They are all good places, but somewhat different. Chaa Creek is the most upscale of the four (though its Macal jungle camp is a good deal at US$50 a day per person including meals). Banana Bank and duPlooy's would be in the next tier (actually duPlooy's has a range of prices), and then Crystal Paradise, which a bit more basic and is Belizean-owned. Chaa Creek and duPlooy's are on the Macal River in the same area west of San Ignacio; Crystal Paradise is on the way to Pine Ridge; Banana Bank is on the Belize River near Belmopan.
Here is what I say about these four places in my Guide to Mainland Belize.
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[Five Stars] Chaa Creek Resort and Spa. Mick and Lucy Fleming started Chaa Creek in 1980 when tourists were almost unknown in Cayo. Over the years, they’ve expanded, improved and fine-tuned their operation until it has become one of the best-run, most-professional operations in all of Central America. Everything works here: The grounds, comprising a total of 330 acres on the Macal River, are beautifully planted and maintained. The 19 large rooms in whitewash-and-thatch duplex cottages, plus two upmarket suites, have high-quality furnishings set off with Guatemalan wall hangings and bedspreads, the perfect marriage of comfort and exoticism. The food and drink, if not of gourmet standard, are well-prepared and plentiful. Staffers are friendly, not fawning, and move quickly to solve any problem. There’s electricity, plenty of hot water and cold beer, and, if you like, Chaa Creek will sell you a Cuban cigar to smoke after dinner. The latest additions are a fully equipped, modern spa, by far the best in Belize, offering everything from aromatherapy to seaweed wraps, and a new conference and meeting center. The spa, and a name change (from Chaa Creek Cottages), mark a repositioning toward a more-upscale, less “lodgey” lodge. Whether that’s a good idea or not only time will tell. In any event, you won’t run out of things to do here, either. You can visit the Chaa Creek Natural History Centre and Blue Morpho Butterfly Breeding Centre, tour the Rainforest Medicine Trail (formerly Panti Trail) next door, go horseback riding or canoeing, or take one of the many top-notch tours offered by Chaa Creek Expeditions. Chaa Creek helped reintroduce howler monkeys to the Macal River Valley. Birding is excellent, with 247 species spotted on the grounds by Birds without Borders, which has an operation based at Chaa Creek. For those who want the Chaa Creek experience at a Filene’s basement price (US$100 double including meals), the Macal River Safari Camp has 10 small “cabinettes” on platforms, and Belizean-style meals that some say are better than meals at the main lodge. Rates: Cottage room, US$165 to $190 double, suites US$200 to $365. Meals are extra: US$10 per person for breakfast, US$8 packed lunch, US$26 dinner. Summer packages are a relative bargain: Room with breakfast and dinner, plus some tours, goes for around US$127 per person per night, double occupancy, on a four-night package. AE, MC, V accepted. P.O Box 53, San Ignacio; tel. 501-9-22037, fax 9-22501; e-mail email@example.com; www.chaacreek.com.
Directions: From San Ignacio, go 4 3/4 miles west on Benque Rd. (Western Hwy.) and turn left on Chial Rd. (look for signs to Chaa Creek, duPlooy’s and Black Rock lodges). Follow signs on this unpaved road 3 1/2 miles to Chaa Creek.
[Four Stars] duPlooy’s. Since it opened in the late 1980s, duPlooy’s has been seen by some to play second fiddle to its Macal River neighbor, Chaa Creek. But that’s unfair, because duPlooy’s has its own style — a little more casual, a little more oriented to birders and tree-huggers and nature lovers. On part of the lodge’s 60 acres about 10 miles from San Ignacio, Ken and Judy duPlooy — he’s originally from Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and she’s from South Carolina — created something very special: the Belize Botanic Gardens, with plantings of some 2,500 trees from all over Belize and Central America. An orchid house also is planned, although at press time construction is stalled, pending new funding. For most guests, the focus of the lodge is the remarkable deck, which rambles off from the bar. From vantage points on the long walkway over the Macal River, you’re sure to see a variety of birds, iguanas and other wildlife. Bring your camera and binoculars. About 300 species of birds have been identified within five miles of the lodge. In accommodations, duPlooy’s offers something for anyone. For the top-of-the-market segment, duPlooy’s has three large bungalow rooms, each with king-size bed, fridge and delicious hammock with a view down the hill to the Macal River, for US$150 double in-season. For mid-level travelers, there are eight rooms in two lodge buildings, with double beds and screened porches, at rates of US$115 double in-season. For the budget set, the lodge has six rooms, each with a double and single bed, sharing two baths in the Pink House, at US$40 double in-season. Meals are an extra US$35 per person. Note that duPlooy’s does not serve beef, due to what the owners consider rainforest deforestation associated with cattle ranching, but it does serve pork, chicken and seafood, along with vegetarian dishes. The lodge also has a good selection of tours to Cayo and Petén sites. Rates US$40 to $150 double in-season, 15% discount May 1-Nov. 30. Meal plans (including breakfast, lunch and dinner, US$35). Package plans of from two to seven nights including meals and tours are available, from US$350 to $1,230 per person. AE, MC, V accepted. San Ignacio; tel. 501-9-23101, fax 9-23301; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; www.duplooys.com.
Directions: From San Ignacio, go 4 3/4 miles west on Benque Rd. (Western Hwy.) and turn left on Chial Rd. (look for signs to Chaa Creek, duPlooy’s and Black Rock lodges). Follow signs on this unpaved road about 4 miles to duPlooy’s.
[Four Stars] Banana Bank. You’re guaranteed to see a jaguar at this lodge, because Tika has lived here since 1982. It’s okay — the Belize government has granted permission for the lodge to have the jaguar. If you’re brave, you can step into the cage and get an up-close and personal picture of a jaguar. John Carr, who in his youth was a real Montana cowboy and rodeo star, in 1973 with a partner bought Banana Bank, then a 4,000-acre ranch with 1,500 head of cattle. At one time the ranch was headquarters for Belize Estates, one of the large companies that in colonial days logged huge tracts of land granted them by the Crown. John Carr and his wife, Carolyn, have lived on the ranch since 1977, one of a small group of pioneering American expats who adopted Belize as their home. Carolyn is a noted artist; her paintings of Belize street scenes and wild creatures (sometimes both in the same scene) have been widely exhibited, and she has a studio at the lodge. Our favorite is her painting titled “Jimmy Hines,” which shows the old market in Belize City where fishermen are cleaning lobster, snapper and jimmy hines, the local name for a type of sea bass or grouper. Anyway, back to the lodge. It’s a wonderful, family-oriented spot, a great place for kids. There are five cabañas, with bay leaf thatch, on a bank above the Belize River. The cabañas are spacious, with curving internal walls and — something new — 24-hour electricity. Three more units — these will have air-conditioning — are expected to open in 2001. You can hear howler monkeys calling, and besides Tika, on the grounds of the lodge are toucans, parrots and a spider monkey named Simon. At night you can use the Carrs’ 12” telescope to star watch under clear Central American skies. The food is filling and tasty, served family-style. Banana Bank is especially good for those who like to ride, as the lodge keeps about 50 horses. The horses are mixed breeds, mostly quarter horses. There’s a large stable, a round pen to hone your riding skills and a larger arena. Rates: US$89 to $119 double for a cabaña and US$59 for a lodge room. Rates include breakfast. Lunch is US$10 and dinner, US$15. The lodge also offers many packages, including tours, all meals and horseback riding. Transfers from Belize City are US$25 per person one-way. MC, V accepted. P.O. Box 48, Belmopan; tel. 501-8-12020, fax 8-12026; e-mail email@example.com; www.bananabank.com.
Directions: Turn north off the Western Hwy. at Mile 47 on a dirt road. Follow signs to a landing on the Belize River. Ring the bell, and a caretaker will bring a hand-pulled boat over to pick you up. The lodge is up the hill. Access by road is also possible via a back route -- ask for directions.
[Two Stars] Crystal Paradise. This is one of the few lodges in Cayo owned and operated by Belizeans, in this case by the Tut family. Many of the numerous Tut family pitch in and help at the lodge, which is located near the village of Cristo Rey on the Macal River. You likely will be greeted by one of the junior Tuts. Mama and daughters do the cooking. Several of the older sons are guides. One, who goes to school in Cuba, even sells Cuban cigars at good prices. Granddad, now in his 90s, is an accomplished dugout canoe maker. With, or without? That’s the question: Do you want a cabaña with a thatch roof, or a simpler and cheaper room without? Either way, you get a private bath with hot and cold water, ceiling fan and 24-hour electricity. The Tuts offer horseback riding (US$65 per person for a full day), mountain bikes to rent, and a variety of tours. Rates: Thatch cabañas, US$95 double; regular roof cabañas, US$75 double, including breakfast and dinner, but not including tax or a 10% service charge. MC, V accepted. Crysto Rey Village, Cayo; tel. 501-9-22772, fax 9-12014; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; www. crystalparadise.com. Directions: From San Ignacio, take the Cristo Rey Rd. about 4 miles to Crystal Paradise. The lodge also has an office in San Ignacio, on Savannah St.