An easy 35-minute boat ride from Placencia  brings you to the mouth of the Monkey River and the village of the same name.
Founded in 1891, Monkey River village was once a thriving town of several thousand loggers, chicleros, banana farmers, and fishermen; that was then. Now, the super-sleepy village of 30 families (about 150 people) makes its way with fishing and, you guessed it, tourism. Many villagers are trained and licensed tour guides who work with hotels in Placencia to provide a truly unique wildlife-viewing experience.
Ninety percent of the structures you see have been rebuilt since Hurricane Iris destroyed the town in 2001. The village is accessible by boat—most often through the mangroves from Placencia—but there is also an 11-mile road from the Southern Highway that ends across the river from the village.
If you’re on a tour from Placencia , after negotiating the mangrove maze your guide will take you into the river’s mouth and dock up in town for a bathroom break and a chance to place your lunch order for later in the day. Then you’ll be off upstream, all eyes peeled for animals.
You’ll beach up at the trailhead to explore a piece of Payne’s Creek National Park, a 31,000-acre reserve that is surrounded by even more protected area. You’ll hike through the dense brush, now a regenerating broadleaf forest that will take decades to reach its pre-Iris glory. Then it’s back down the river for lunch and a stroll through the village.
Most head back to their rooms in Placencia, but you may wish to consider staying a night or two, either to experience the village life or to get some serious fishing time in.
The options in Monkey River are casual inns, best appreciated by those who enjoy isolation and primitive surroundings. Most offer a set menu (a different entrée served each day). Reservations are required for meals, though all of these small cafés will serve drop-ins something such as a burger or a beer.
Near the breezy part of town by the mini-basketball court, Alice’s Restaurant (tel. 501/720-2033) offers meals for about US$6, served in a large dining room with a view of the sea; renting one of her airy wood rooms in a neighboring building costs US$23 with fan and shared bath with hot and cold water. A room with private bath is planned.
Sunset Inn (tel. 501/720-2028, www.monkeyriverfishing.com , US$50 s/d) is a two-story structure with eight musty rooms with private baths, fans, and hot and cold water. Decent meals can be had for about US$8.
The Black Coral Gift Shop, Bar, and Restaurant offers simple fare, local crafts, and Internet. The family that runs this hotel has an acclaimed guide service too, especially for sportfishing trips.
All hotels and resorts offer sea and land tours and trips. Local guides and fishers are experts. Sorry, there’s no dive shop yet, but bring your snorkeling gear. Overnight caye trips are available, as are river camping trips (you’re dropped off at the Bladen bridge and canoe down the river, stopping at night to camp).