By Steve Jermanok
Home to the longest barrier reef in the western hemisphere, Belize has long been popular with scuba divers who head to the island of Ambergris Cay to float among the manta rays, turtles, dolphins, and sharks. As of late, however, travelers are heading inland to hike in a rainforest full of parrots and butterflies, visit rarely seen Mayan ruins, and canoe along the Macal River. This is where you’ll find a 365-acre nature preserve in the Cayo district called Chaa Creek.
Mick and Lucy Fleming opened this eco-resort in Belize long before green was the magic word. They have grown over the past 27 years to include two dozen deluxe bungalows with thatched roofs, a more affordable mobile tent set-up with screened A-frames and communal bathrooms, and a spa that features massages and facials. But it’s the grounds, with its brightly colored flowers and a forest of tall mahoganies and cedars on a hill overlooking the river that gives the locale its deep-in-the-jungle allure.
The resort’s expertise is setting up rainforest and Mayan tours with guides if you can somehow tear yourself away from the soothing environs. Explore the Mountain Pine Ridge on foot or horseback or stay closer to home on the Macal River, where you can swim under waterfalls and very likely spot toucans. At Barton Creek Cave, paddle in canoes past the stalagmites and stalactites. Whatever you do, don’t miss the Mayan ruins at Caracol to view the 140-foot high Caana (Sky Palace). Only the intrepid will want to climb the steep stairs in the humid climate.
Of course, children can go on all of these adventures, but the resort recently introduced a kids program for ages 6-15. Called Mac Morpho Rainforest Adventures, each child will receive a blue morpho butterfly upon arrival that will hatch and be released during their stay. They can canoe down the Macal to meet a family in the nearby Cristo Rey village to prepare corn tortillas and have lunch together. They’ll also be junior archaeologists and visit Mayan temples to unearth this lost civilization. An added bonus is that all children stay for free and those under 12 eat for half price.
Adhering to the traditions of sustainable tourism, Chaa Creek employs local artisans to create the art and furniture in each hut and uses local farms to put the fresh food on the table each day. Breakfast with hot baked bread, jams, mangoes, papayas, and sweet bananas, and Guatemalan coffee is always tasty. Dinner is served at an open-air restaurant with lantern lighting. The entrees include pollo asado, with requisite black beans and yellow rice, and grilled tilapia.
Many guests combine a trip to Chaa Creek with a jaunt at the ocean. The resort has package deals with the Inn at Robert’s Grove, set on a beach near the fishing village of Placencia. They also can arrange pick-up and transfer from the international airport in Belize City. There are no worries here in the jungle. Everything is chilled at Chaa Creek.