The “better Belize it” puns started as soon as the airplane landed! I was lucky enough to spend a week exploring this relatively untouched country in October, with visits to three resorts owned by Francis Ford Coppola and his family. All of the properties are very eco-conscious, feature fantastic food and wine, and are places where you immediately feel at home and part of the family. I started at Turtle Inn outside of the small beach-side town of Placencia. The cottages are spacious with wonderful porches to enjoy your morning coffee service, and most have views straight out into the ocean.
The first day there was quite a bit of rain, but it didn’t dampen our spirits at all! We spent the afternoon exploring the restaurants and bars that make up Placencia and of course trying out a Belikin or two (the Belizean beer of choice). Dinner was a really unique experience: Rijsttafel – a Dutch tradition of a sampling of over 20 Indonesian dishes. This meal perfectly fits into the resort as the property is decorated in a Balinese style and the ever so welcoming and friendly General Manager, Martin, is Dutch. It’s hard to decide if this meal or the following night’s beach dinner of a grilled lobster was better!
The real highlight of our stay in Placencia was our snorkel trip. We went out on the Wild Orchid catamaran to the Belize Barrier Reef which is a part of the 2nd largest reef system in the world. As soon as we jumped in the water we were surrounded by massive 70 year old sea turtles, nurse sharks, and sting rays… amazing!
After our time at the beach, we took a quick flight up to Blancaneaux Lodge, which is in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. As you drive in, you pass their massive organic garden which provides the majority of their produce. This resort is completely off the grid, with their power coming from the river. All of the cottages are surrounded by lush forest and you fall asleep to the sounds of running water. At night the lit stone paths look like something out of a fairy tale. Once again the rain tried to ruin our plans to hike to the falls, but the General Manager Bernie had something else in mind: A Coppola Wines tasting while one of the lodge’s guides gave us a fascinating introduction to Mayan history in preparation for some of the Mayan sites we were to see over the next few days. Dinner was pizza made by chefs that are all sent to Naples to learn the art of Italian pizza making… so tasty!
One of the activity highlights at Blancaneaux is an excursion to the ATM Cave. Certainly for the adventurous, you hike 45 minutes to the mouth of the cave where you have to jump into a deep pool, swim into the cave, and then proceed to walk/swim/wade through chest deep water and tight spaces. If the beauty of the cave isn’t enough to wow you, the cavern where you end up is mindblowing. All around you are artifacts and skeletons left from the times when the Mayans used the chamber for rituals to bring rain. The pots look like they are broken and scattered but in fact they are aligned by the Mayans with the constellations and were smashed to be sure they weren’t offering anything that appeared perfect to the Gods. Skulls left from the sacrificed (it was a huge honor to be sacrificed back in the day!) are just inches from the path you are walking. I still get chills thinking about it!
The next morning came early as we were off to Guatemala to visit the ancient Mayan city of Tikal. I never thought I was that enthralled by the history of ancient civilizations, but this visit and the fantastic guiding changed my mind. I felt like I was in a movie set with towers of temples rising above 200 square miles of jungle that is the old city. Only 20% of the ruins have been restored so there is so much more laying underneath the jungle.
Then it was off to the third Coppola property in Central America, La Lancha. The ten casitas that make up the resort look over Lago Petén Itzá, which is a huge pristine lake.
Raised in Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes, I admit I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to lakes and I have to say this is probably among the cleanest and prettiest I have seen. I had to pinch myself as I realized I was floating in an inner tube, drinking Coppola Sauvignon Blanc, and looking up at the howler monkeys jumping through the trees. What a dream.
The three Coppola properties are a great way to see these beautiful, untouched countries and there are various packages that include the touring that I did while I was there, plus infinitely more options! As members of Virtuoso, you receive exclusive amenities when you book through McCabe World Travel. Call us today for more information!