Cayo District, Belize
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When many people imagine vacationing in Belize, they think of a day stop on a cruise ship. Royal Caribbean aside, the Cayo District in southwest Belize offers several eco-friendly resorts for travelers looking to settle in for a few days and enjoy the relatively untouched tropical environment.
Bordered by the rain forest of the Maya Mountains and Guatemala, Cayo is replete with wildlife such as brightly colored toucans and howler monkeys. The largest town in the area is San Ignacio, where Saturdays can be spent in the open-air market and evenings on Burns Avenue, a dusty street lined with old wooden-front buildings featuring popular restaurants Hannah's (501-824-3014, 5 Burns Ave.) and Serendib (501-822-2302, 27 Burns Ave.), where tourists and locals alike spill onto patios in the year-round warmth.
With the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere lending itself to world-renowned diving on the coast and rivers perfect for canoeing and kayaking, there's no lack of outdoor activity in Belize. The oldest eco-friendly resort in the area is the 365-acre Lodge at Chaa Creek (501-824-2037, chaacreek.com) situated on the banks of the Macal River. The resort, which features a luxurious pool, spa facility, and twenty-three thatch-roof cottages (many perched above the river), offers luxe rooms ranging from $575 for the air-conditioned spa villa (for four people) during peak season to just $55 for a spot at its more rustic Macal River Camp.
In addition to outdoor activities (canoeing, mountain biking, horseback riding, and bird watching), the lodge incorporates green aspects into much of the resort. Crushed aluminum cans are used in the foundations of new buildings, the saltwater pool is chemical free, and the spa features fresh flowers from the resort and eco-friendly products. Produce from the resort's traditional Mayan farm is used in dishes in the elegant restaurant, which mixes Belizean and international cuisine for dishes like lasagna made with tortillas in lieu of pasta.
Just down the road at Ka'ana Boutique Resort (kaanabelize.com), the owners have taken a slightly different approach: offering many of the same outdoor activities, but most of them off property. You'll find outdoor expeditions during the day, but a citified environment at night with air-conditioned rooms, ranging from $250 to $450, featuring iPod docks, espresso machines, and flat-screen televisions. An extra eco boost: the dining selections feature vegetables and herbs from the resort's organic garden including fresh and flavorful cilantro and arugula.
Both resorts offer day trips to Che Chem Ha, a cave where the Morales family, who originally found it while searching for bay palms, still gives tours showing its Maya altars and artifacts. Another top attraction is cave tubing at Jaguar Paw (877-624-3770, jaguarpaw.com) where a one-mile hike into the jungle brings you to the edge of a river in which you drift through wide caves in cool water back to the base. And finally there's Actun Tunichil Muknal, a deep cave that you must swim into to explore after a forty-five minute trek through the jungle.
Save the World
Chaa Creek offers a natural history center, butterfly farm, and rain forest medicinal trail where guests and local students learn about the area's culture and wildlife from licensed naturalist guides.