Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch
One of the premier adventure lodges in Belize, Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Adventure Company and Jungle Lodge (Mile 41½ Hummingbird Hwy., tel. 501/673-3454, www.cavesbranch.com) offers expeditions that can be strenuous and exciting, and is also a hub for social, active travelers. As Ian said a few years ago, “We’re certainly not for everyone—thank God!”
On the 58,000 acres of this private estate are 68 known caves, and Ian has discovered and explored them all, developing a variety of trips around many of them. The longest and deepest of these Maya ceremonial caves extends seven miles.
Pristine dry caves glisten with crystal formations. Some caves still have pottery shards, skeletal remains, and footprints coated with an icing of rock crystals.
Ian offers expeditions ranging 1–7 days, including tubing trips through river caves. All expedition guides have received intensive training in cave and wilderness rescue/evacuation and first aid. Popular excursions include the black hole drop, waterfall trips, river caves, and tubing. Their honeymoon packages are particularly creative and adventurous.
Budget travelers pay only US$20 per person for a bed in Caves Branch’s fine-screened thatched co-ed dormitory with eight bunk beds, linen provided; the shared jungle showers are fun. The lodge offers their brand of “rustic luxury” in their 25 units, which include jungle cabanas and suites (US$118–205), all the way up to spectacular 800-square-foot treehouse suites (US$245–305) with views to write home about. The screened accommodations are open to the sights and sounds of the surrounding wildness.
Lighting is still by the glow of kerosene lamps and the moon—flush toilets and hot and cold water are available throughout (actually, the warm “jungle shower” is the highlight of many a guest’s stay). The accommodations have electricity too—for lights and wicker fans—but there are no outlets or appliances.
New additions include a spa, wedding facilities, and a helipad. The orchid collection alone has over 400 species of rescued specimens, less than a quarter of which have bloomed yet. Guests dine together in the main open-air lodge, where they discuss the day’s stories and next day’s plans over family-style meals (breakfast and lunch US$12, dinner US$24).
Access to Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch is on the Hummingbird Highway between the Blue Hole National Park visitors center and the parking lot for the Blue Hole itself; turn left (if headed south) and continue to the end of the mile-long dirt road. If traveling by bus, you’ll have to hike in from here if you haven’t arranged to be picked up by lodge staff.
Green Acres Ranch
The Green Acres Ranch and Horseback Adventures (Mile 36 Hummingbird Hwy., tel. 501/670-5698, www.upclosebelize.com) offers a variety of riding and nonriding opportunities; they are run by the tour company UpClose Belize. There are accommodations next door at the Yamwits’ (six rooms with private baths, hot and cold water, and fans are US$50 per night).
It’s 17 miles south of Belmopan; turn off the highway after the Sibun Bridge. A quick drive through the orange orchard, across the brook, and up the hill, and you’ll find well-built, healthy quarter horses waiting to take you into the countryside. Green Acres welcomes inexperienced riders (including children) and offers a high level of personalized attention from their guides.
Rides vary from one to two hours depending on rider experience. Hourly rides, day rides, and even overnight camping rides are available. A US$85 per person fee includes round-trip transfer from Belize City (or equal distance), two to three hours of on-site riding, and a farm-fresh lunch served under the thatched palapa, including grilled meats, homemade tortillas, salads, and drinks.
© Joshua Berman and Avalon Travel from Moon Belize, 9th Edition