By LAN SLUDER
Despite worthy and growing competition, Chaa Creek, which first opened its doors in 1981, remains the premier cottage colony around San Ignacio.
Mick and Lucy Fleming started Chaa Creek when tourists were almost unknown in Cayo. (In 2004, Lucy was elected president of the Belize Tourism Industry Association.) Over the years, they’ve expanded, improved and fine-tuned their operation until it has become one of the best-run, most-professional operations in all of Central America.
Everything works here: The grounds, comprising a total of 365 acres on the Macal River, are beautifully planted and maintained. The 23 large rooms in whitewash-and-thatch duplex cottages, plus two upmarket suites, have high-quality furnishings set off with Guatemalan wall hangings and bedspreads, the perfect marriage of comfort and exoticism. New honeymoon “treetop suites” appear to defy gravity as they stand eye level among the upper most branches of hardwoods on banks of the Macal River. These one-bedroom suites have jacuzzis and decks. There’s also a new Orchid cottage for families larger groups.
The food and drink, if not of true gourmet standard, are well-prepared and plentiful. Staffers are friendly, not fawning, and move quickly to solve any problem. There’s electricity, plenty of hot water and cold beer, and, if you like, Chaa Creek will sell you a Cuban cigar to enjoy after dinner with your cognac.
The latest additions are a fully equipped, modern spa, by far the best in Belize, offering everything from aromatherapy to seaweed wraps, and a new conference and meeting center. The spa and other changes mark a repositioning toward a more-upscale property.
You won’t run out of things to do here, either. You can visit the Chaa Creek Natural History Centre and Blue Morpho Butterfly Breeding Centre, tour the Rainforest Medicine Trail (formerly Panti Trail) next door, now operated by duPlooy’s Lodge, visit a Maya-style cacao plantation and other farming projects, go horseback riding or canoeing, or take one of the many top-notch tours offered by Chaa Creek Expeditions. Chaa Creek helped reintroduce howler monkeys to the Macal River Valley. Birding is excellent, with over 300 species spotted on the grounds by Birds without Borders, which has an operation based at Chaa Creek. Chaa Creek has won a number of environmental and other awards.
For those who want the Chaa Creek experience at a Filene’s Basement price (US$110 double including breakfast and dinner), the Macal River Safari Camp has 10 small “cabinettes” on platforms, and Belizean-style meals that some say are better than meals at the main lodge.
There is a small gift shop on site with a decent selection of Guatemalan goods.
Chaa Creek’s bar is first rate, a fine place to gather after a day of touring or river rafting. (Keep a flashlight handy, though, for the after-dark stumble back to your casita.) The restaurant serves more-or-less typical lodge fare, plentiful and tasty but in most cases not memorable. Breakfast, with fresh Guatemalan coffee, freshly baked breads and fresh fruits and jam, is always excellent.
Location: West of San Ignacio, a little over 3 miles off the Western Highway.How to get there: It’s less than 2 hours via the Western Highway to San Ignacio. From San Ignacio, go 4 3/4 miles west on Benque Rd. (Western Hwy.) and turn left on Chial Rd. (look for signs to Chaa Creek, duPlooy’s and Black Rock lodges). Follow signs on this unpaved road 3 1/2 miles to Chaa Creek.