By Kyle McCarthy
Sandwiched between active parents and active kids, I like to plan ‘soft adventure’ destinations for annual family reunions. In someplace new, we can explore together with parents who might never venture there alone, and with our children, who love to see the Oldies play Indiana Jones. From Belize to the Virgin Islands, our family’s under-10s through over-70s have birded, kayaked and hiked gentle slopes in search of nature’s beauty, a good meal and a comfortable hammock — our version of quality time.
The small Central American country of Belize (formerly British Honduras) is unexpectedly rich in marine, rain forest and jungle experiences, all of which are easily accessible. More civilized than exotic, Belize is a great ecotourism destination for adults and curious children 5 years and older. Because the central region of rivers, waterfalls and rain forest experiences heavy precipitation June to October, it boasts dense foliage, abundant birds, monkeys and insect life. These are a few eco-lodges, in Belize, Florida and Panama, that I recommend for your family.
Jungle-clad Rivers of Belize
Lodge at Chaa Creek
Reservations Office: P.O. Box 53
San Ignacio, Cayo District, Belize
(501/824-2037; US toll free: 877/709-8708)
This resort compound outside the scruffy town of San Ignacio, winner of environmental awards from the World Travel and Tourism Council, American Society of Travel Agents, Caribbean Travel & Life and others, offers 23 well-decorated, thatch-roof cottages above Chaa Creek. Most recently built are two deluxe one-bedroom “Tree Top Suites” perched in the hardwood trees above the Macal River, each with accommodations for four. Chaa Creeks’ 365-acre nature preserve also includes a health spa featuring treatments using botanicals in the resort’s rainforest, whose recipe is said to come from traditional Mayan shamans. The budget and eco-conscious Macal River Jungle Camp is where our family stayed — a rustic alternative to the cottage suites, with fixed canvas tents, cots with linens, and common bathing and dining halls. The main lodge’s stylish bar and terrific restaurant are a meeting place, even for those in the camp. The staff is wonderfully knowledgeable, friendly, and great with kids: gently placing a butterfly on our son’s wrist, pointing out a visiting scorpion, scarlet macaw or howler monkey, leading flashlight-illuminated nature walks, giving rides along bumpy dirt roads in an open pickup truck, even demonstrating tortilla-making.
The very fit can hike the nearby Vaca Caves (site of an underground Mayan pottery) or the hilltop Mayan temple of Xunantunich. More sedentary types will love river canoeing or exploring the Natural History Centre and Butterfly House. Although daytrips are surprisingly expensive, Chaa Creek’s staff works hard to make local wildlife, bird-viewing and the pristine environment accessible to all ages. Seemingly high (for Belize) rates are good value here and there are special meal plans for children under 12.
The Lodge at Chaa Creek also offers The Mac Morpho Kids program every Saturday during the summer for environmentalists between the ages of 6-15. The program offers participants the opportunity to get in touch with the rainforest they are vacationing in. Each family will hatch their own Blue Morpho butterfly, to be released into the jungle. Children can partake in a “Nature Rules” treasure hunt where they will learn about the wildlife around them and the importance of environmental conservation. Other components of the program include: a horseback ride to ancient Mayan temples, as well as a canoe trip along the Macal River culminating in a visit with a family from the Cristo Rey village. Parents can join their children in arts and crafts and any of the other activities the program offers. They may even bump into Mac Morpho, the Lodge’s environmentally friendly emissary, while exploring the 365-acre Nature Reserve.
Source: Family Travel Forum