Gallon Jug Estate, Belize
Located deep in the forested northwestern corner Belize, Chan Chich Lodge is an elegant and luxurious retreat set amongst the plazas of the Chan Chich Maya ruins and surrounded on all sides by unexcavated pyramids and the largest contiguous forest north of the Amazon basin. One of the most remote and unique properties in Belize, Chan Chich offers excellent value and a wonderful array of nature–oriented activities.
As recently as 1986, the only route to the Maya archeological site of Chan Chich was with machete in hand and a canoe to cross the swiftly flowing rivers. Most people making the trip were either loggers, marijuana farmers, grave robbers, or all of the above. No one will ever know what valuable artifacts were removed from the slit–trenches found in the Chan Chich Maya temples and sold to private collectors all over the world. Today, the only temple inhabitants are armies of small bats and spider monkeys, and the only visitors are guests of the lodge and their guides. The ruins' new steward is Barry Bowen, owner of the property, who has built a dozen upscale thatch–roof cabanas in one of the open plazas of the Maya site. Though deplored by some archaeologists, the lodge is popular with bird–watchers and Mayaphiles who agree with Bowen that the presence of Chan Chich Lodge is a deterrent to temple looters and marijuana traffickers, neither of whom has been seen in the area in a long time.
The density of wildlife here is probably greater than anywhere else in Belize. The nine miles of hiking trails wind through the verdant jungle, and give ample chance to sight all kinds of creatures. Originally the hub of the British Belize Estate & Produce Company's mahogany logging operation, Gallon Jug village and estate is now a diverse working farm, ranch, and community, with an airstrip, post office, coffee roasting facility, and school. It's all part of Belizean Barry Bowen's empire.
The family of staff running the lodge offers top–notch service in everything that they do. Sunrise and sunset are exquisite from the tops of the unexcavated temple mounds, which surround a dozen spacious cabanas with modern amenities including water cooler, refrigerator, vast tiled bathrooms, and natural insulation and ventilation that keep the rooms cool all day long. An extra luxury villa is ideal for groups or families and has a host of private features. The rooms are great to come back to after a full day exploring the ruins and hiking trails, include canoeing at the nearby Laguna Verde, or horseback riding from the Gallon Jug stables. Bird–watching opportunities include trogons, oscellated turkeys, toucans, and hundreds of other birds. Tours of the coffee plantation and experimental farm at Gallon Jug provide the opportunity to learn all the steps in the coffee making process as well as other sustainable agricultural initiatives taking place here.
The day doesn't end at Chan Chich's peaceful dining veranda. If you're not signed up for the night safari then you can finish off at the Looter's Trench Bar or quietly lit pool and jacuzzi. Chan Chich is 130 miles from Belize City, an all–day drive on all–weather roads from the international airport, or (much easier) a 25–minute charter flight to Gallon Jug.
Web Address: www.chanchich.com
Total Number of Rooms: 13
Published rates: $215 to $895
Review and photos by Joshua Berman