Experience rural Belize and explore ancient Mayan ruins when you stay at these top jungle lodges.
It’s crucial to have a home base, not just in general, but especially when traveling as a family, After many long and exciting hours spent at hot ruins or peering into caves, it’s reassuring to know you have a comfortable lodge awaiting you at the end of a dusty day of exploration.
When I visited Belize I got the chance to stay at some uniquely fabulous jungle lodges. A lodge is preferable to a hotel, as it is here that visitors are more in touch with the country’s natural side. Going to sleep with the jungle buzzing all around you and waking up to the trumpeting of local fauna is all part of the Belize experience.
Some may also feel a bit worried about security, food issues and drinkable water when traveling in Central America. These are valid concerns, so consider staying at a hotel or lodge where you feel your family’s health and safety are not at risk. Belize is not a dangerous country, but being informed is always a plus.
Getting to these secluded accommodations is half the adventure. If flying into Belize City, you can rent a car or arrange a pick-up service with your lodge (rates usually start around US$60). Another option is to get picked up from the airport, then rent a four-wheel drive vehicle in San Ignacio with Matus Car Rental (rates start at US$57.50 per day). For those who don’t rent a car, guides and tours are necessary to explore the region, which the above lodges can arrange. However, this is probably the more expensive option; rent a rig for more freedom at less cost. While it is not difficult to drive in Belize, the roads around San Ignacio are dirt and gravel, most of which are laced with potholes and washboards. Those who decide to drive should be confident and cautious after dark. Many visitors to Belize rent cars, four-wheel drive vehicles and motorcycles, and main highways throughout the country are paved and well marked.
Two of the top jungle lodges are located near San Ignacio, close to many Maya ruins. Chaa Creek is my number one pick for families. It’s a well-established lodge with tons of activities and tours offered to the surrounding Maya sites. Guests stay in individual cottages with thatched bay leaf roofs on lush manicured grounds. There is a restaurant and bar on site serving different local specials nightly, and bountiful fruit and pancake-filled breakfasts in an open-air dining room. Kids can go mountain biking, canoeing and hiking along the nearby Macal River, and they’ll maybe even try the jungle Creatures of the Night Walk ($12 per person) with a guide.
The only drawback at Chaa was that the cottages were not marked, and I actually had a hard time remembering which one was mine after dark! Bring a flashlight. Cottage rates start at $135 per person, per night, based on double occupancy. Orchard Villa rates (accommodates six people) start at $400 per night. P.O. Box 53, San Ignacio, Cayo District, Belize. Tel. 877-709-8708. www.chaacreek.com.
Also near San Ignacio, but in a more remote location, is Blancaneaux Lodge, a luxury lodge built along the swimming hole-laden Privaisson River. Children and parents will have a blast jumping off the river docks into the water and hiking the lodge’s private trails. Stables on site at Blancaneaux offer sunrise horseback tours as well as rides to Big Rock Waterfall.
The lodge cottages are private, with huge decks and mesh windows letting the night air circulate. There are Italian and Guatemalan restaurants on site that serve veggies from the lodge’s organic garden and offer a diverse wine list. Designed by Francis Ford Coppola, this lodge is one of the most magical in Belize, offering an unequalled experience, which will thrill parents and kids alike.
Blancaneaux’s only issue is its remote location, but this is part of its appeal, too. Family cabana rates start at $400 per night for two adults and two kids. (Current special offer: Book three nights and get US$100 credit towards food and beverages during your stay, or, stay three nights and get the fourth night free. Offer good for stays between May 1 and Dec. 19, 2009.) Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve, P.O. Box B, Central Farm, Cayo District, Belize. Tel. 800-746-3743. www.blancaneaux.com.
In northern Belize, Maruba Resort Jungle Spa is a good fit for families with older kids, teens or babies. Opt for the two-story Signature Suite, which features a wall of windows looking onto one of the resort’s pools as well as lots of room for kids and adults to relax together or apart. Parents will love Maruba’s spa treatments (everything from massage to a Mood Mud body wrap) and kids will have fun swimming in the hot and cool pools, viewing wildlife and exploring the trails. Tours can be arranged to visit Mayan ruins Altun Ha and Lamanai, as well as day trips to the coast to snorkel. A restaurant at Maruba serves locally grown teas and delicious crepes. Standard rates start at $200. 40 1/2 Old Northern Hwy. Maskall Village, Belize. Tel. +501-225-5555. www.maruba-belize.com.
Read more about Belize’s Mayan Ruins.