With a population of around 20,000, Belmopan is one of the smallest national capital cities in the world. Its name is a mash up of the words Belize and Mopan (the name of the area’s main river) and it’s home to Guanacaste National Park, the nation’s first and smallest national park at just 250,000 square yards. A trail winding through the park’s patch of jungle can be walked in less than 20 minutes.
You can extend your visa in Belmopan and get a delicious and affordable typical meal at Caladium Restaurant which is a great place to see the amazing cultural diversity in Belize come together as Mennonites, Garufinas, Ladinos and expats from all walks of life come together for a meal. You can also get a good cup of coffee and some world class wings (and other international foods you might be craving) at Perk Up Coffee and Wine Bar, along with the requisite java house Wi-Fi.
We passed through Belmopan in order to get to nearby Banana Bank Lodge & Jungle Equestrian Adventure, the country’s first and largest horseback riding operation with nearly 100 horses (all bred and trained on the property) and more than 4,000 acres of land including jungle, stretches of river, cultivated fields and large stands of teak.
Banana Bank, which can be booked through Hidden Trails, was created by artist Carolyn Carr and her husband, rancher John Carr who pioneered cattle ranching in Belize after setting on the land here decades ago.
Anything that has the words “equestrian adventure” right in the name is a magnet for Karen so we headed there to do some riding. With so many horses it’s easy for John and his local wranglers to match the right horse to the right rider. Our horses were well-behaved and responsive and we had a lot of fun on them through varied terrain where we were able to spot toucans, howler monkeys and a big scary-looking snake.
This year Banana Bank began offering a brand new ride called Surf & Turf (US$310). Partnering with Tropic Airlines, this day-long, one-of-a-kind ride starts with a 30 minute flight along the coast from the island of Ambergris Caye to Belmopan (that’s the surf part). Once on the tarmac, guests are picked up on horseback (the turf part). All saddled up, the ride tours through Belmopan then along the banks of the Mopan river. A picnic lunch, swim in the river and return ride to the airport round out the day before the coastal flight back to Ambergris Caye.
The art and ag influences at Banana Bank converge to create an eclectic lodge with a very wide range of accommodation options from two bedroom thatch-roof cabanas to private rooms to a large dorm. All of the wood in the construction was harvested off the property and Carolyn’s art is sprinkled throughout. There’s also a large pool that was designed in the shape of the Golden Mean (also called the Golden Ratio or the Golden Spiral, an equation that helps explain natural shapes and beauty.
However, horses aren’t the only animals at Banana Bank.
Carolyn and John have amassed a mini-menagerie on the grounds of the lodge including two spider monkeys (one friendly, one not so much) and an enormous aviary which houses dozens of exotic birds including macaws, parrots and a cranky little aracai (a sort of mini toucan).
Then there’s the jaguar. Tikatoo came to Banana Bank as a cub after the owners got a call from a local forestry official who said the cub had been found abandoned in the jungle. He’d heard that Banana Bank had a jaguar enclosure (it was built to house a previously rescued jaguar named Tika who had recently died). After some repairs and upgrades to the enclosure, Banana Bank gave the orphaned jaguar a home.
Tikatoo is all grown up now and she’s quite a charmer. It took about 30 seconds for Eric to fall in love and the following pictures are a mere fraction of the number of shots he took of her during our stay.
Read more about travel in Belize