This post describes two weekends in August and October 2012 – so I haven’t just been and done where and what I’m describing, but I am just finally writing about it, three months after the fact. I never said this was a current affairs blog, and I never said I wasn’t lazy ;-)
Accommodation in Belize ranges from palm-roofed wooden cabins on the beaches and burglar-barred concrete hotels in the cities, to some of the most luxurious (and expensive) island resorts and jungle lodges in Central America.
Needless to say, my level of budget and sophistication leads me to stay in the former rather than the latter. But occasionally, even I can live it up and spend a few days revelling in pampered luxury (which for me, is basically anywhere that has electricity, running water and no cockroaches). And one of the most famous places to do my revelling in is Chaa Creek, a jungle lodge in the mountainous Cayo district of western Belize.
The only reason that I can afford to come here at all is that, during the low tourism season (June – October), Chaa Creek has special offers for Belizeans and people working in Belize. Which means that low-paid volunteers (like my friend Viv [who first found out about these offers on the lodge’s Facebook page]), and the tight-fisted (like me) can afford a weekend of (relatively) cheap indulgence.
Chaa Creek is located in the far west of Belize, between the Guatemalan border and the Maya Mountains. It’s a popular area for upmarket accommodation, with a host of exclusive lodges dotted around, including one owned by Francis Ford Coppola.
Not having our own vehicle, and deciding to forgo a fairly pricey pickup from the lodge, we take taxis from San Ignacio (which is a relaxed little town to stay in for several days, and is the perfect base from which to explore the area’s forests, caves and ruins), drive along the Western Highway towards Guatemala, and then turn off onto the unpaved road to the Macal River and the lodge (where we finally understand the taxi drivers’ reservations about taking their low-clearance vehicle on the trips).
Chaa Creek consists of a range of accommodation, including cottages, suites and villas (and the world’s swankiest treehouse). Plus the obligatory restaurant and bar, a pool (patrolled by helpful staff who regularly ask you if they can get you another drink, so you don’t have to do anything plebeian, like go to the bar, or put on clothes, or even move, in order to get re-imbibed), a gift shop and a spa. Oh, and a natural history centre, a butterfly house, a rainforest medicine centre, horse stables, and an organic farm. And with a range of packages covering everything from diving to hiking, it’s got pretty much everything for the tourist who has money and wants an all-inclusive holiday.
The large landscaped grounds and small number of cottages mean that, apart from at the pool and the restaurant, you barely see another guest (we seem to be heavily outnumbered by staff, although it is the low season [even in the high season, there are more staff than guests]). And being far from the nearest town and in the middle of the forest, the nearest vehicles are in the car park, the nearest public road is miles away, and the only sounds are birds by day and insects by night (and at dusk, the zombie-like roar of howler monkeys in the distance). So for once, I have a weekend away where I’m not within earshot of noisy bars, arguing drunk people, barking dogs, car alarms, or the couple next door loudly dancing the mattress jig.
The food is excellent – it’s not haute cuisine, but after months of chicken, eggs, beans, rice and tortillas, to have a dinner of soup, salad and pasta, followed the next day by a breakfast of tropical fruit and yoghurt, is a welcome break for my leaden digestion (all those carbs and all that meat is playing havoc with my bowel management – you’d think the beans would shift everything along, but they don’t).
Like many top-end places (not that I’ve stayed in many, sadly), Chaa Creek is also good at the little things – from attentive friendly staff (there are cheap hotels all over the world where the staff act like you’re an interruption and a hindrance, as opposed to the person who’s paying their wages), to high-quality furniture (finally, a night’s sleep on a mattress where I don’t get poked in the back all night by the springs), to extra furnishings (there are enough hangers in the closet to put all my clothes, and none of them are made of rusty wire), to ornaments in the room (couldn’t steal them though, they were screwed to the wall), and, last but not least, a decent bathroom (I can’t tell you how nice it is to have a good shower, after two years of standing under lime-encrusted dribblers). They even folded the towels into swan shapes and decorated them with flowers (I normally stay in places that don’t provide towels, and when they do, there’s normally someone else’s hair stuck to them). And on the second weekend I stayed, there was a butterfly pupa in a glass case on the table, ready to hatch overnight (the lazy lepidopteran didn’t appear, but it’s still a nice touch).
Along with sunburning the top of my head, floating in the pool, and drinking the kinds of rainbow-coloured cocktails that would get me beaten up in a rugby club, I also partake in some of the lodge’s more strenuous activities – a horse ride around the grounds (which is very pleasant, apart from the aching groin that lasts for a day afterwards). And canoeing down the Macal River (which is also enjoyable, with no painful crotch but more sunburn) – if you’re going back to San Ignacio, the lodge will arrange to have your luggage driven back there, while you canoe back on the river. It’s a lovely way to leave the resort (especially if you have a two-and-a-half-hour bus journey to look forward to), and end the weekend.
So if you’re prepared to pay the money to stay at any time of the year, or if you’re Belizean (or a foreigner working in Belize, and are here during the summer), Chaa Creek is a great place to spend a relaxing weekend. And if you’re me, it’s an extravagant respite before I go back to staying in casa de cucaracha…