frigate birds in belize

I communicate with a few other people who own lodges in Belize, people I don’t really know, but I feel like I know them. One of these people is Rob Hirons, owner of a southern Belize lodge called The Lodge at Big Falls. I have visited his place briefly, it is located right on a river down near Punta Gorda. A fabulous place to spend a week or so.

Rob publishes the Toledo Howler, a newsletter promoting southern Belize which I blog about occasionally. I was extremely pleased to receive an email recently announcing his new Belize birding website! This is a super great site where you can hover over the image of the bird and it is easily identified with the movement of your mouse. The photos on the site are images he took himself near his place in southern Belize. I am impressed with the layout of his new website. It is organized around the variety of habitats in their region, and he says he intends to continue adding images. I sent him several bird images I took myself from our island out at Glover’s Reef.

[image by Kris Baird]
Punta Gorda, Belize
Punta Gorda, Belize

I just received the newest version of The Toledo Howler, a newsletter dedicated to the promotion of Belize tourism in the southern-most district of the country, based out of Punta Gorda, Belize. It’s been a long time since I received a copy of The Howler, but I am so happy to see they are still publishing. This is always a very comprehensive and varied collection of articles put together by Rob Hirons, the owner of The Lodge at Big Falls, located just outside of Punta Gorda town.

Belize is divided into districts (think states or counties), and Toledo is the least-visited and most-like-the-way-Belize-used-to-be. Those of you who have read this blog in the past know that I am always talking up Toledo. I love Toledo.

This issue has articles on:
-A conclusion of the reminiscences of Don Owen-Lewis who first arrived in Toledo from England in 1953
-The health and healing properties of ginger in Arzu Mountain Spirits
-An introduction to the new zipline canopy course at Blue Creek
-The 9th Annual Chocolate Festival of Belize (May 22-24th)
-Commercial overfishing in Belize, and other threats to the coral reef ecosystem
-An interview with Bruno Kuppinger, owner of Toledo Cave and Adventure Tours
-2014 Belize Christmas bird count results
-Craft markets of Punta Gorda
-Training Toledo tour guides
-Developing local artisans of Toledo

Not to mention these handy documents:
-Recipe: Banana Cream Pie
-Book Review: How to Cook a Tapir
-Detailed maps of Punta Gorda town and of the Toledo district
-Punta Gorda bus schedule table

If you are planning to explore Belize’s most remote district, don’t leave home without it!

Coral House Inn
View from the upstairs balcony

I spend all day helping people plan their Belize vacation, and I love telling people about Punta Gorda, the southernmost town in Belize. They are still largely “undiscovered”, and it feels like you have ventured back 30 years before Belize was a well-known international travel destination.

Located right in downtown Punta Gorda you will find one of the best places to say in the area, the Coral House Inn. This tasteful B&B is a wonderful place to base out of. They have only 4 rooms, so they fill quickly. Each room has air-conditioning, wifi, television, and a private bath. Here you will feel right at home when you return after a full day of exploring. And there is a lot to do! Ruins, caves, jungle rivers, and deserted islands are all just a few miles from downtown.

The owners of the Coral House Inn are a good resource for planning daily activities. The home is located right on the sea, but there is no beach. They have a very nice lap pool and common area. Rates start at $90/night. They also manage a cottage just down the coast. The cottage has a full kitchen and at $125/night is a screaming deal. Contact them at coralhouseinn.com.

For more information on other things to do in Belize, visit our website.

The Toledo Howler, Belize newsletterI just received the latest installment of The Toledo Howler, a newsletter of the southern-most chapter of the Belize Tourism Industry Association, based out of Punta Gorda, Belize.

Those of you who have read this blog for awhile, or who have called me on the phone for Belize travel advice, know that I am always talking up Toledo.

Belize is divided into districts (sort of like states), and Toledo is one of the least-visited and most-like-the-way-Belize-used-to-be. I love Toledo. I spent a day there four months ago touring many of the local lodges. I blogged about the Punta Gorda, Belize hotels I visited right after I got back.

This newsletter is put together by Marta and Rob Hirons, owners of The Lodge at Big Falls, located just outside of Punta Gorda. Follow the link above to download your own copy. The variety of the subjects they cover in each issue is astounding, and I haven’t even found time yet to look at what they have in all of the back issues!

This single issue has articles on:

The Garifuna Settlement Day (Nov. 19) Battle of the Drums competition
An extensive calendar of upcoming events
Aguacaliente Wildlife Sanctuary
A restaurant guide
A recipe for scones from the Coral House Inn in downtown PG (a great bed and breakfast!)
A map of downtown Punta Gorda
An interview with Dennis Garbutt, local fishing guide
And interview with Gary Mathews, an intern guide from Trinidad and Tobago
Yok Balum Cave
Paul Nabor, a Toledo musician
Contact information for local lodges and tour guides
A medicinal plant, Peperonia pellicida
Bus and plane schedules connecting Toledo with the rest of Belize
A map of Toledo with all of the attractions marked

If you are going to visit the most remote part of inland Belize, don’t leave home without it!

The Toledo Howler newsletterI just received the most amazing publication via email: The Toledo Howler, a newsletter of the southern-most chapter of the Belize Tourism Industry Association.

I love Toledo. I spent a day there two months ago touring many of the local lodges. What a wonderful place! This is my favorite part of Belize – next to Glover’s Reef, of course ;-). It is the most remote, quaint, and picturesque part of mainland Belize. I blogged about Punta Gorda, the final frontier of Belize right after I got back.

So anyway, I was astounded at the amount of information in this little newsletter. Whoever put it together did a fantastic job. And I haven’t even found time yet to look at what they have in all of the back issues!

This single issue has articles on:

Shark conservation
Grackles
A local plant, Genipa Americana
Recent tourism awards, including 2 people I met when I was down there : )
An extensive calendar of upcoming events
A restaurant guide
A recipe for Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce
A map of downtown Punta Gorda
Contact information for local lodges and tour guides
Nim Li Punit, the Mayan ruin
A Mayan women’s co-operative at Indian Creek village
Organic gardening in Toledo
A tour of Dem Dat’s Doin farm
Bus and plane schedules connecting Toledo with the rest of Belize
An interview with Leonie Requena, the owner of the local water taxi serice
A map of Toledo with all of the attractions marked

What an amazing guide, don’t leave home without it!

I was very excited to visit Punta Gorda, Belize (known locally as “PG”) on the Tourism Board travel agent tour last week. PG is all the way south in Belize in the Toledo district, almost to Guatemala. It is still like it used to be, a remote jungle area by the sea, where many of the locals have little contact with the rest of Belize. In fact, in no other part of Belize can you visit both jungle, ruins and caves and go diving or snorkeling at the Belize Barrier Reef from one location. PG has it all. Except many tourists. Which, of course makes it even better.

This was the most rushed day of our tour. We awoke in Placencia, flew to PG, toured 8 hotels there, flew to Dangriga, got driven to Hopkins, and then toured another hotel before dinner. So my impressions are fleeting, to say the least. But still, I wasn’t disappointed. We saw a range of lodging options from primitive to 5-star, and everything in-between. And the furthest one was a mere 45 minutes from the PG airstrip. So wherever one stays in PG, you would have equal access to the ruins of Nim Li Punit and Lubaantun, exploring Mayan caves, canoeing on the Rio Grande River or Deep Creek, home stays with Mayan families in San Antonio, fishing or snorkeling at the Port Honduras Cayes, or diving and snorkeling at the Belize Barrier Reef out at one of the Sapodilla Cayes or Snake Cayes. It’s a sleepy town, but it won’t put you to sleep; there’s way more to do there than you can do in a week.

Here are all of the hotels and lodges we visited, although I know we didn’t see every option available. I have listed them from least to most expensive. All prices below are listed in US dollars and none include the high taxes in Belize, which, along with surcharges some hotels tack on, could increase the final total up to 19% higher than listed. There are photos of all lodges at the end of this post.

Garbutt’s Marine
The funkiest place we visited, this might be my favorite. Run by 4 brothers, it is a fishing lodge with 2 cabins in town and a private island lodge out on Lime Caye. The in-town location is between a creek and the sea, so it’s still super private. They have a bunch of kayaks and nice fishing boats. The brother we met was great; if I were a fisherman I’d be there in a heartbeat. Don’t stay here if you want fancy. It’s basic, but with a private bathroom and air-conditioning. The cabins are literally in the water, you could fish from the porch of your hotel room. Their website doesn’t provide rates… but it’s got to be cheap. I wrote and asked them but haven’t heard back. I imagine if you want to do business with them you will need to call, http://www.garbuttsfishinglodge.com/

Suncreek Lodge
A nice choice for the budget traveler, this lodge is run by Bruno Kuppinger, a man we used to know up in Belize City. He was running a tour company out of the Biltmore up there for years so we saw him all of the time, but he chucked it all and moved south. The lodge is very basic, some of the rooms share a bathroom, but there are some nice touches. Where he excels, however, is on his tours. He talked passionately about the caves he is exploring. I have never heard of them, and I bet very few people visit these caves. So for some real adventure I would contact him. Rates during high season are $40 for the least expensive option, and $100 for his “villa” (a regular Belize-style house), http://www.suncreeklodge.de/

Beya Suites
I don’t know if I could stay here just because of the color, (the outside of the hotel is painted in various shades of bright pink), but the owner was great, it’s very clean, and right in town. On their website they are calling themselves a “luxury” hotel, but that’s a stretch. It’s basically just a regular Belizean hotel, but you would be very comfortable here, it’s scrupulously clean, and it does have air-conditioning. Rates are $75-100 for a double, depending on the room, http://www.beyasuites.com/.

Hickatee Cottages
I’ve been reading about Hickatee for years and always wanted to visit. Their website is very interesting, and I’ve sent people there based on that alone. I’m happy to say it lived up to my expectations. Although quick and easy to get to, it’s out of town and feels very private. They have a tiny pool, about the size and shape of a hot tub but without the hot, thank goodness. They have only 6 cottages, and all are very nicely decorated. The owner used to teach horticulture in the states, and the grounds reflect this interest. They have a howler monkey monitoring program that guests often assist with. Breakfast, wifi, bikes, and drumming lessons once a week are all provided free. Rates during high season are $75-120 for a double, http://www.hickatee.com/.

Coral House Inn
What a great place this is! Located right in town, this tasteful bed and breakfast is run by a very nice American couple. With only 4 rooms, each with air-conditioning, wifi, television, and a private bath, you will have everything you want to come home to after a full day of visiting ruins or islands. They provide bicycles to all guests as well. They are located right on the sea, but there is no beach, although they have a very nice pool. They also manage a cottage just down the coast. Rooms are $83-100 for double occupancy, and the cottage with a full kitchen is $125/night, a screaming deal, http://coralhouseinn.com.

Tranquility Lodge
This small hotel has 4 hotel rooms with air conditioning and 3 casitas with ceiling fans. The hotel rooms are a little strange… they have very small windows and are long and narrow. But if you just want a place to sleep where it’s cool, they would be very comfortable. The owner was very nice, although of course we met him for a total of about 5 minutes. They have a restaurant and bar right near the rooms. High season rates are $125 for a room and $100 for a casita, http://www.tranquility-lodge.com.

The Lodge at Big Falls
Voted the Best Small Hotel of the Year by the BTB in 2009, this lodge features nice thatch cabanas located right on the Rio Grande River. The lawn around the cabanas slopes down to the river bank. Their medium-size pool is a nice addition. They have their own in-house tour company and own a fleet of Hobie kayaks; one of their tour options is to drop you off upstream and you paddle un-guided back to the lodge. They maintain a bird list for the area at http://www.birding-belize.com. Rates during high season are $205 US for a double, and meals range from $11 – 32, http://www.thelodgeatbigfalls.com/.

Machaca Hill Lodge
I had to rub my eyes when I first saw Machaca Hill. Are we in PG???? We saw nothing nicer in the whole country of Belize. This luxury resort is perched high atop a steep slope on the Rio Grande River. Their private tram takes you down 300 feet to the riverside where there is a deck, bar, and dining area. Sitting right on a 11,000 acre nature reserve which they manage, you have easy access to canoeing, mountain biking (they have a fleet of Gray Fishers) and snorkeling at their private island, Nicholas Caye. With onsite spa, and all-suite accommodations, this place is five-star all the way. They have a large organic garden, excellent restaurant (we had lunch there), and soon they will offer cooking classes. If on the all-inclusive package, you get your own private guide for the whole time that you are there. Room-only rates during high season are $440 for a double, with breakfast, http://www.machacahill.com/.

(You can click each image to view the full picture.)