Take to the trees in Belize
Take to the trees in Belize
Off the Central America tourist trail…
Anna Hart finally makes it to Central America, and wonders what took her so long…
We all have our globetrotting blindspots; the regions that we’ve never quite made it to, even though friends keep unhelpfully insisting, “What, you haven’t BEEN? Oh, you MUST go, you’d LOVE it.” For me, my blindspot has been Central and South America. I know Laos better than I know Wales, I’ve lived in Ireland, Singapore, Scotland and New Zealand, and I can order a beer in Polish, Croatian and Czech. But when it came to the Americas, I’d never been south of Nashville. People loudly proclaimed that I’d adore it and I knew they were probably right, but somehow I always wound up booking another holiday to Thailand.
Last month, however, I finally made it, and I didn’t even take the well-trodden tourist trail to Brazil, Costa Rica or Peru. My first experience of Central America was Belize; a perfect introduction to what all the fuss is about. Belize is petite compared to its neighbours and bordered on the north by Mexico, to the south-west by Guatemala, and the east by the Caribbean Sea. If the geographical position makes it perfect for the intrepid traveller – delivering beaches, rainforest and Mayan ruins all in close proximity – it also makes it perfect for the intrepid eater. Caribbean, Mexican and Guatemalan influences have got to make for an interesting menu. The best time to visit is January to April; try and steer clear of October and November, because when it rains in Belize, it really rains.
A word of warning: getting around a jungle-dense, population-sparse region like Belize requires you to be on friendly terms with Tropic Air’s 14-seater Cessna Caravans. I love small planes, so I’m thrilled to learn that Belizeans regard Tropic Air as local buses, with flights costing as little as £20 one way. On one we soar out of Belize International Airport (having glugged an obligatory rum punch at Jet’s Bar, a brilliantly non-airportlike airport bar and national institution) and 30 minutes later land on a dusty runway at Blancaneaux Lodge.
This seriously luxurious eco-lodge is nestled within the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, with 20 standalone cabanas perched on both sides of the canyon leading down to the turquoise, mineral-rich waters of Privassion Creek, which is sufficiently close for you to skip showers entirely and take bathtime to the river.
The views that greet you are nothing short of cinematic, which makes sense, given that the owner is film director Francis Ford Coppola, who discovered the site in 1981 when looking for an inspirational jungle hideaway in which to write. He still keeps a two-bedroom villa here, with his own personal artwork and antiques, and a full-time butler.
I’m not in the Coppola Villa, but instead in one of two honeymoon cabanas, with soaring thatched ceilings, rainbow-coloured Guatemalan fabrics, my own screened porch and a private infinity slate-lined plunge pool overlooking the valley.