Copal Tree Lodge, Belize
Ask for whatever Mark the bartender is making that day, with a sugar cane swizzle stick!
- More about your oliver guide: Gibson Thomas
- Trip type: Family, Beach
- Activity level: moderate
- Ideal length of trip: AT LEAST FOUR DAYS, AND AS LONG AS A WEEK.
to & from
American Airlines from SFO through DFW (or Miami) to Belize City, then Maya Air to Punta Gorda
Where to Stay
Colpal Tree Lodge (formerly Belcampo) Belize, Punta Gorda– This is a destination resort in an out of the way destination in southern Belize usually only frequented by avid fly fishermen. High on a hilltop, Belcampo is surrounded by 12,000 acres of nature preserve, protected by Belcampo’s owner.
Where to Eat and Drink
Belcampo Belize is owned by the same partners who own Belcampo Meat Co., based in the Bay Area. The lodge’s gorgeous open air restaurant is supplied by the extensive onsite organic farm. Current chef Renee Everett is originally from Chicago and started her culinary career there before moving to LA where she worked for celebrity chef Ludo Lefebvre at Trois Mec. Chef Everett incorporates local Mayan and Garifuna food traditions, as well as the Caribbean spices we expect in this part of the world. The included breakfast is one of the best anywhere. The farm fresh egg dishes, hand made tortillas and locally cured bacon are amazing. My son had cacao nib waffles every day (more on the cacao below). Freshly caught seafood offerings change daily. The farm-driven cocktails are delicious, too. Ask for whatever Mark the bartender is making that day, with a sugar cane swizzle stick! Ask for Belcampo’s own rum, distilled on site (still under construction when we were there in January 2017). Very inventive GF options, too.
What to Do
- Birds and Monkeys - Our family loves birds. At Belcampo, there are lots of parrots and other birds and, at the right time of the year, toucans and aracaris. The property is so lush that the hummingbirds and their cousins the larger hermits, buzz around like it's an airport. Hire a birding guide for a half day and you will explore the lodge grounds and the farm. You won't have to look for the Howler monkeys in the trees above the lodge, you will hear them first.
- Bean to Bar chocolate making - Belcampo is a burgeoning cacao farm, and the chocolate experience starts with a tour and very educational talk in the cacao nursery and ends with you pouring your own chocolate bars. Do not miss this!
- Snorkeling with the Chef -We are all scuba divers, and had been diving in another part of Belize before we got to Belcampo, so we initially turned up our noses at the "Snorkeling with the Chef" offering, but after we met the effusive Chef Renee, and saw her Instagram feed (#snorkelingwiththechef), we had to do it. It was the best activity we did. The day starts with a leisurely ride down the river on the lodge's comfortable pontoon boat (It reminded me of the Bogart/Hepburn movie "The African Queen."), sighting crocodiles and birds pointed out by 3rd generation Belizean Captain Jack. Accompanied by a bartender (love Mark!), expert guide Desmond, Chef Renee and the captain, it was like our own floating resort. Captain Jack speared a tremendous spiny lobster and a huge Hog snapper, which Chef Renee fired up on the wood grill at the back of the boat. On the trip back up river, we snacked on fresh conch ceviche made with conch that we (our 14-year old included) had "caught." Watching Captain Jack clean the conch was a treat!
- Visit to a Mayan village/home and cave swim - This tour takes you to the authentic Mayan village home of a former Belcampo guide who is an expert on and ambassador for Mayan culture. In his home, the guide's wife shows you how they dry, boil then mash corn for masa, then teaches you how to make your own tortillas to be cooked on the wood-fired comal. After a delicious lunch of authentic Mayan dishes, you hike into the jungle to the mouth of a cave. There, you suit up with life jackets (thankfully), helmets and headlamps, and swim into the 4-mile long cave. The current is so strong that you must be pulled in on hand-held ropes part of the way. At the end, you let yourself be "swept" into the current back out of the cave. Chilly, but a great adventure!
If you can swing it, the Four Ridge Suites are well worth the extra money. Their canopy level views are exquisite. And the infinity pool reserved just for those four suites. The rooms are plenty large enough for a family of four, if the kids don’t mind sleeping on the comfortable day beds. The outdoor bathtub alone is worth the trip! There is also a larger house that will accommodate a larger family, with kitchen. But you will want to eat your meals in the lodge!
If you want to scuba dive, do that before or after your stay at Belcampo Belize. It is very expensive because of the distance from the reef, and too long of a trip. Enjoy the unique jungle and farm opportunities!
What to Pack
Exploring other places in Belize? Check out Elizabeth Keville’s guide to San Pedro, Belize.