Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, Belize
For most people, Belize conjures images of tropical reefs. But that's just scratching the surface; because Belize's colonists settled on the coasts, its interior is thick with great expanses of untouched jungle, much of which can be hiked.
The country's best trek is in the 128,000-acre Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and jaguar preserve, which was the world's first such reserve, founded in 1986 after zoologist Alan Rabinowitz convinced the Belizean government to protect the 60 jaguars concentrated in the area. Within the park towers Victoria Peak, Belize's second tallest mountain and the destination of a four-day hike through land teeming with otters, pumas, ocelots, more than 375 types of birds, and, of course, jaguars. Spend the night in one of the park's campsites or cabins (from $10), and at first light, head out on the 30-mile round-trip trail (open February through April). The highlight is a section of rock scrambling that requires the help of a rope. The trail ends with you above the treeline, taking in views of the Caribbean Sea from the 3,675-foot summit. Because the terrain is so rough, you're required to hire a guide for the trek before entering the preserve at nearby Maya Center [$5.50 park entrance fee, $200 for guide; belizeaudubon.org].
More information: For something more luxurious, stay at Ka'ana Resort and Spa in Belize's Cayo district, an outpost for basically any adventure – from zip-lining and canoeing to Mayan archaeological sites and horseback riding. The resort offers five-star dining in the heart of the jungle [from $250; kaanabelize.com]. For the jungles of western Belize, you can save $300 or more by flying to Guatemala City, Guatemala, instead of Belize City – which also allows you to see the famous Mayan ruins at Tikal before crossing the border.