This month's Making a Difference award winner is Hidden Valley Inn, a luxury eco-resort set high in the Mountain Pine Ridge in the Cayo District of Belize. This secluded forest escape has miles of well-groomed trails as well as its own restaurant, massage rooms, and yoga studio. We spoke with Raul Rodriguez to find out more about this beautiful eco-chic hotel.
Q. Is Hidden Valley Inn a good place for travelers who want to see exotic plants and wildlife?
RR: Yes! Hidden Valley Inn is dedicated to nature conservation. We are located on a 7,200 acre private reserve comprised of two ecosystems: Caribbean pine forest and tropical broadleaf jungle. In our forests, you can find numerous cascades, pools, and waterfalls networked by over 90 miles of trails and roads.
Hidden Valley Inn is involved with multiple wildlife projects in the region. The first orange-breasted falcons born in captivity, five females and one male, were released by the Peregrine Fund on Hidden Valley Inn's private reserve in 2007. Other animals that live in the forest include jaguars, ocelots, and peccaries--and look out for otters swimming in the quiet streams on the property.
Q. What can your guests do to learn about local Belizean culture and customs?
RR: Travelers can visit nearby areas that reflect the multicultural communities of Belize. The villages of Cristo Rey and San Antonio are home to predominantly Mayan descendants, while the inhabitants of Georgeville and Progresso are of mixed Creole and Mestizo descent and the Barton Creek farming area is occupied by an Amish community. Further down the Western Highway is Spanish Lookout, where the Mennonites reside and farm.
We have a "Meet the People Tour" that takes guests into these areas to see, feel, touch, smell, and taste the Belizean way of life. Our guides are knowledgeable in Belizean culture and customs. Guests participate in educational tours conducted by local guides and attend cultural fairs and events. During these tours, you can support the local communities by purchasing local food, fresh produce, and arts and crafts.
Q. Why sustainability is so important for your hotel and what noteworthy sustainable initiatives are you carrying out?
RR: Sustainability is the mainstay of our tourism products, hotel, and tours. We believe that protecting the natural environment and its diverse ecosystems will be a great benefit to the tourism industry of Belize for generations to come.
We have environmentally-friendly procedures in place to minimize waste. We use eco-friendly chemicals and products from reputable suppliers as well as fresh local produce instead of imported packaged goods. We monitor our electricity, fuel, and water usage and have an eco-friendly garbage disposal system.
We rely on locals for our business and employ the majority of our employees from the surrounding villages. By economically empowering these residents, they in turn take ownership of the natural resources and are motivated to protect the wildlife and biodiversity of the area.
We offer educational tours and excursions to students from two local schools in Cristo Rey and San Antonio Village. We have also donated a photocopier to the Cristo Rey school and are in the process of assisting with the creation of a computer lab for the San Antonio school.
Q. Of all of the hotels in the Mountain Pine Ridge area, what makes Hidden Valley Inn special?
RR: Hidden Valley Inn is situated on a large property unrivaled by any hotel in the area, offering ultimate privacy and seclusion. Those in the mood for some romance can even reserve certain waterfalls and cascade pools for the day. With only 12 rooms on this vast property, privacy and a focus on wellness can be guaranteed. You can take advantage of our vast trail network, three yoga platforms, and our holistic spa, complemented by qualified local guides and employees that will bend over backwards for their guests.