The Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve in the Cayo District of Central Belize, not far from San Ignacio, includes more than 100,000 acres (404,685 hectares) of protected land in the Maya Mountains. It’s home to cougars, tapirs, toucans, jaguars, fantastic rivers and waterfalls, and two notable nature resorts to use as bucolic base camps while you explore.
Food, forest, and Francis Ford Coppola
Like to eat authentic Italian food? Fancy the idea of hanging out where director (and resort owner) Francis Ford Coppola comes to relax and get creative? That’s why Blancaneaux Lodge was created, bringing the lap of luxury to the heart of this wilderness.
Built on 70 acres (28 hectares) the resort has a Balinese style spa building, a horseshoe-shaped warm pool (plus a conventional pool), and 20 accommodations including Coppola’s villa which has internet access and a chair on a rocky perch where the Academy Award winning director is said to do his best thinking. Given the view over a dramatic drop in Privassion Creek, it’s not surprising that this is his inspiration point.
Other don’t-miss details? The fan from Apocalypse Now that twirls above the lobby bar and each room has a shellphone–an intercom inside a huge conch shell that functions as your lifeline to the front desk (there are no telephones) at all of the resorts Coppola owns in Belize (he also owns Turtle Inn and La Lancha).
Then there’s the food. Mom’s recipes and produce from the resort’s organic garden team up to create delicious traditional Italian dishes. Even if you haven’t been on the road in Latin America for years where Italian food generally sucks, the food at Blancaneaux will be a delight.
For us, the pizzas were a culinary lifesaver. Tip: ask them to put some organic arugula on top. Of course, there’s also a full compliment of Coppola wines. We were actually surprised at how many different varietals and blends Coppola is making these days…
Blancaneaux’s second restaurant is a cozy bare-bones reservations-necessary affair which serves traditional Guatemalan food. Honestly, we were all about the Italian when we were there. For more, read our full profile of Blancaneaux Lodge for iTraveliShop.
Though the urge to just relax (and eat) was strong, we managed to tear ourselves away from Blancaneaux long enough to hike the trail from the resort to the lovely Big Rock Waterfall on Privassion Creek and go horseback riding to the same spot the following day (even if you don’t ride go check out the 5 star stable at Blancaneaux). We also visited nearby Rio on Pools, a gently sloping section in the river that allows small swimable pools to form.
Waterfalls and walking
Like to hike? Fancy the idea of your own private waterfall with a catered gourmet lunch? Hidden Valley Inn & Reserve, also in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, offers 90 miles (145 km) of trails lovingly and meticulously maintained by a dedicated team of people who patrol and repair them.
There are even hand-hewn walking sticks at the beginning and end point of many of the trails which traverse the inn’s 7,200 acres (2,913 hectares) of private land in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve taking you through picture perfect jungle, along babbling brooks, and past a dozen different waterfalls on the property.
The Cascade Trail is the newest and most spectacular trail on the property–you can tell that it was designed by an Austrian watch maker. We spent hours walking many of the resort’s trails (armed with a two way radio, a safety device all hikers get) enjoying the peace and quiet.
As we hiked we looked for some of the hundreds of species of birds which live or migrate through the area and we saw many of them, including the massive and rare king vulture. What we didn’t see were any other hikers. There’s wasn’t another soul on the trails.
Want to really ensure privacy? You can rent your own private waterfall for the day. Cubs Den waterfall has a thatched roof shelter next to a gurgling creek with small rapids and a small shallow pool for swimming and wading. Or book our favorite, Secret Pools (pictured above) with a platform on the edge of the natural pool beneath the falls complete with table and chairs and a hammock. There’s even a rope barrier that reads “Do Not Disturb” that goes up across the trail so other hikers don’t stumble into your bliss.
Hidden Valley will even deliver a four course champagne lunch (including their awesome homemade bread) to your chosen waterfall.
There are 12 stand-alone cabins at Hidden Valley Inn including two deluxe suites which feature large screened-in porches, hammocks built for two, and bathrooms with claw foot tubs and orchid-studded outdoor showers–in case you haven’t had enough waterfalls. And after all that hiking we also took advantage of yoga classes taught on three platforms in the jungle.
Here’s more about travel in Belize