For those who want to stay a few days near the Belize Zoo/Belmopan area of the mainland, here are reviews of hotels and lodges there. These are by me, except for Roaring River Lodge which Peter Eltringham contributed (Rough Guide to Belize, new Insight Belize guide and other guides).
BELIZE ZOO AREA
ONE STAR + JB’s Watering Hole, Mile 32, Western Hwy. (P.O. Box 489, Belmopan); tel. 501-820-2071, fax 820-2125; e-mail [email protected]
. Besides being a popular bar and restaurant, JB’s has three small cabañas for overnight guests for around US$35 double plus tax. Some additional units are planned. RV and trailer parking also available here.
ONE STAR Tropical Education Center at Belize Zoo, Mile 29, Western Hwy.(P.O. Box 1787, Belize City); tel. 501--220-8003, fax 220-8010; e-mail [email protected]
. The Tropical Education Center is an environmental research and education center operated by the wonderful Belize Zoo and immediately adjacent to the zoo itself. Visitors can walk nature trails, see a green iguana breeding project, canoe on the Sibun River or climb up the bird deck to see trogons and other birds or attend classes at the Center. Comfortable dorm-style accommodations (with showers and share bathrooms) are US$17.50 per person. Overnight guests can take a noctural tour of the zoo for US$10.
ONE STAR Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, Mile 31 1/2, Western Highway; tel. 501-820-3032, fax 822-3361; e-mail [email protected]
. This is a privately managed 1,070-acre reserve on the Sibun River. Visitors are welcome, and there are wildlife trails where birds are abundant. The Wildlife Care Center here takes care of rescued wild animals and attempts to return them to their natural habitat. A second, 2,250-acre parcel adjacent to the sanctuary creates a large wildlife corridor spanning the Sibun River valley. Monkey Bay runs field study programs for students and others interested in ecology. Rates for students in education programs, typically two to three weeks in length, cost about US$75 a day including meals and transportation within Belize. Bunkhouse accommodations in the sanctuary are US$10 per person; camping is US$5. Some lodging in cabins also available.
Camping is available at Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary (US$5 per person). RV and trailer owners should check with JB’s on the Western Highway for dry camp parking.
BELPOMAN AREA LODGING
The only lodging choices in Belmopan proper are small motels and hotels, geared more toward the needs of government bureaucrats than of tourists. Jungle lodges and other more interesting lodging choices are located outside of Belmopan along the Western and Hummingbird highways.
TWO STARS Bull Frog Inn, 25 Half Moon Ave. (P.O. Box 28), Belmopan; tel. 501-822-2111, fax 822-3155; e-mail [email protected]
. This will remind you of a small mom ‘n pop motel in the U.S. or Canada. The 25 rooms have air-conditioning, cable TV and are clean and comfortable enough, though your bed may not be quite as new as you’d like and the TV picture may roll. Still, the Bull Frog Inn is about the best Belmopan offers. Rates, geared to the business people and government officials who make up 70% of the guests here, are US$75 double.
TWO STARS Belmopan Convention Hotel, Bliss Parade and Constitution Drive, Belmopan; tel. 501-822-2130, fax 822-3066; e-mail [email protected]
. This is not a Hampton Inn, but you can relax here and maybe have a beer by the pool, the only hotel pool in the Belmopan area. Rooms have A/C and some have fridges. We’re told the owner, George Sosa, is a nice guy. Rates around US$65 October to May, US$50 rest of the year.
H El Rey Inn, 23 Moho St., Belmopan; tel./fax 501-822-3438; e-mail [email protected]
If you’re looking for something less expensive, El Rey Inn is centrally located and clean. No A/C. There’s cable TV in the lobby. Rates around US$25 including tax. No credit cards.
BELMOPAN AREA JUNGLE LODGES
FOUR STARS Jaguar Paw, Off Mile 37, Western Highway (P.O. Box Tel. 501-820-2023, fax 820-2024, or tel. in the U.S. 888-775-8645; e-mail [email protected]
. Directions: Turn south at Mile 37 of the Western Highway and follow the dirt path about 7 miles to the lodge. If your idea of roughing it at a jungle lodge includes air conditioning, ice-cold martinis and 24-hour electricity, Jaguar Paw may be your kind of place. A lot of lodges claim to offer adventure by day, luxury by night, but this is one that actually lives up to the luxury promise. Opened in 1996, the lodge has 16 rooms in four one-story units located to the back of the main building. Rather than the thatch-roof cabaña style that has become the de facto standard for lodges in Belize, the owners, ex-Floridians Cy and Donna Young, went with North American-style construction. Each room was decorated by Donna in a different theme: Wild West (complete with a John Wayne poster), Chinese, English Country Garden, and African are some of them. The furnishings are of high quality, the beds firm, the accessories and knickknacks of the type rarely found in hotels, for fear of theft by a souvenir-hunting guest. The centerpiece of the restaurant in the Maya temple-inspired main building is a high rock wall with water cascading down. There’s a colorful Maya-inspired mural, painted by Pamela Braun, on the 25-foot high walls of the room. Out back, next to an aviary, framed by luxuriant foliage, waits a beautiful swimming pool. The 24-hour air-conditioning at Jaguar Paw is provided by big generators discreetly tucked away from the hotel. For the adventure part, the lodge specializes in tube floats down the Caves Branch river, which is next door to the lodge. On the trip you float through subterranean caves still filled with Maya pottery and other artifacts. A half-day cave tubing trip is US$40 per person, and a full-day trip US$70. At times when cruise ships are in port in Belize City, sizeable tour groups come for the cave tubing here. The lodge offers other tours and adventures including fresh-water fishing and rock climbing. Birding and hiking are good, and there are some 9 miles of trails on the lodge’s 215 acres. Jaguar Paw, like a large number of other hotels in Belize, is for sale, though that shouldn’t affect operations. Rates: US$170 double, Dec. 15-May 15, US$140 rest of year, plus 7% tax and 10% service. Meals extra.
THREE STARS + Pook’s Hill, Off Mile 52 1/2, Teakettle Village (Mail: P.O. Box 14, Belmopan); tel. 501-820-2017, fax 822-3361; e-mail [email protected]
. Directions: Turn south off the Western Hwy. at Mile 52 1/2 at Teakettle village. Go about 4 miles on a dirt road, then turn right and go another 1 1/2 miles to the lodge (the route is well-signed.) How about a remote lodge in deep jungle, next to a river and on the site of a Maya plaza, run by an engaging international couple where meals are by lantern-light and you’re totally isolated from the cares of civilization? That pretty much describes Pook’s Hill, a collection of thatched, Maya-style cabañas on 300 acres next to Tapir Mountain Reserve and the Roaring River. We like the rustic touches here, like hot water for showers from cohune nut fires. At times you may also see excavation by an archeological group underway on the Maya site at Pook’s Hill. Owners Ray and Vikki Snaddon, long-time Belize residents though they’re both from other outposts of the British Commonwealth, are friendly and knowledgeable hosts. There’s horseback riding (US$55 for a full day, including lunch) and tubing on the river (US$10 per person) and excellent birding. Rates US$135 double, with a 20% discount May to October. Meals are tasty, filling and reasonably priced, at US$6 breakfast, $9 lunch and $16 dinner. Pook’s Hill, by the way, is named after Rudyard Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill.
THREE STARS + Banana Bank, P.O. Box 48, Belmopan; tel. 501-820-2020, fax 820-2026; e-mail [email protected]
. 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. 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. The lodge has 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. A River House is available for larger groups, and there are three less-expensive rooms, some with share bath in the lodge, and two of the lodge rooms are outfitted with air conditioning (more rooms are expected to be provided with A/C soon.) 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-inch 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$105 to US$119 double for a cabaña and US$80 for a lodge room (US$95 with A/C). Rates include breakfast. Lunch is US$10 and dinner, US$15. Meals are well-prepared and served family style. Note that there is something of a Christian atmosphere here, with prayers offered at meals. The lodge also offers many packages, including tours, all meals and horseback riding. For example, a three-night equestrian package with rides on three days and meals is US$514 per person (kids under 12 US$168). Transfers from Belize City are US$25 per person one-way.
THREE STARS + Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Adventure Camp, Hummingbird Hwy. (P.O. Box 356), Belmopan; tel. (radio phone) 501-822-2800; e-mail [email protected]
. Directions: About 14 miles from Belmopan at Mile 41 1/2 of the Hummingbird Hwy. (mile markers on the Hummingbird run backwards, starting at Mile 55 at the Western Hwy.), turn left and follow a dirt road less than a mile to the lodge grounds. Get ready to sweat! Set in a 58,000-acre chunk of private land on the Caves Branch river, this is Belize’s premier jungle lodge for travelers who like to do things outdoors. Ian Anderson, a Canadian, and his teams run fairly strenuous caving, hiking and river trips, and they do a top-flight job. They call them adventure trips, not sightseeing. Anderson says: “Of our guests 90% have never had either caving or jungle experience before coming to Caves Branch. We have taken children from the age of 6 to seniors at the age of 76 on many of these expeditions. Age is not necessarily a deciding factor. However, a degree of fitness and, most importantly, your sense of adventure will be the deciding factors.” In short, this is not a place for couch potatoes. More than a dozen adventure tours are offered, open to non-guests as well as guests. Each Caves Branch guide has been trained in first aid and in cave and wilderness rescue. The lodge has fivetypes of accommodations: The four cabaña suites are the most upmarket, with a master bedroom with king-size bed, inside bathroom with hot and cold shower and toilet, wicker-furnished living room with pull out bed, at US$108 double. Three new jungle bungalows with queen beds are US$88 double. Six jungle cabañas are more basic, with outside washroom facilities, for US$68 double. The camp also has budget accommodations in a co-ed bunkhouse, for US$15 per person; camping is available for US$5 per person (camp cooking, however, is not allowed.) Buffet meals are delicious and healthful, though not bargain-priced, at US$12 for breakfast or lunch, US$17 for dinner. No credit cards. Family and student discounts available. Caves Branch also has a variety of packages, including a one-week “Lost World” trip which takes you to some of Belize’s least visited caves, waterfalls and cenotes, for around US$1,500 a person. Cave tubing is US$85 per person, and an overnight caving expedition is US$215. Transfers from Belize City are US$120 for up to four people. Far cheaper is to take a Novelo’s bus from Belize City, changing at Belmopan for a bus to Dangriga (ask to be dropped at Ian Anderson’s -- it’s about a 15-minute walk to the lodge.) Ian Anderson’s usually closes during September.
TWO STARS + + Roaring River Lodge, Mile 50, Western Hwy., tel. 501-820-2037; e-mail [email protected]
. Directions: At Camelote Village, Mile 50, Western Highway, turn left (south) and follow the signs for 4 miles. Call ahead for pickup at the highway junction. The most significant marker is the One Barrel Bar, just before the turning -- if you’re traveling by bus you can call the Lodge from here (using your BTL phonecard) and enjoy a cold drink while you wait for your ride. Roaring River Lodge, while not exactly a new place, remains virtually unknown to most visitors to Belize. Yet here, nestled in woods and rolling pastures on the bank of the cool, clear Roaring River is some of the best-value accommodation in the beautiful Cayo countryside. In addition to swimming and tubing in the river there’s a pool on the riverbank, just in front of the bar. The Lodge itself is a three-storey wooden building with fantastic views from the breezy, shady deck. The six comfortable, simply-furnished rooms here, all with fans and sharing cold-water bathrooms, are a real bargain at US$10 per person including breakfast. Two of the rooms have bunk beds, making a perfect place for a family holiday, especially as there’s no charge for children under 10. There’s also camping space at US$5 per person and there are tents for rent. Nearer the riverbank the wooden, thatched cabañas (US$50 double) – all named after birds – offer a higher level of comfort. All have private, hot-water showers, plenty of windows, Guatemalan textiles decorating the walls and a mosquito net draped over the bed. Outside there’s a deck for relaxing and admiring the profusion of tropical flowers surrounding the cabins. New managers Chantal Verstraeten and Wim Decoster, from Leuven in Belgium, are very friendly and will do all they can to make sure you have a good stay. The meals, served in the open-sided riverside restaurant, are wonderful, with many of the vegetables grown here. Apart from simply relaxing, drinking in the calm atmosphere, Chantal and Wim have a number of packages and trips available. Tubes are free if you’re staying more than two nights and you can rent mountain bikes. The Roaring River valley was clearly an important place for the Ancient Maya – the lodge grounds are studded with Maya mounds and you can visit sites (some, like the famous Actun Tunichil Muknal, in caves) along hiking trails with local guide. You can also do all the usual Cayo tours (Barton Creek Cave, Caracol, Mountain Pine Ridge, etc.) from here. I simply floated down the river in a tube for two hours to the Roaring River Golf Club – covered in an earlier article – the best way I can imagine to start a round of golf.
TWO STARS + + Warrie Head Lodge, Mile 54 1/2, Western Hwy. (Mail: P.O. Box 244, Belize City); tel. 501-227-7185, fax 227-5213; e-mail: [email protected]
. Directions: At mile 54 1/2 of the Western Hwy, turn north and go a few hundred feet. You might say the theme here is “colonial history in a natural setting” from the white lodge building to the mahogany furnishings in the 10 guest rooms. On the grounds of this former logging camp are several historic relics, including a steam tractor, once used to drag logs to the river, a horse-drawn sugar mill and old chicle pots. Owned by John and Bia Searle and managed by “Miss Lydia,” a friendly and charming Creole lady from Belize City, Warrie Head still caters mostly to groups, but individual guests are welcome. Miss Lydia serves up tasty dinners. Rates are a good value at around US$75 double in-season; from June 1-September 30, rates drop by US$5, and off-season the seventh night is free with a week’s booking. Warrie Head lodge and some 648 acres around it has been put on the market for US$1.5 million, but the lodge continues to operate as before.
Tent camping is available at Ian Anderson’s at US$5 per person (no camp cooking permitted). Camping (US$5 per person) is also available at Roaring River Lodge.