On the advice of our transportation guide William from Belize Shuttle, we decided to delay our flight to Ambergris Caye to fit in a quick visit to the Belize Zoo. The Belize Zoo is located on the main road from Airport to the San Ignacio, so it wasn’t a major detour to the route. And our family was happy we visited the Belize Zoo. The thing to note is that the animals at the Belize Zoo are all native to Belize. Don’t expect to see exotic animals like giraffes or elephants. The saying at Belize Zoo is "Animals of Belize in their Natural Habitat".
The zoo property is quite small and very easily walkable. My guess is that it is a popular stop for cruise ships docked at Belize City. Therefore, a huge reason as to why the zoo was so enjoyable, was there were no cruise ships when we visited. The Belize Zoo was empty, almost like a private visit. My experience to Belize Zoo is completely opposite from the expectation in US zoos. In the US, the pedestrian paths are wide, enclosures are kept distant from the path (for safety reason), and the crowds are large. At the Belize Zoo, the paths were narrow and right up against the cage. Put your finger into the cage when animals around and it could be bitten off (there are signs warning you to keep you fingers out of the cages). Just be smart about it! And Americans might say the Belize Zoo design is unsafe, but on the other hand, it provides for an amazing viewing experience. The upside to this is you get closer views and better pictures (align your camera lenses through the openings of the metal fence) of the animals.
As for the crowds, I believe we got lucky. The day we visited, the zoo was empty because all of the cruise ships had left. There were four cruise ships docked at Belize City when we arrived to San Ignacio, which would have accounted for at least four busses of cruise tourists. So since it was just locals and non-cruise tourists, we were lucky to view the animals in just our group. If there were cruise ships in town, I can imagine the small pedestrian paths being overwhelmed with crowds of people.
As we slowly made our way through the Belize Zoo, taking tons of pictures and videos along the way, I noticed there was a small group led by a tour guide. They were moving at a FAST pace and I was glad I was not on their tour. They barely had any time to observe the animals and take pictures, but they probably had a much better explanation to the animals.
Jaguars were by far the most exciting animals you can see, but the tapir, deer, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, and a wide assortment of birds were also on the list of animals to see. Again, don't expect to see a lot of animals, but instead expect to get a more “wild” version of an American zoo. The Belize Zoo is a one-time only type of visit, but I would advise those consider the Belize Zoo to check it out if you have extra time before your flight. Deciding to go last second worked out very well for us, and if you attempt to do the same, go only if there aren't cruise ships in town. And unless you want a fast tour with descriptions, explore the Belize Zoo on your own. It should take less than 2 hours and you can move at your own pace.