finally, on to the beautiful jaguar. It’s definitely lovely to see the cats at night. They are much more active instead of sleeping which I noticed the next morning when I visited. Although the tour guide does have a few snacks for him!
Lastly, we pop to see the various owls, there’s a very cute pygmy one. I have to admit these guys weren’t very active, they did have a good look around at us and they were beautiful to see.
Overall the night tour was excellent and very educational. Part of me wished it had lasted a bit longer (an hour tour). But it’s good to know they give the animals time away from people so it’s probably a good thing.
Visiting Belize zoo during the day
The following day, I arrived as soon as the zoo opened. This worked out quite well as I was the only person there for most of the time. It’s also a lot cooler than going in the middle of the day.
The zoo is not too big; although if you are like me and love photography then you might be a bit longer. I would allow a minimum of 2 hours to fully enjoy your visit. Longer if you want to include a visit to the café and gift shop!
I headed in the same direction as the night before, walking past the possums who were snoozing. Then on to the white-tailed deer and tapir, both were just chilling out in their enclosures.
One animal I had not seen at night was the monkeys. The two species that live in Belize are the endangered black howler monkey and spider monkey. Don’t worry if you have a spider phobia they won’t scare you! There’s a walkway with steps taking you on to a higher platform, I spotted them from the ground but it’s nice to be able to get closer, especially to take photos.
Take your time exploring the paths, it’s pretty easy to find your way around. Visit the many birds – King vulture, Scarlet Macaw, Jabiru stork, Hawk eagle and my favourite and the national bird of Belize – the toucan. Did you know they make a sound a bit like a croaking frog? Listen out if you are in the jungle, you’ll probably hear them.
Have a chat with the macaw, he’s a friendly chat and likely to say ‘hello’ to you 🙂
And my last stop and where I spent the longest was back with the big cats. It was very different to the night time experience. The ocelot was no-where to be found, the pumas were snoozing in the shade and the margay was also sleeping up in a tree.
I was lucky enough that I spotted the guide from the night before and he called the jaguar over to say hello. He wandered over, had a drink and then disappeared back into the share. I don’t blame him!
what are the main Differences between night and day visits?
- Night time is a guided tour, whereas day time you just explore in your own time.
- Night tour lasts about an hour. Day time is your choice (minimum 2 hours) – just make sure you are out before closing time!
- Much cooler at night.
- Seeing nocturnal animals active as opposed to sleeping during the day.
- Day time some of the cats are more hidden in their enclosures (basically keeping cool).
- Unless you have an amazing camera, day time is definitely better for photography – as you can tell from my photos!
- The cafe and gift shop are closed at night. I bought a beautiful handmade fridge magnet for my collection the next day.
Becky’s Tips for visiting Belize zoo
- Visit both night and day if you have time – I loved both.
- Wear closed shoes (especially for the night tour).
- Insect repellant is a must or just cover up.
- Sun cream (day visit obviously) – there’s not much shade.
- Bottle of water – again an obvious one but no harm in reminding you 🙂
- Have fun and say hello to the scarlet macaw!
Cost* Daytime $15 adults/$5 children or Night tour $20 (when booked as a group).
Opening hours* – 8.30am to 5.00pm (Night tour 7.00pm)
Staying at the Tropical Education Centre
The Tropical Education Centre (TEC) is part of Belize Zoo and just a couple of miles down the road.
What an amazing find. There are dorms rooms or cabins available, hidden among various nature trails around the Centre so you really feel like you are in the jungle. I shared one of the cabins with a girl I was travelling with – a bit of luxury after staying in dorm rooms for a few days! We had a double bed each, a bar
There are also trails around the centre that you can explore in your own time.
So are you going to visit Belize zoo?
I hope this has tempted you to add Belize Zoo to your intinerary if you are visiting Belize. I found the experience thoroughly enjoyable and would recommend visiting.
Part of visiting a country is learning about their culture, nautre and wildlife. Belize Zoo ticks all these boxes, you won’t be disappointed!
*Costs and times are correct at time of writing.
**I cover the costs for the ‘Night Tour’ however; Belize Zoo kindly allowed me to during the day time at no charge.
Have you visited Belize Zoo? What was your favourite part? Or do you have any more questions about visiting? Ask me in the comments below: