Only four decades ago when Belize just began dipping her toes into the tourism pond, travelers found themselves drawn to her uncommon contrasts. Saturated with charm, Belize remains just as honest as before with multicultural Central American vivacity amid fusions of Afro-Caribbean flavors, intensely green rainforests, ancient Maya temples and bubbling islands offshore.
Hearing the word Belize, you’ll likely think of busy golf carts on cobblestone streets in San Pedro, or in-transit eats with a chilled Belikin Beer straight off the tarmac in the old capital of Belize City. Sure, you can throw yourself into it. But sometimes, it’s good to take the scenic route.
Place by place, face by face, the connections and experiences are what reminds us of why we travel in the first place. Especially after our world hit the pause button 18 months ago.
From hiking in protected areas, to picking produce in the resident organic farm and punta dance lessons in community centers, these are the encounters that put you face-to-face with the slow, sustainable side of what makes Belize, well, Belize. Here, you’re contributing directly to the people, places and things that assemble enough memories to last you for this lifetime and into the next.
Regardless of district or dwelling, Belize never pretends to be something it’s not; the unshy warmth of hospitality is palpable, a fact that would remain true, even if the country wasn’t heavily reliant on tourism at 45% of her GDP.
Which is where the investment in place—and people—come in.
After all, that’s why we travel, right? Refreshed curiosity and optimism or even escapism from the mundane aside, this is an opportunity to rejoin the travel landscape with a renewed sense of responsible travel; a triple bottom line to positively impact local economies, make new connections along the way, and leave a meaningful footprint behind.
Palpable Sustainability in Western Belize
From the hilltop village of San Antonio to the palatial splendor of the cascade-carved river rocks in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, sustainability is imprinted in the glory of the Cayo district.
As much as we can pour into destinations by choosing a conscious approach to travel, our expense account actually makes us richer by feeding our spirits. Belize’s history and culture, ecological strengths, boutique accommodations: this is what makes a visit so nourishing.
When we stop to consider whether a hotel is responsible or green-minded, we often look for solar panels and energy-saving credentials. However, places looking after their people and culture, past, present and future, is what’s paramount. Here’s three tangible ways to vacation consciously in the Cayo District.
1. Stay with The Lodge at Chaa Creek
To the unsuspecting eye, it’s just another eco-lodge. Look a little closer, and it’s a goldmine.
Tucked away along the banks of the Macal River, The Lodge at Chaa Creek hails as one of Western Belize’s best jungle-fringed epicenters. Sure, eco-luxury has been at the core since owners Mick & Lucy Fleming first founded the resort, but you’re only as good as the company you keep. With social welfare at the heart of all decisions at Chaa Creek, community involvement spans beyond just their staff – who, as a testament to The Lodge, average at least a decade of service.
Ten percent of each and every room’s revenue gets invested back into the ongoing environmental and community projects under the “Chaa Creek Cares” initiative, which includes ten scholarships for secondary school-aged children each year.
Stay more than two nights, and you’ll even get a cocooning butterfly inside your room—perfectly timed to emerge during your stay, with instructions for a successful release. Hand-picked by the concierge to feed the inner child in each of us, cocoons from the onsite Natural History Center and Butterfly Farm evoke a unique sense of stewardship as guests witness its final lifecycle: the beautiful bloom of the Blue Morpho Butterfly.
Everything you see from your balcony at this lush private estate is there just for you: 400 acres of rainforest with meticulous tropical gardens and even a medicinal trail backdropped by the Maya Mountains. Surrounded by these tree-clad foothills that frame the Macal River, you’ll find yourself with a deeper understanding of Chaa Creek’s tagline “wildly civilized”.
And when it comes to agriculture like their farm-to-fork initiative, the ethos of The Lodge’s buffer communities shines through—where ‘enough’ not ‘more’ is the aim.
The Mariposa Restaurant menu is a history lesson, cultural awakening, and fusion of international and indigenous food wrapped into a feast contributed to by the on-site Maya organic farm.
No resort encapsulates the buzzword “sustainability” like Chaa Creek. After all, it is the most awarded eco-lodge in the country.
2. Ceramic Making with the San Antonio Women’s Cooperative
Although most Belizeans are of multiracial descent, mixed Indigenous (mostly Maya) and European descent (Mestizo) make up a vast majority of about half the population’s bloodline. And in modern day Belize, the Maya are divided into three linguistic groups: the Yucatec (Mexican descent, settled in the North), the Mopan (settled in the southernmost Toledo), and the Kʼekchi (settled in the west, like Cayo).
From one of the largest Yucatec Maya communities in Belize, learn traditional techniques, like firing ceramic kilns, with the San Antonio Women’s Co-operative inside its namesake village. Just 45-minutes from The Lodge, choose a class that blends Maya history with modern life for cultural empowerment. Inspired by traditional Maya ceramics unearthed by archeologists in the surrounding areas, locally sourced clay and mineral pigment are handcrafted by the women of San Antonio, who boast a strong farming and agricultural heritage.
Founded in 2001, the San Antonio Women’s Cooperative aims to promote and conserve Maya heritage, culture and tradition within the community while providing women with an alternative, sustainable income outside of farming. When you tour you are directly impacting the community by funding the Co-op’s educational goals: traditional pottery making, classical embroidery, and ethnic cooking classes where serving guests through sustainable tourism is a means to preserve their culture and earn an income.
3. Birding inside the Elijio Panti National Park
It’s an early morning start. You’ve eaten a light bite of the fresh-baked banana muffin, sipped bleary-eyed at your coffee. A last check of your binoculars—provided, if you weren’t a big birder before Belize—and you head out onto the Western Highway back to San Antonio Village. Only this time, you’re bypassing the local community, where farmers harvest coffee beans and free-range chickens scurry.
Instead, you’re heading into the Elijio Panti National Park to revel in avian adventures. The jungle is densely pristine and mysterious, everyone’s energy is high with anticipation. It’s one of those moments you can see coming but don’t know what to expect. With over 13,000 co-managed protected areas within, your visit directly funds the park’s conservation and its resident wildlife, like the regal Ornate Hawk Eagle, Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher, or several falcons.
So, what are you waiting for? Grab you sun hat, backpack and assorted travel tools and head to where your heart will be filled with the glory of nature and the kindness of man.
Now that’s the Ticket!