Left Bank of the Macal River
About five miles west of San Ignacio, look for a turnoff to the left onto a well-maintained dirt road (you will see the hacienda of Belize’s “Toilet Paper King” lording over the valley from a hilltop on your left); turn left and the Chial Road will carry you to several worthwhile sites, including some of Belize’s most acclaimed accommodations on the banks of the Macal River.
duPlooy’s Jungle Lodge
Set on 90 lush acres of rolling countryside on the banks of the Macal River is duPlooy’s Jungle Lodge (tel. 501/824-3101, www.duplooys.com). The duPlooys have planted thousands of trees, a fruit orchard, and the Belize Botanic Gardens.
Guests have a number of choices of where to stay, including Jungle Lodge rooms (US$195) and comfy bungalows (US$225, rate includes breakfast, canoes, and entrance to the Botanic Gardens) with king bed, bathtub, full kitchens, and private deck; you’ll get to your room via wooden catwalk, which gives you your own canopy tour on the steep riverbank. Other available options are great for families and groups, including La Casita, which sleeps up to eight for US$315 a night.
Meal plans, packed lunches, and the dining room provide top-notch, cow-free sustenance—vegetarians are welcome.
In addition, duPlooy’s offers a sandy river beach with swimming, walks in the garden, horse trails, hiking, orchids, and bird-watching tours. Or you can float in a tube or canoe downstream to other jungle resorts where you’ll radio back to duPlooy’s for a pickup.
In addition to composting, waste reduction, recycling, and the avoidance of the nonsustainable practice of palm frond roof thatching, they also have zero chemical use on the vast landscaping—which, considering the 10-foot-deep wee-wee ant complexes that have to be dug up and destroyed by hand, is no small feat in the rainforest. In 2010, they went fully solar (with backup generator).
The Lodge at Chaa Creek
The Lodge at Chaa Creek (tel. 501/824-2037, www.chaacreek.com, from US$330, breakfast included) is one of the top-rated jungle lodges in Central America. Chaa Creek’s 365 acres on the Macal River host the ever-evolving vision of owners Mick and Lucy Fleming, an American wife/British husband team who came to Belize in the late 1970s, fell in love with the land, and never left.
The 24 palapa-roof cottages have electricity and private verandas for viewing wildlife and are furnished with fine fabrics and works of art from around the world; two “treetop” Jacuzzi suites perch on the riverbank, their wide porches boasting views of iguanas basking in the branches.
Chaa Creek guests choose from on-site activities for no extra charge, including daily bird-watching walks, canoeing and swimming in the Macal River, butterfly farm tour, and medicinal trail. There is a full concierge service to plan your days: mountain biking, horseback riding, and many other tours. The Belizean chef prepares wonderful meals, with many of the ingredients coming from a local Maya farm (which guests can visit); a packed lunch is US$10, dinner US$32.
Macal River Camp
One of the best deals in the region is Chaa Creek’s Macal River Camp, where US$65 per person gets you a lantern-lit wall tent, dinner, breakfast, and access to all the main Chaa Creek facilities and activities (located a short 10-minute walk along the medicine trail, right above the river). There are 10 units around a central fire pit and eating area, all with access to a shared bathroom and shower house. Meals are eaten communally under a thatch roof, with a bar available as well.
As you continue upstream on the Macal, Ek’ Tun (tel. 501/820-3002, www.ektunbelize.com, US$190, plus US$28 for breakfast and dinner) is one of the most remote, romantic accommodations in Belize, consisting of two quaint, tastefully appointed cottages in the middle of a vast, green chunk of the upper Macal River Valley. The cascade-fed, mineral water swimming pool surrounded by beautiful landscaping and meditation platforms is unique in all of Central America. Excellent meals include Mexican specialties, fresh fruit, spicy local dishes, and desserts; accommodations are rustically elegant and comfortable (there is no electricity). Ek’ Tun’s intimate atmosphere makes this a favorite for honeymooners (no children, couples only, three-night minimum).
Black Rock Lodge
Another couple of river bends later is Black Rock Lodge (tel. 501/824-2341, www.blackrocklodge.com, US$135–210 plus meals and taxes), another easy place to recommend for the sheer beauty of its location, starting with the incredible vista from the open-air dining pavilion. Guests stay in one of 14 units, including a few deluxe options. Meals are communal at long tables with a solid menu that includes four-course dinners for US$22 (breakfast and lunch from US$3–12).
There are numerous trips and hikes on the 242-acre property and some unique bird habitats, especially raptors, who love the air currents in front of the big cliffs. There is plenty of wildlife in the area, and it is across the river from Elijio Panti National Park. Black Rock is off the grid and powered by a combination of solar and hydro technology (80 percent of the power comes from a high-pressure mountain spring); they use solar hot-water heating and compost their food and yard waste; they have 30 species of trees in their fruit orchard and a small organic garden.
© Joshua Berman and Avalon Travel from Moon Belize, 9th Edition