Virtuoso Traveler 2019 December Belize: Jungle Hideaway or Beach Retreat?

Belize: Jungle Hideaway or Beach Retreat?

Coastal calling: Belize beachfronts entice.
Coastal calling: Belize beachfronts entice.
Photo by Getty Images
This Central American gem boasts the best of both tropical worlds. 
Belize may be relatively small — around the same size as New Hampshire – yet its fortunate position within the Mesoamerica biodiversity hotspot creates “many unique, off-the-beaten-path experiences for adventurous visitors,” says Michelle Manas. The Virtuoso travel advisor recently returned from a trip that paired Belize’s jungle with its coastline and namesake Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, the world’s second largest. The country’s vast array of flora and fauna – some 4,000 plant species, 145 kinds of mammals, around 600 bird species, and more than 500 types of fish – left her in awe. “From monkeys and jaguars to crocodiles and diverse sea life,” she says, “it’s like you’re on a Central American safari.”

Nearly 60 percent of Belize is covered in forests, and Manas recommends spending a few days there to “settle into nature.” Head out to explore the jungled Actun Tunichil Muknal (or ATM), an ancient Maya sacrificial space that ranks among National Geographic’s top sacred caves. Belize’s coast also invites with white-sand beaches, shimmering blue waters, and legendary diving. Manas found plenty of “bucket-list” snorkeling, flapping fins alongside sharks, sea turtles, and “the largest rays I’ve ever seen.”
Jungle-luxe Blancaneaux Lodge.
Jungle-luxe Blancaneaux Lodge.
Tucked within a native pine-forest reserve in Belize’s Cayo District, the 20-room Blancaneaux Lodge, one of The Family Coppola Hideaways, “allows you to be one with nature,” says Manas. The advisor was lured from her cabana deck’s hammock by an array of activities: horseback riding to Big Rock Falls and swimming hole, touring the ATM cave, and floating down the lazy creek that runs through the property.
Memorable meal: Handpicking ingredients with the chef in the lodge’s three-acre organic farm, followed by sundowners and a candlelit dinner on the garden deck. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily.
A private oasis at Turtle Inn.
A private oasis at Turtle Inn.
Manas describes Turtle Inn, a 25-room, Balinese-themed hideaway along Belize’s southern coast, as “the ultimate in barefoot luxury.” Settle into a thatched Seafront Cottage before a Thai massage in the open-air spa and toes-in-the-sand dinner at Gauguin Grill. Turtle Inn is also a Coppola property, and the advisor enjoyed tasting Coppola vintages in view of the new “wine aquarium” – a backlit, glass-walled wine cellar that houses more than 1,500 bottles.
Memorable meal: A Creole beach barbecue while staying in recently updated digs on the hotel’s “Gilligan glam” private island. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily.

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