By Lee Anna Jackson
In the eastern coastline of Central America, natural untarnished treasures of Belize — atolls, wildlife, caves, and rainforests — are plentiful. Skyscrapers and multilane highways are not a part of this country’s landscape. In fact, the tallest man-made structure is still a 1,000-year-old Mayan temple.
Bordered by Mexico and Guatemala, Belize is approximately the size of Massachusetts and abundant in raw adventures: horseback rides along jungle paths, hikes through a tropical forest rich with wildlife, and explorations of fish-filled wrecks in an underwater expedition.
For a charming yet totally unpampered stay, the Hidden Valley Inn (www.hiddenvalleyinn.com) is located on 7,200 acres of private property near the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve in Belize’s Cayo district. The property has 90 miles of trails that range from a 30-minute walk to a two-hour journey, where you might even spot a king vulture. There is no menu and meal portions are small. And after 10 p.m., all lights on the property are out.
Guests have access to bedside lamps and an overhead light in the bathroom powered by batteries — that don’t always last through the night. Rooms are equipped with wood-burning fireplaces.
There are several night safaris by boat or on foot led by local “bush men,” or Mayan villagers, such as Jungle Safari After Dark offered by Caves Branch Jungle Lodge (www.cavesbranch.com). Easily spotted are bats, arboreal porcupines, boa constrictors, and night-blooming orchids. Log on to www.mayawalk.com for more details.
Other activities could include a tour of The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary — the world’s only jaguar preserve, where more than 200 nocturnal jaguars roam freely. Strap on security cables and a helmet and you’re set to take a 100-foot-high tour on a rainforest skywalk across a series of tree-hugging ladders and platforms at the research station of International Zoological Expeditions.
After a day of trails and other adventures, retreat to Victoria House (www.victoria-house.com), two miles south of San Pedro, where accommodations range from thatched cabanas to two- and three-bedroom guesthouses, and the pool is elevated just slightly above the turquoise waters that stretch out to the reef. Off-peak rates for a one-bedroom villa are $365 a night. There are absolutely no televisions, and no telephones in the rooms. A wake-up call requires a staff member to knock on your door.
A two-and-a-half-hour car ride from Belize International Airport will place you at Oscar-winning director Francis Ford Coppola’s Blancaneaux Lodge (www.blancaneaux.com), also in the Cayo district. Or you can charter a plane to the Blancaneaux airstrip. Tucked into the mountains of western Belize overlooking the rapids and waterfalls of the Privassion River, it’s the only lodge in the area with 24-hour power generated by a hydroelectric plant that harnesses the power of the river. The villas, which range from $200 to $465 per night, rise from the jungle on stilts capped with hand-woven thatch ceilings. Organic vegetables and fruits and coffee beans found on the Lodge’s menu are grown on the premises.