Right Bank of the Macal River
The following jungle lodges and resorts are accessed via the Cristo Rey Road
Maya Mountain Lodge
Only one mile south of the Western Highway, Maya Mountain Lodge (tel. 501/824-2164, www.mayamountain.com, US$59–119) feels remote enough to warrant a listing outside of town (US$5 by taxi from San Ignacio). This is one of the most moderately priced jungle hideaways, operated for the last three decades by Suzi and Bart Mickler, whose knowledge and passion for the area are contagious.
The property is 108 acres and it’s about a 20-minute walk to the river’s edge. A meandering trail through the gardens has signs identifying plants, trees, and birds; there’s a nice pool for after your hike.
Accommodations range from six simple rooms in a raised wooden building to family cottages and a two-bedroom suite with tiled floors, air-conditioning, and extra bunks and wood furniture.
The restaurant features theme nights, homemade bread, and buckets of freshly squeezed orange juice (their Baha’i faith prevents them from selling liquor for profit, but you are welcome to bring your own). Breakfast and lunch cost US$10, and dinner is US$20.
Ask about workshops on biodiversity and multiculturalism. This is a great place for families, with discounted (or free) rooms and tours for children and teens.
Crystal Paradise Resort
Before the advent of tourism, the Tut family (Victor and Teresa and their 10 children) grew fruit and vegetables and then transported them by canoe to the town market in San Ignacio. Today, they are the proud owners and operators of Crystal Paradise Resort (tel. 501/820-4014, www.crystalparadise.com, US$95–125, rates include breakfast and dinner), a low-key lodge that attracts many satisfied repeat customers.
The 21-acre property near Cristo Rey village is a few hundred yards away from the river, and it’s an easy walk to a canoe. The Tuts’ sons, who are avid bird-watchers and nature lovers, maintain the beautiful grounds and serve as your guides on a variety of tours, including hiking, biking, horseback riding, kayaking, and bird-watching. Find them at Paradise Expeditions, which is based at the resort (tel. 501/610-5593 or tel. 501/820-4014, www.birdinginbelize.com).
Teresa and her daughters keep the guest rooms clean and comfortable and also cook up the best in traditional Belizean and international cuisine. Accommodations come in several styles on the property; there are 17 units in all, including simple thatched cabanas near the wide, open dining palapa. These have cement walls, tiled floors, hot and cold showers, and shaded verandas for relaxing. Others are clean and comfortable but more of a clapboard style; all offer ceiling fans and electricity.
New additions include a pool and four canopy-level luxury rooms. The Tuts also offer bird-watching, nature walks, and tours.
Table Rock Jungle Lodge
Table Rock Jungle Lodge (tel. 501/834-4040, www.tablerockbelize.com, from US$150) is an eco-friendly touch of class on a 100-acre preserve. Five gorgeous cabanas (four-poster king and queen beds, private bathrooms with hot water, ceiling fans, private porches) are designed to stay cool the natural way, using adobe construction. There is a beautiful trail leading down a series of stone steps to the Macal River, where guests can go birding, canoeing, swimming, or tubing (all free of charge to guests). The food is fantastic, with unexpected dishes like pan-seared jack with chipotle papaya coconut sauce, cooked in cohune palm oil and served with couscous and okra. The palm-lined entrance through an orange grove is at Mile 5 on Cristo Rey Road.
Mystic River Resort
At Mystic River Resort (tel. 501/834-4100, www.mysticriverbelize.com, from US$195), “it’s all about the river,” say proprietors Tom and Nadege Thomas in their open-air restaurant on a point above the Macal. Guests like to hike or ride upstream, then float back to the lodge in canoe or tube. The six units (so far) are spacious and well furnished, with local tile floors, nice verandas, and fireplaces for cool December nights.
The place is a model of sustainable living. They have an on-site stable and organic garden, and raise their own chickens. Tom is still cutting trails and discovering archaeological sites on his property, which you can explore—either by foot or on Tom’s ATV. Be sure to make it to Dancing Tree Lookout for sunset views of Guatemala.
At the campsite atop this housing mound, you’ll admire the same view that Mayan families saw a thousand years ago. By car, Mystic River Resort is accessed at Mile 6 on the Cristo Rey Road.
Macaw Bank Jungle Lodge
Macaw Bank Jungle Lodge (tel. 501/603-4825, www.macawbankjunglelodge.com, US$110–145) occupies an isolated, peaceful clearing in the forest. There are five miles of nature trails on the 50-acre property, many birds and other wildlife, and you can go swimming at a sandy bend on the Macal River, a 5–10 minute walk away. The five comfortable units have wooden bunks and furniture, private bathrooms, hot and cold water, some solar power, and kerosene lanterns. There is a nice restaurant palapa with wireless Internet. Campers are welcome (US$12.50 pp).
© Joshua Berman and Avalon Travel from Moon Belize, 9th Edition