I have always had an extensive travel bucket list, but to be honest, Belize was never on it. I’ve always set my sights on visiting as many countries in Africa as I could and hitting all the major tourist sights in Europe. Central America wasn’t really on my radar. Ignorantly, to me Belize always felt like just an extension of Mexico, and since I’d been there so many times, I didn’t need to experience a similar travel setting. However, when I received an invitation from the Belize Tourism Board to visit the country, I couldn't resist the opportunity. Instantly, I found myself daydreaming about being in a lush tropical paradise, lounging in a hammock surrounded by exotic birds and towering palm trees that rival the beauty of the Garden of Eden. Little did I know that Belize had so much more to offer beyond its natural wonders. My week in Belize was an adventure filled with cultural experiences, organic farming, birdwatching, and marine conservation efforts that took me outside of my city girl comfort zone.
Lush Living at Copal Tree Lodge
I knew I was in for an unforgettable experience as soon as I pulled into the Copal Tree Lodge where I’d be staying for the next few days. I’d never experienced a landscape as lush as the 12,000-acre nature reserve that the lodge sits on. Nestled in the Toledo District in southern Belize, Copal Tree Lodge is an award-winning eco-resort that combines sustainable food production with agritourism.
My favorite thing about the resort is that it offers dozens of experiences with nature, culture, history, and cuisine at the center to allow guests to explore the Lodge. I started my immersive experience with a horse and buggy tour of the Copal Tree Farm, where I was introduced to the diverse range of organically grown crops such as cacao, vanilla, coffee, herbs, vegetables, and fruits. This deepened my appreciation for sustainable farming practices and the farm-to-table dining experience that awaited me later in the evening. From cacao and coffee to herbs and vegetables, the farm showcased sustainable farming practices that underpinned Copal Tree's exceptional dining experiences. The lodge's commitment to using locally sourced ingredients in their meals ensured a truly authentic and flavorful dining experience. From the first bite to the last, every dish was made with Belizean culinary traditions and produce from the lodge's own farm.
For my first immersive experience, I chose an early morning bird watching expedition that took me through the shade-grown cacao plantation and the beautiful Rio Grande area, home to migratory and resident bird species. The walk was a blend of bird conservation and the importance of preserving their natural habitats. It also caused me to truly slow down and be intentional because birdwatching is much more difficult than I could have ever imagined especially in the lush tree filled rainforest.
Eating My Way Through Belize
I then visited a local market in Punta Gorda Town, where I indulged in a delicious traditional breakfast showcasing the diversity of Belizean cuisine, including the ultimate Belizean breakfast fried jacks: fried dough patties that are served with toppings like cheese, beans, eggs, sausage, and more. Keeping the food theme going, I also explored the Belize Spice Farm & Botanical Garden, where I took a tractor-pulled wagon tour through the garden as a guide talked me through the fascinating history and uses of various local and foreign spices. I learned about the cultivation and processing of spices such as vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice and learned about the significance of spices in Belizean cuisine and their cultural and historical importance. I also got to taste each of the herbs and spices and learned how they are used not only in food but in herbal medicine.
Back at Copal Lodge, I got to make my own chocolate from scratch. I might be biased but it was the most delicious chocolate I’ve ever had. The bean to bar chocolate class gave me the opportunity to participate in the entire process of transforming cacao into chocolate. From visiting the cacao nursery to tasting fresh cacao fruit, learning about the fermenting and drying process, and witnessing the roasting and conching stages, I was able to see the full transformation of cacao into chocolate. The highlight was being able to taste the cacao’s transformation all along the way and see how it slowly began to taste more and more like the chocolate we know and love.
Leaving Copal Tree Lodge, I embarked on a journey to Santa Cruz Village, Toledo, for a unique immersion in Maya culture. From touring the village and witnessing traditional thatch home construction to participating in farming activities and experiencing the making of corn tortillas and cacao drinks, the day exposed me to a culture with such a deep and rich history. I also had the opportunity to meet with a bush doctor who provided further insight into the Maya way of life and the healing properties of natural herbs.
Coastal Adventures At Belize Barrier Reef
The next leg of my Belizean adventure took me to the Belize Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage site, with Fragments of Hope, a community-based organization located on the Placencia Peninsula. Their focus is the restoration of coral reef habitats and advocacy for the sustainable management of one the most biodiverse marine ecosystems on the planet. I traveled by boat to a picturesque island where I was blown away by the crystal-clear turquoise waters and pristine white sand beaches. Snorkeling in the Belize Barrier Reef was a surreal experience with vibrant coral formations, teeming with colorful fish and marine life. It gave me a new appreciation for marine life and the importance of coral reefs on our planet.
From the breathtaking landscapes to the vibrant culture and flavors, Belize left an indelible mark on my heart and ignited a desire to continue exploring the wonders of the world — even if they aren’t on my bucket list.