Toledo District has an eclectic selection of unique outlying resorts and bush camps, spanning all budgets. Discover villages, caves, and ruins by day, then kick back and soak in the surroundings by night, in a hammock or over a candlelit dinner, to the sound of birds and crickets.
The area’s sole jungle-luxe property is Machaca Hill Rainforest Canopy Lodge (tel. 501/722-0050, www.machacahill.com , US$400–565 all-inclusive), located atop a forested perch high above the Río Grande and a gorgeous expanse of rainforest, five miles north of Punta Gorda . This is a unique spot targeting a unique market. The manager, an “eco-luxury hospitality” expert, is originally from Zimbabwe, and is running the place like a high-end, all-inclusive safari resort.
Machaca Hill’s property encompasses 12,000 acres of rainforest and organic citrus, coffee, and cacao farms, including 4.5 miles of riverfront and Nicholas Caye, a pristine island in the Sapodilla Cayes. The sea is a 20-minute boat ride down the river, where you’ll head for your sportfishing and snorkeling tours.
Amenities include a pool, a farm-to-fork restaurant, a break-away sitting room and veranda, and spa, as well as a screened rainforest veranda in your canopy-level treehouse suite (there are 12); you may see a brightly colored toucan from your shower window or get a wakeup call from a howler monkey.
Cotton Tree Lodge (tel. 510/670-0557, U.S. tel. 866/480-4534, www.cottontreelodge.com , about US$200 pp all-inclusive) is 12 miles up the Moho River from Punta Gorda, and is accessed either by boat or via the road to Barranco . Its 11 stilted thatch-roof cabins along the river’s edge are connected by a raised plank walkway; ask about the deep-jungle treehouse. The lodge is one of several in the area trying to take “green” to new levels; Cotton Tree conducts voluntourism projects with Sustainable Harvest International, has developed a unique septic system using banana plants, and raises 50 percent of the food it serves in its own organic garden.
Available activities include the cacao trail, treks to Blue Creek Cave , mountain hikes, river and village trips, visits to ruins, and the like, plus hands-on classes in subjects like chocolate making and Garifuna drumming. Sportfishing and fly-fishing trips are available as well. There is one honeymoon suite with a Jacuzzi and one cabin with wheelchair access.
Tucked away on the San Felipe Road, about eight miles outside Punta Gorda , Tranquility Lodge (no phone, www.tranquility  lodge.com, US$100–125) offers four well-appointed rooms popular with avid bird-watchers and orchid lovers; both have plenty to explore right here on Tranquility’s 20 lush acres (only five of which are developed at the lodge area). There were 75 species of orchids at last count — both planted and volunteers — and more than 200 identified species of birds.
Rates include breakfast; rooms have clean tile floors, private baths, air-conditioning, and fans. When there are no other guests, it’s like having your own private lodge. Upstairs from the rooms is a beautiful, screened-in (but very open) dining room, where you’ll enjoy gourmet dinners for US$25. All rates are negotiable in the off-season. There’s direct access to an excellent swimming hole on the Jacinto River, as well as a number of walking trails.
Hugging a lush bend of the Río Grande as it sweeps near the roadside village of Big Falls, The Lodge at Big Falls (tel. 501/671-7172 or 501/610-0126, www.thelodgeatbigfalls.com , US$140–160) is an elegant and quiet retreat in a peaceful, well-maintained, green clearing. The eight cabanas are ideal for the nature-loving couple looking for a comfortable base from which to explore the surrounding country or just to laze in the pool and listen to the forest sounds. Special rates are offered for multiple nights and for families; it’s a 20-minute drive to the town of Punta Gorda, and many day trips are available, as The Lodge at Big Falls is centrally located in the Toledo District.
Sun Creek Lodge (tel. 501/614-2080, www.suncreeklodge.de , US$40–100) offers four octagonal cabanas with center post and thatch roof. Some have shared jungle showers and toilets, a few have private baths, and there is the spacious Sun Creek Suite for families or groups. Sun Creek is popular with European backpackers in that comfy-yet-primitive way.
The on-site tour company will take you wherever you want to go in the area, with active hikes being their forte — including trips and expeditions unavailable anywhere else. Car rental is available. Sun Creek Lodge is at Mile 14 on the Southern Highway, about two miles from “Dump.” If you haven’t arranged for a pickup in PG, look for the broken cement sign with “Sun Creek” painted on it as you drive south on the Southern Highway — get off the bus there.
If you’re driving through the area, make time for lunch (or any other meal) at Coleman’s Cafe in Big Falls (tel. 501/720-2017, 7 a.m.–7 p.m. daily, afternoon break 3–6 p.m.), located just off the highway, on the entrance road to Rice Mill. This is home-cooked Belizean food at its finest, and the restaurant is run by a friendly and accommodating family. Creole dishes, cohune cabbage, and East Indian curries are among the offerings.
The same outfit that has a resort and research center on South Water Caye  also has one in Toledo. International Zoological Expeditions (IZE, U.S. tel. 800/548-5843, ize2belize [at] aol [dot] com, www.ize2belize.com ) has a lodge at the Blue Creek Rainforest Station, which can host cottage guests at the rustic site. Guests must hike one-third of a mile up into the rainforest along a trail that borders Blue Creek to reach the group of simple cabins with bunk beds, screens, lights, and electric fans. One cabin has a queen-size bed. Bathrooms are in the main lodge, where meals are served. Your rate of US$115 per person per night covers lodging, three meals, and two daily activities of your choice (for example, guided hikes into the rainforest and cave).
This one-of-a-kind operation features a circuit of remote, all-inclusive, upscale safari-style lodges on a vast swath of protected lowland tropical jungle stretching from the Maya Mountain foothills to the sea. (The property was pieced together out of land that otherwise would have gone to shrimp and cattle farms.)
Belize Lodge and Excursions (BLE, tel. 501/223-6324, U.S. tel. 888/292-2462, www.belizelodge.com , US$450 per day per person) offers a unique three-lodge circuit in an all-inclusive package, modeled after similar circuits in the African safari scene. Guests can land at BLE’s private airstrip and begin their eco-adventures at either Indian Creek Lodge, located across the road from the Nim Li Punit archaeological site , or Ballum Na (House of the Jaguar), where guests stay in a unique jaguar enclosure and see big cats out their bedroom windows.
They continue their journey by floating down the pristine Golden Stream to accommodations at Jungle Camp, and then on to Moho Caye Lodge, located in the Port Honduras Marine Reserve. Rooms and amenities are quite luxurious, considering how remote they are, yet they are in tune with the surrounding natural landscape.