Jungle Love in Belize

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For clients on a first or second honeymoon, those renewing vows or celebrating anniversaries, Belize offers spectacular settings: tropical rainforests, cascading waterfalls, Mayan temples and Caribbean waters dotted with deserted isles and sheltering the colorful marine wonders of this hemisphere’s grandest barrier reef. What makes all these options possible and accessible, however, is a countrywide choice of upscale resorts and distinctive nature lodges that are so important to a celebration of love.

Well, last year, the list of top choices for luxurious and romantic hideaways got one entry longer with the opening of the Machaca Hill Lodge. Tucked away in Belize’s rather remote southern district of Toledo, a scenic hour-long flight from Belize City to the Punta Gorda regional airport, this luxury rainforest lodge sits hilltop above the Rio Grande, tucked into the private 11,000-acre Laughing Falcon Reserve, with the Caribbean Sea stretched out on the near horizon. For those clients who dream of getting away together to an accessible spot on the globe that is both in the wild and wildly civilized, Machaca Hill can be just the ticket that other romantics have not yet discovered.

For starters, formerly a fishing lodge, Machaca Hill is totally redesigned, rebuilt and beautifully furnished. Guests virtually live in the rainforest canopy where the wild things are, tucked into 12 idyllic, quiet and grandly spacious canopy tree houses that open to the heart of the jungle with its clearly visible populations of keel-billed toucans and howler monkeys. Each tree house is quite gorgeous, featuring floor-to-ceiling windows, vaulted ceilings, a spacious sitting area, an expansive private verandah, rainforest showers in super-duper bathrooms with their own panoramic jungle perspectives, air conditioning and ceiling fans. Ten of the units have two queen size beds; two have either a queen size bed or a king bed with a small sofa in the sitting area. All accommodations are fitted with coffee maker, mini-fridge, safe and hair dryer, as well as wireless Internet service for laptops.

The main lodge, with airy verandahs on two levels looking straight into the forest canopy and the Caribbean Sea beyond, offers a welcoming dining room and outdoor verandah dining, as well as a bar, library, a gift shop stocked with locally made crafts, and big open lounge areas. From breakfast through lunch, high tea, hors d’oeuvres at cocktail time, and dinner (as well as copious picnics packed for excursions), the food is imaginative and delicious. Fresh ingredients are supplied in part by the onsite working organic farm growing vegetables, fruit, herbs, flowers and a Valencia orange orchard that supplies the lodge’s needs. The farm is managed in conjunction with Sustainable Harvest International to educate and assist local farmers with organic farming techniques.

And luckily for the guests, Machaca Hill’s manager, Brian Gardiner (who comes to Belize—along with his wife Jane and two daughters—from the Abercrombie & Kent operations in Southern Africa), knows his spirits and wines and has stocked an unusually varied cellar. Adjacent to the lodge is a wellness area, complete with a swimming pool and intimate spa, both nestled into lush gardens. For those who want to laze by the dock (or have a meal served) down by the Rio Grande or go kayaking or canoeing, there is a little tram linking the mountaintop lodge to the river.

While a bottle of bubbly greets all honeymooners in their special suite with a king size bed (tree house #11), the lodge does not offer a honeymoon package per se. However, all-inclusive at Machaca Hill is truly all-inclusive, for each couple can design each day exactly as they wish. Guests have a choice of exactly what they want to do—kayaking and canoeing on the Rio Grande, taking fast cruisers along the river and out to sea for snorkeling off a host of white coral sand islands, diving in the company of certified dive masters along this hemisphere’s longest barrier reef, and enjoying world-class fly fishing. Customized Land Cruisers and Polaris Rangers are the vehicles of choice for land excursions such as exploring Blue Creek Cave and swimming in the pools of Santa Cruz Falls in Rio Blanco National Park, or visiting the Mayan ruins of Lubaantun, whose pyramid structures are built around five main plazas and three ball courts.