Central American Adventure: Rain Forests, Ruins, and Beaches

A small waterfall gushes over rocks in Belize

A small waterfall gushes over rocks in Belize

Central America is alluring. Imagine untamed jungles, rugged mountains, and unspoiled beaches waiting to be explored. Latin American influences combined with Indian culture give it a colorful, rich flavor. Music, art, and food are a mélange of these influences. A six-day exploration of Belize and Guatemala was not adequate to experience all of its wonders, but it was enough to create a desire to return.

Palm trees line the waterfront outside Francis Ford Coppola’s Villa

Alighting from the four-wheel-drive vehicle after a tropical storm, we were greeted by the full moon and lush vegetation. The drive had taken us past tropical landscapes, jungles, and villages before arriving at our destination in the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve of Belize. While adventure travel is exciting, at the end of the day the small luxuries of a comfortable bed, warm water, and electricity make it more enjoyable. Blancaneaux Lodge offered an eco-friendly and luxury experience in the rain forest, an ideal combination.

Our accommodations, Francis Ford Coppola’s Villa, exceeded expectations. It was comfortable as if every need had been anticipated and provided. The indoor/outdoor design allowed for the sounds of nature and the fresh air while feeling nurtured. The living space offered outdoor seating and decks overlooking the creek, while indoor space was open-air and provided great views while offering shelter from the tropical rain. Colorful Guatemalan textiles and crafts were used throughout the villa. Thoughtful touches, such as the telescope to enjoy the night sky or the fresh-baked coconut bars, made us feel welcome.

Tropical paradise at Blancaneaux in Belize

We chose a quiet in-room dinner while getting settled. Lobster, fresh salad, and sparkling wine seemed the perfect antidote to a day of travel. Not long after, staff arrived for turndown service, scattering candles about and leaving fluffy bedding for the cool evenings. The sound of the creek was instantly relaxing, lulling us into a deep sleep.

A short walk to breakfast provided the opportunity to admire the beautiful grounds during daylight. This was a tropical paradise. From every vantage point it could easily be a scene from a movie or postcard. The sound of the running water from the creek created a sense of well being while providing the resort’s electricity.

Deck and private plunge pool at Blancaneaux in Belize

While there are lots of fun activities to enjoy—horseback riding, birding, yoga, hiking, cave exploration, and the spa—our own private plunge pool won out. Surrounded by lush foliage and the sounds of birds and water, our deck and pool provided ample relaxation. We had everything we needed right here.

A shrimp and rice dish

Meals were a highlight at Blancaneaux, with a choice of Italian or Belizean cuisine. It was surprising to be in the rainforest and enjoy delicious Italian food, with pizza made in a wood-fired oven and chefs trained in proper Italian cooking. Coppola wine was featured prominently on the menu. We appreciated the availability of fresh fruit and vegetables, most of which came from the organic garden on the property.

Later that day, we had the opportunity to tour the garden, enjoying cocktails while viewing the source of the ingredients for our meals. Fresh-made piña coladas, sorrel cocktails, and mojitos were served with garden-fresh vegetables.

Admiring the rain forest at Blancaneaux

We had indulged our craving for Italian cuisine at lunch so we chose to dine on Belizean food for dinner—grilled meats, vegetables, and the favored rice and beans. It was a delicious meal accompanied by our favorite Coppola wines while we enjoyed live marimba music. The moonrise and the profusion of stars made it a special evening as we finished the meal with a selection of dessert.

Days took on a rhythm of sleeping, eating, walking, and being contemplative. We couldn’t resist a Thai massage at the lovely spa overlooking the creek. Sounds of water provided relaxing background music while enjoying a restorative treatment. What we most appreciated was being immersed in the beauty and sounds of the rainforest while staying in comfortable accommodations. How does it get any better than this?

Chairs on a deck overlooking the rainforest

Details: Blancaneaux Lodge accommodations range from honeymoon cabanas to two-bedroom villas. For a special romantic experience, the Enchanted Cottage is located on the top of the hillside with its own private pool and butler service. There are two restaurants, a pool, and activities including horseback riding, birding, hiking, cave exploration, visiting ruins, and spa treatments. To get here, take a short flight from Belize City airport or a two-and-a-half hour drive to the property.

Stunning views at La Lancha in Guatemala

While it was sad to leave our idyllic rainforest sanctuary, the adventure continued. We headed to Guatemala to explore the Mayan ruins of Tikal. La Lancha is the ideal location for excursions to the ruins. Located on Lago Petén Itzá, the tiny resort occupies the hillside surrounded by trees and wildlife.

We arrived by car, entering at the top of the property with the lobby, restaurant, and bar. The rooms are located on terraces down the hillside with lake access and a dock. Guests have a choice of canoeing and swimming in Lake Petén or enjoying the pool above. Rooms have rainforest or lake views. Each room has a patio with chairs to enjoy the views. Birds, crickets, and monkeys are only some of the sounds to be heard.

The inviting pool at La Lancha

After lunch we had some free time to swim in the lake, lounge poolside, or savor views from our patio. Later that evening we enjoyed a Zacapa Rum tasting of locally produced rum. We learned about the production of the Zacapa 23 and the Zacapa XO and sipped each, discovering ideal parings. Dinner followed the tasting, allowing for more decadence. The shrimp al ajillo over rice was fantastic and delicious paired with the Coppola Pinot Grigio.

Admiring sunset over the water from a dock in Guatemala

The following day, we explored Tikal, an ancient Mayan city, and learned about the civilization that once inhabited this impressive place. Hiking through the jungle dotted with ruins, we arrived at the city center with buildings constructed around the central plaza providing unlimited exploration. The crown jewel of Tikal is Temple IV, which is the equivalent of a 20-story building. It was quite a climb, but the reward of expansive jungle views was more than enough of an incentive.

Mayan ruins in Tikal

We had worked up quite an appetite after the morning’s exertion. We chose to dine in nearby Flores, a lakeside town. Sangria and beer were the beverages of choice. I couldn’t resist the whole fried fish covered in garlic, a satisfying selection. After shopping for trinkets, we were transported by boat back to our resort. It was a beautiful way to enjoy the waning afternoon sun with scenic lake views. We arrived at our dock to a spectacular sunset.

Tortilla making consumed our attention before dinner as we vied to make a perfect tortilla—which proved elusive. The candle-lit dinner and cozy fireplace contributed the right ambiance. Our final dinner at La Lancha was bittersweet; we enjoyed our meal but were sad that we would be leaving the following day.

Details: La Lancha has 10 rooms and is located on Lake Petén. It is the ideal location for exploring the Mayan ruins at Tikal. To get here, fly to Flores Airport in Guatemala or drive from Blancaneaux Lodge.

A hammock hangs between two palm trees on the beach

Traveling by plane to Placencia allowed us to spy the coral reefs for which Belize is best known. Upon arriving at Turtle Inn we were greeted by the turquoise sea, serving as the resort’s focal point. Thatched roofs kept the rain out while the open construction allowed for spectacular views and tropical air. Everywhere the soothing sound of the ocean had a calming effect.

The proximity to the ocean, mere steps away, was a dream come true. The palm-lined beach dotted with kayaks, catamarans, and hammocks looked like something out of a travel brochure. Meals could be enjoyed in the restaurant, at the villa, or beachside. For lunch we chose to dine beachside to enjoy the beautiful scenery. It didn’t take long after eating to become interested in the floating platforms that beckoned to us, and we couldn’t resist the short swim. If only they could provide cocktail service out there!

Beachfront Villa at Turtle Inn

Our beachfront villa was beautiful and comfortable, with a screened porch to keep bugs and critters from straying in while allowing for maximum ocean views. Balinese carvings, furniture, and textiles accented the interiors. Bathrooms contained tiled tubs, a large indoor shower, and an outdoor shower set amidst the foliage. The mini fridge was stocked with our favorite beverages, and the welcoming touch was the jar of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies.

Indonesian feast at Turtle Inn

After a day spent lounging on the beach and a spa treatment, we were ravenous. Dinner at Mare provided an unexpected surprise offering of a traditional Indonesian feast, featuring myriad tantalizing savory dishes and rice. Each item showcased the unique flavors of the Dutch East Indies, steeped in exotic spices and cooked to perfection. It was accompanied by a selection of Coppola wine.

After dinner, we regrouped outdoors to a bright fire, sounds of a guitar serenade, and stars brightly illuminated against the night sky. The final surprise was a ritual of lighting lanterns and releasing them into the sky. As I made a wish and launched the magic lantern, I hoped my wish would be granted.

Steps to a doorway at Turtle Inn

Turn down service included candles left around the living room, applying a canvas cover over the front of the villa for privacy, and unfurling a mosquito net over the bed. Lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves lapping against the shore, I wished I could stay here forever.

Details: Turtle Inn has a variety of beach-view and garden-view dwellings all beautifully appointed with Balinese hand carved doors and décor. Activities include the beach, pool, spa, scuba diving, fishing, bicycling, and swimming.

About: Coppola Resorts operate three properties in Central America: Blancaneaux Lodge and Turtle Inn in Belize and La Lancha in Guatemala. Each offers a boutique experience in a luxurious eco-friendly resort and a variety of adventures. Visit one or all three for a Coppola Safari.