Walking into the Copal Tree Lodge in Southern Belize is an experience like none other for the adventurous traveler looking for a jungle paradise. Named one of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World, and honored with a World Luxury Hotel Award, this 5-star property does not disappoint. This lodge is ideal for those travelers seeking a luxury experience in the jungle – with all of the lavish finishing touches and services you expect of a luxury resort, set amidst an untouched jungle canopy. The property is brimming with the colors, sounds and textures of the Belizean rainforest, only a short drive from the Caribbean Sea, where you will find some of the best snorkeling, diving and fishing in the world.
TRAVELING TO THE FISHING VILLAGE OF PUNTA GORDA
Arriving on a small plane from Belize City, we landed in the small fishing village of Punta Gorda on the Caribbean Sea. The town is a mix of the beautiful and rich cultures of people of Garifuna, East Indian, Kriol and Maya decent. Belize was a British colony until 1984, and you can sense the British Colonial influence in the architecture, food and culture.
THE COPAL TREE LODGE
Upon arrival at the small airport, we were warmly welcomed by the custom open-air jeeps courtesy of Copal Tree Lodge. Our driver, Desmond, greeted us with a warm smile and loaded our bags up for the 20 minute drive on dirt roads up to the Copal Tree Lodge property.
As we entered onto the expansive compound – over 12,000 acres – we were greeted by security as we first passed by the organic farm and rum distillery and then lastly the chocolate and coffee making buildings on the way up to the main lodge. Having a similar feel to a safari, the first breathtaking moment of the experience was stepping out onto the sweeping decks at the lodge, overlooking a dense jungle canopy with panoramic views for miles, including a bird’s eye view of the winding Rio Grande River.
The sweet, humid air and sounds of wildlife instantly transported me upon arrival. (I thought I may even catch a glimpse of Tarzan swinging from the vines!) The rich layers and textures of green in this jungle are like nowhere else, and your eyes feast upon the vibrant pops of color from the tropical flora.
The lodge is a beautiful combination of luxury and elegance with a rustic outpost feel. The dining room and bar is situated next to an open-air lounge area filled with books and games, binoculars, wooden swings and comfy rattan chairs – a great place to relax before and after the leisurely and delicious evening dinners.
Bird lovers will delight in all of the hummingbirds that are abundant around the lodge – with many varieties coming to eat from the well positioned feeders. This is a favorite for the young guests, as you watch them feed while you eat your meals on the deck.
The rooms at the lodge are spacious and have A/C, which is nice to come into after being out in the hot, humid air all day. The decor is elegant with cool white, blue and wood tones. There is Wi-Fi, but no TV in the room – so you can really unplug. Each room has a hammock situated on a screened-in deck. I love that you can keep the room air conditioned, but sit out on the deck to experience the jungle air and listen to the sounds of the birds and animals from the privacy of your own room. The showers are quite large with beautiful, private views out into the jungle.
DON’T MISS RIDING ON THE JUNGLE TRAM
One of my favorite unique amenities of Copal Tree Lodge are the Jungle Trams. Take the jungle tram from the lodge down to the river, or the other one up to the outlook and veranda and to the suites. If you are traveling with your family, I definitely recommend a suite, which are located next to the private infinity pool. We saw many howler monkeys in this area in both the mornings and evenings. This is also my favorite spot to catch the sunrise and sunset.
The wildlife at Copal Tree Lodge is abundant – I heard the toucans, but I didn’t see any – although we saw many howler monkeys in the trees. We also saw white-nosed coatis, geckos, agoutis, and a giant bird wing grasshopper.
We loved relaxing by the pool in the afternoons and watching the sunset from the upper outlook over the expansive jungle, as the stars began to appear in the night sky.
THE ORGANIC GARDEN ON PROPERTY
The food experience is unparalleled for two reasons – the organic garden and the passionate staff of gardeners and cooks. While on a garden tour, one of the long-time gardeners, Elon, likened growing each seedling as you would to raising your own child – you must give it plenty of love and attention. Let me say, you can honestly sense the love that goes into each dish set out on the table.
The chefs are no different. We were happy to acquaint ourselves with Yvette, the warm and passionate pastry chef, who knew my son took a great liking to the banana muffins. To our surprise, she arrived early on the day we left, so she would have time to make him some for our 5 am travel departure back to the states.
Some of the highlights of the culinary experience included the homemade ice cream – I especially loved the rum raisin and banana flavors – the pastries in the morning, and the fresh fish dishes.
The craft cocktails were a refreshing treat in the late afternoon by the pool. I was tickled by experiencing a cocktail I have never had anywhere – it consisted of the muddled fresh fruit from the meat of a cacao fruit, sparkling water, homemade rum, and a splash of pineapple. All of the bartenders were excellent – but Ducky’s broad smile and warm welcome was hard to beat.
There are so many activities to choose from – and the lodge books all of them for you upon request. We had a lovely fishing trip on the river with our guide Jack, where we followed the windy Rio Grande river out to where it met the sea. We saw so many incredible birds, and a graceful giant Blue Morpho butterfly flew right by our boat!
FARM TOUR + CHOCOLATE MAKING
A highlight was the chocolate making class, where we guided through the entire process – from how the cacao is grown to finally being roasted. At the end of the tour we were taught how to make our own chocolate. We left with 6 dark chocolate bars to take home with us. It is the best chocolate I have ever tasted, and what an experience to make your own chocolate bars.
TAKE A BOAT OUT TO THE NEARBY CAYES ISLANDS FOR THE DAY
A definite must on this trip is to take a boat out to the local Cayes Islands to snorkel. We saw many dolphins on the boat ride, and while snorkeling we were excited to see manatees, sea turtles and lots of varieties of tropical fish. You can book this through the lodge.
VISIT MAYA BAGS
For a local cultural experience, take the Lodge’s open-air off road vehicles into town to visit Maya Bags – where you have the opportunity to meet some of the local Mayan women that use ancient traditional weaving methods to make beautiful handmade baskets and handbags. By purchasing these goods, you help support these local women and their families.
HEAD INTO PUNTA GORDA FOR THE DAY
If you want to explore Punta Gorda and try some local fare – take a taxi to Asha’s Culture Kitchen with a fun Caribbean vibe and meet expats and locals alike. Order the fresh locally caught fish and choose from homemade curries. Catch some live music and drumming here on the weekends where it can get lively while you sip on a Pina Colada, or my favorite island drink – a Painkiller (coconut creme, pineapple juice and rum, topped with nutmeg).
Walk around town to the markets to get a peek of life in Punta Gorda. I loved all the colorful buildings in town.
THE MAYAN RUINS AND BLUE CREEK CAVE
Another great day activity is to visit some of the local Mayan Ruins and Blue Creek Cave. On the trail to the caves, there is a rope swing where you can cool off in the river. There are also local Mayan women selling goods by the river here – so make sure to bring some cash with you. Once you get to the cave, if the water is high enough (depending on the season) you can go for a swim.
A SWEET FAREWELL
The warm and inviting staff made our stay here unparalleled – it was as if we were leaving our family by the end of the week. The staff called us by our names the entire stay, and we truly enjoyed getting to know them all – many of whom have worked here for many, many years. I cannot wait to go back, and recommend the Copal Tree Lodge for a romantic or family getaway for adventurous travelers.