Laughing Falcon Nature Reserve, Punta Gorda, Belize
Situated on a hilltop in a huge 11,000-acre nature reserve under the same ownership, Belcampo Lodge (formerly Machaca Hill) is now on the top tier of Central America’s upscale jungle lodges. It mixes fawning service and great facilities with spectacular opportunities for nature watching and adventure activities.
[Editor's note - Safari–style all–inclusive Machaca Hill Resort has become a la carte Belcampo Lodge, so take note of that with dining and activities options mentioned in this review.]
Originally opened as a modest fishing lodge, Belcampo Lodge has grown into an impressive luxury nature retreat in the otherwise rugged terrain of southern Belize. As Machaca Hill it quickly become one of the best hotels in the country; time will tell if the new a la carte iteration works as well.
Everything is done right here, from a member of the management staff meeting arriving guests at the small airport to nature excursions customized to meet the desires of each couple or family. On the way you pass by orchards and organic farms that supply much of the food at the lodge, then you climb a hill to reach the lodge itself, which is perched above it all offering views over the tree canopy to the sea beyond.
The main building takes full advantage of the views, with two floors of public space giving a close view of toucans, telescopes at the ready for spotting wildlife. You check in with a welcome drink while sitting in the main lobby lounge, which is open to the forest breezes but is furnished with style.
Breakfast and lunch are sort of a modified buffet, with most items on a table but others on order to round out the options. Dinner is a personal affair, with the chef coming around to each guest during the day, explaining the night's menu and offering choices based on what's fresh and in season. He is happy to accommodate special requests, dietary restrictions, or picky kids. Everything is served with a flair, whether dining on the wraparound balcony with howler monkeys roaring in the distance or inside with soft lighting and music. Nobody goes hungry here: each day there is a tea time in the afternoon with finger foods and sweets, then a pre–dinner cocktail hour with hot hors d’ouvres.
There's an attractive pool with cushioned lounge chairs in the midst of the cabins. At least once a week the hotel will host a fireside music performance by a local Garifuna group on the adjoining lawn.
The spa here is surprisingly plush, with a wall of glass facing the rainforest and candles illuminating the fountain formed from a weathered tree trunk. The talented masseuse, who used to work at Blancaneaux Lodge, hopes to expand the treatment menu beyond massages in the future.
All of the 12 cabins were renovated in 2009, adding a screened-in porch area to each and expanding the bathrooms. They are essentially the same except for the bed configuration and are spacious and comfortable, with tile and hardwood floors and accents of local hardwoods and art. One additional sitting area joins the screened-in porch, there's a desk with complimentary Wi–Fi, and the amenities include all the expected touches like robes and quality coffee makers.
The impressive shower, tiled with smooth river stones and having a large window facing the rainforest, has two separate nozzles and can accommodate a couple with room to spare. At night the turndown crew floats in while you are at dinner, lowering mosquito nets and illuminating the room with soft lighting. The one drawback is that in theory the cabins are air-conditioned, but the screened-in porch is open to the elements; much of that energy is going to waste. Management is looking at installing a retracting wall or curtain to eliminate this.
You will probably not spend all that much time in your room, however. All–inclusive rates are set up much like they are for African safaris, with all meals, drinks, and activities thrown into the total. This way guests can truly customize their adventures to taste rather than price, whether it’s a simple hike with packed lunch in the reserve, swimming through caverns with headlamps on, or exploring the seldom–visited Maya ruins of Lubaantum. A river bisecting the property can be reached via a tram going down the hillside from the lodge and it’s a very peaceful waterway for kayaking. Other offsite opportunities include trips to waterfalls, snorkeling at the nearby Snake Keys, ATV trips to an abandoned sugar and rum factory, fishing, or a visit to a working small–scale chocolate factory utilizing local cacao. (For the latter, some of that chocolate will then show up in your dessert that night.
Very few lodges anywhere in the Americas have this much land as their private nature playground and of those that do, only a few (like Pico Bonito in Honduras) come anywhere close to the level of personal service you will find at Belcampo Lodge. If your trip to Belize includes some time away from the seaside, make sure this jewel is in the mix.
Web Address: www.belcampobz.com
Total Number of Rooms: 12
Published rates: $330 to $525 per person (includes full breakfast and complimentary services). Reduced for children.
Review and photos by Timothy Scott.