Hotels and Restaurants
Hidden Valley Inn
Situated on 7,200 acres of private property in the heart of the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, Hidden Valley Inn (Cooma Cairn Rd., tel. 501/822-3320, www.hiddenvalleyinn.com, about US$165–205 plus meals and taxes) is a quiet paradise for hikers and bird-watchers, who have a blast exploring the resort’s 90-plus miles of walking trails and old logging roads. Later, after dining under the stars, they cozy up in front of their cottage’s fireplace.
The property encompasses lush broadleaf forest and pine tree habitat, and two diverse ecosystems are divided by a geological fault line, which marks the edge of a towering 1,000-foot escarpment. Birders, be prepared to check off orange-breasted falcons, king vultures, stygian owls, azure-crowned hummingbirds, green jays, and golden-hooded tanagers. Picnic lunches are provided for the myriad day trips available.
The main house built of local hardwoods feels more like a ski lodge than a tropical resort, with several spacious common rooms, including a fireside lounge, a card room, bar, library, and the restaurant.
The 12 cottages have saltillo tile floors, vaulted ceilings, cypress-paneled walls, fireplaces, ceiling fans, screened louvered windows, comfy beds, and private baths with hot and cold water, some with waterfall orchid showers in a private outdoor bathroom.
Hidden Valley Inn is three miles in from the Mile 14 turnoff onto Cooma Cairn Road—just follow the signs.
Pine Ridge Lodge
Five miles beyond the forest reserve gate, you’ll find yet another unique hillside lodging with its own primitively comfortable personality. On the banks of Little Vaqueros Creek, Pine Ridge Lodge (tel. 501/606-4557, U.S. tel. 800/316-0706, www.pineridgelodge.com, US$89) offers six rooms in “forestview, Mayan, and riverview” cottages, all with private bathrooms, hot water, porches, and appealing decor and furnishings. There’s no electricity, just quaint kerosene lanterns for reading at night.
Owners Vicki and Gary Seewald have done a superhuman job of maintaining the grounds—they’ve planted bright and beautiful gardens that feature a growing collection of orchids and other epiphytes. Screened-in creekside lounge areas offer shade and a babbling brook, which is great after that bumpy, 32-mile trip back from Caracol—and before your walk down to the Pine Ridge Lodge’s 85-foot waterfall.
Room rate includes continental breakfast (freshly baked rolls, local honey, coffee, and fresh fruit); lunch is US$8.50, dinner US$25. Catering to vegetarians is a specialty. The lodge is only seven miles north of Río On Pools; ask about tours and transfers.
Francis Ford Coppola first came to Belize just after the country gained independence in 1981; he tried and failed to persuade the new government to apply for a satellite license in order to become a hub of world communications. He did, however, succeed in finding an abandoned lodge on a pine-carpeted bluff overlooking the rocks and falls of Privassion Creek. It served as a private retreat for the film producer until 1993, when he “tricked it open” by flying a group of family and friends down for his 54th birthday.
Today, Blancaneaux Lodge (tel. 501/824-4912, www.blancaneaux.com, from US$250) remains one of Central America’s premier resorts, featuring the design of Mexican architect Manolo Mestre. Splashes of color, dark hardwoods, Central American lines, and soaring thatch ceilings mark Blancaneaux’s 10 cabanas and seven luxurious villas. There is a U-shaped hot pool above the river and a spa built in an Indonesian rice house with Thai massage therapists.
Blancaneaux’s Ristorante Montagna offers an exquisite Italian-centric menu, with a range of salads, pastas (US$14), seafood, sandwiches, pizzas (US$18), and, of course, a selection of wines from Coppola’s Napa Valley vineyards—smooth and costly.
Two honeymoon cabanas with their own private infinity pools and choice of two views (US$290–390) and the Enchanted Cottage kick things up a notch in luxury. The Enchanted Cottage is also available for a small group of friends looking to celebrate a special event—and who can afford US$1,600 per night.
An on-site hydroelectric dam powers the entire operation, and a 3.5-acre organic herb and vegetable garden supplies many of the restaurant’s needs (and those of Turtle Inn). They have a stable with 29 healthy horses and a number of guided trail trips. The lodge is at Mile 141/2 and has its own airstrip, which many guests prefer to the 2.5-hour drive from Belize City.
Five Sisters Lodge
Five Sisters Lodge (tel. 501/820-4005, www.fivesisterslodge.com, US$85–150), high above the inviting Privassion Creek, was built in 1991, inspired by the natural beauty Belizean Carlos Popper saw in his property, perched in the Pine Ridge above the famous Five Sisters Falls from which the lodge gets its name. Prices are very reasonable. Rooms and suites are perched on the top of the steep canyon; they range from beautifully thatched cabanas overlooking the river to an exclusive riverside villa—19 units in all.
The honeymoon suite has brightly colored bedspreads, mosquito netting, and complete privacy, and a new gazebo is popular for weddings. Restaurant prices are also relatively low, and packages for longer stays are offered.
Even if you don’t stay here, come by, have a beer on the outdoor deck, and enjoy the commanding view above the river. The hardy can walk the 300 steps down to the river; if you’re too tired after splashing around, not to worry—the motorized funicular will carry you back up the hill, at least between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.
© Joshua Berman and Avalon Travel from Moon Belize, 9th Edition