Did you know that jaguars have prowled the globe for at least three million years? They even survived the Ice Age. Given this long presence on earth, observing these sleek cats in their natural habitat could be the most meaningful wildlife experience you’ve ever had.

Despite the depletion of habitats in many places around the globe, Belize is one of the best places to spot jaguars as they roam the world’s only protected jaguar reserve. According to the World Wildlife Fund, an estimated 173,000 jaguars roam the entire western hemisphere, and if Belize conservationists committed to jaguar survival have their way, that number will climb.

How you benefit from seeing these cats in person

If the entirety of your life experience has consisted of watching wildcats pacing limited environs in zoos, you’ll be especially interested in observing their behaviors as they roam Belize’s Cockscomb Sanctuary and Jaguar Reserve where they’re free to breed, hunt, and fulfill instinctual obligations of keeping ecosystems in balance.

But did you know that visitors spotting these elegant creatures gain psychological benefits from seeing them in person? According to researchers undertaking studies for the EcoHappiness Project, seeing jaguars in the wild provokes a deep sense of well-being that delivers health benefits.

Senses are heightened as visitors turn their thoughts and actions to spotting, watching, identifying, recording, and appreciating these cats. Being immersed in nature helps visitors forget day-to-day worries, triggering a higher state of relaxation.

Bournemouth University scholar Susanna Curtin reports, “Nature’s design, performance, and immense biodiversity initiate an emotional response of awe, wonder, and privilege that unlocks ecocentric and anthropomorphic connections to wild animals and a feeling that is ‘beyond words’.”

No need to travel far to see these amazing cats

Perhaps you’ve read that Brazil is home to the hemisphere’s most significant number of jaguars, but political turmoil, the distance, and worries about the environmental damage being done to the Amazon in the name of commercialism are keeping you from going there to spot jaguars in the wild.

Skip Brazil and head to Belize. It’s just a few hours away by air from North America, everyone speaks English, and no nation is more hospitable to visitors. Importantly, select a jungle lodge that offers excellent access to jaguars: Chan Chich Lodge. Book your upcoming getaway at this charming property and your chances of spotting one of these gorgeous animals during your stay in Belize could increase.

Active during the daytime with high activity peaks between dawn and dust, guests rely upon knowledgeable guides to help them spot these elusive cats. Since jaguars are most active during the green season in June and July, plan to tote an umbrella after tapping the lodge’s booking desk to select from this menu of experiences.

Choose a Belize vacation package that covers the basics of your stay and keep this in mind: Your chances of spotting a jaguar increase if you offer up a prayer to the ancient Maya Jaguar God of the underworld, Xbalanque. No guarantees but having faith has been known to result in miracles!