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Placencia is said to have “the best mainland beach in Belize,” but that’s kind of like saying Omaha has the best night life in Nebraska. Francis Ford Coppola’s Turtle Inn is planted right on the beach, but it’s a narrow stretch of sand where the water is full of sea grass. No matter, because most visitors spend their days kayaking, taking a snorkeling trip, or venturing inland anyway. The Balinese-style villas have so much character that the beach is secondary.
We’re here at the kick-off of rainy season, so the snorkeling tour we’ve planned gets cancelled due to rough seas. So our adventures end up being more sedate: hanging out by the two swimming pools and riding bikes from the resort. We pedal through the mellow streets of Placencia Village and venture down the peninsula’s one road past the tiny airport. Here are a few options for when the weather is more cooperative.
• Fishing – half-day deep sea or fly-fishing trips hooking Barracuda, king mackerel, snapper, grouper, tuna and snook. Family fishing trips on the lagoon are 60 to 90 minutes.
• Scuba Diving – the PADI dive shop on site can offer two-tank dive trips to full certification courses, with whale shark dives three months of the year.
• Full-day inland trips –excursions to Lubaantun Maya Site and Rio Blanco waterfalls or to Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary (with inner tube float).
• Monkey River excursion - half-day inland trips up the lagoon to see manatees and howler monkeys.
South to Punta Gorda
After taking a Tropic Air prop plane south (leaving my wife and daughter white-knuckled), the Machaca Hill staff picks us up and we head to their jungle lodge, perched over 11,000 acres of preserved rainforest. The manager has set up its programs like those of an upscale safari lodge: all activities included in the rates, catered to individual tastes. Before we get started though there’s a fitting introduction: a bar set up by a fire pit and a group of local Garifuna musicians drumming, singing, and dancing.
After consulting with the manager and the head guide, we’ve packed a lot into our stay. First we visit a cocoa factory, which in these parts means a woman pounding out the beans herself, with occasional help from the kids. After demonstrating with a grinding stone and platform, each of us get a try. (They use a simple machine to do it for larger quantities.) We taste the fresh cocoa paste and it gets packaged up to use in a dessert back at the hotel that evening.
Then after a drive it’s time for the cave swimming. First we hike for 20 minutes through the forest, then come to the mouth of it, a river falling over rocks below. Donning our headlamps, we venture in and follow the instructions of our guide, who has been exploring this cave since he was a kid.
Our last adventure takes advantage of what’s on site at Machaca Hill (now Belcampo Lodge). We ride a funicular train down a steep hill from the lodge down to a dock area. There staffers are waiting with hors d’ouvres, fruit, and drinks before we board our kayaks and take off down the river.
We glide along the Rio Grande of Belize, which would carry us all the way out to the sea if we kept going for enough miles. There’s not a lot of wildlife out in this warm part of the day, but a golden glow as the late afternoon sun filters through the trees and the tall grass. A few birds swoop by and we hear the calls of many more in the trees on the banks. We explore a few inlets, my daughter in the front gamely trying to paddle now and then. Out here in the mangroves and on the flat river, there’s no sound but nature. The cruise ships up north may as well be a million miles away.
Other Belize adventures from Belcampo Lodge (formerly Machaca Hill):
• Jungle excursions – full-day multi adventures of wildlife viewing and/or hiking and boat activities, or a night hike to look for big cats, tapirs, and foxes.
• Snorkeling tours – half-day boat rides with lunch out to small islands surrounded by fish.
• Visits to ruins – tours can take in any combination of Mayan sites Lubaantun, Nim Li Punit, and Uxbenka.
For more information on the hotels and featured here and links to their site, see our detailed reviews:
Belcampo Lodge (formerly Machaca Hill Rainforest Lodge)
Follow this link for the official tourism site of Belize.
Story by Timothy Scott.
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