Grand Trips for Nature Lovers
|A family reunion at the Chan Chih resort|
Birding in Belize
The small Central American country of Belize (formerly British Honduras) is unexpectedly rich in easily accessible marine, rainforest, and jungle experiences. More civilized than exotic, Belize is a great ecotourism destination for adults and curious children 5 years and older. Because the central regionconsisting of rivers, waterfalls, and rainforestexperiences heavy precipitation June to October, it boasts dense foliage, abundant birds, monkeys, and insect life.
Chaa Creek Cottages outside San Ignacio, winner of the 1998 American Express/Caribbean Hotel Association's Environmental Award, offers 20 well-decorated, thatch-roof cottages above Chaa Creek. The surrounding 300-acre nature preserve also includes the Macal River Safari Camp, a rustic alternative 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 are 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 on-site Blue Morpho butterfly breeding center and the Panti Medicine Trail, where herbs and healing plants are grown. Although daytrips are surprisingly expensive, Chaa Creek's staff work hard to make local wildlife, bird-viewing, and the pristine environment accessible to all ages.
At Chaa Creek, a cottage sleeping 2-4 runs US$115-$165 per night depending on the season, plus US$44 a day (kids under 5 are free; kids 6-11 are 50% less) for three meals. Tel: +501-824-2037; fax: +501-824-2501; www.chaacreek.com.
Other less posh lodges in the Cayo District recommended by and for families are: Clarissa Falls Cottages (tel/fax: +501-923-916; email: email@example.com); duPlooy's (tel. +501-824-3101; fax. +501-824-3301; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; www.duplooys.com).
Jungle-clad Mayan Ruins
A whirring prop plane took us north to Gallon Jug for a surprisingly different nature experience. More than 250,000 acres host the lush, tropical jungle resort of Chan Chich and the eco-agricultural experiments of its owners, the wealthy Belizean Bowen family. The 12 very chic bungalows snuggle in amongst a circle of grass-covered Mayan burial mounds that still evoke an eerie dignity. Ceiba trees filled with squawking buccaneer birds mask the fact that few of the huge, old mahogany trees which dominated the surrounding forest still exist. Yet, in the midst of a region devastated by logging, the Bowens have used development to enforce ecologically-strict management policies. Old logging roads are kept manicured by resort guides, who lead thrice-daily walks around the property to look for toucans, the occasional jaguar, tayras, and jungle fauna and to explain Mayan history to visitors.
All ages loved the cacophony of bird and monkey cries, the privacy of neighboring bungalows, sit-down meals made from fresh local ingredients (plus imaginative kids' menus), and the opportunity to relax at the pretty, screened-in pool. Guided day and night walks are offered. Although only the delightful Gilberto was able to keep kids interested, avid birders were in heaven!
Bungalows sleeping 2-4 in two queen beds run US$130-175 a night depending on the season; children under 12 are free. The full meal plan is $40 per adult and $30 per child under 12. Tel: +501-223-4419; in the USA: 800-343-8009; www.chanchich.com.
Other lodges recommended by families we met are: Blancaneaux (tel: +501-824-3878; in the USA: 800-PINE-RIDGE; email: email@example.com; www.blancaneaux.com); and Lamanai Outpost (tel: +501-223-3578; fax: +501-220-9061; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; www.lamanai.com).
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
Best Hotels in San Ignacio