Latin America: Off the beaten track in Toledo, Belize

Latin America: Off the beaten track in Toledo, Belize

“Researchers say Central Americans can see more shades of green than any other ethnic type,” claims our tour guide Roberto. And as he scans the canopy above us and picks out a howler monkey plus about 15 species of bird, it’s pretty easy to believe him.

Many visitors to Belize never venture further south than the beaches of Placencia, disregarding the Toledo area altogether. They’re missing a treat. It’s completely unspoilt – and the only part of the country with true tropical rainforest – a classification that requires it to have more than 160 inches of rain per year, and creates a lush, dense forest packed full of exotic birds.

Visitors who stay at Machaca Hill Lodge – a luxury property perched on a hill above the Rio Grande River and set in 11,000 acres of private rainforest reserve – will get more chance than most to pick out those many shades of green in the jungle surroundings.

Reopened this year after renovation, the boutique resort consists of 12 lodges surrounding a central building with lounge and restaurant facilities, a pool and a spa. Each lodge has two queen-size beds, a lounge area and an en suite bathroom.

There are also large verandahs surrounded by mosquito nets, which project out into the canopy, so the rainforest acts as your wallpaper. Wake-up calls are accompanied by coffee and a fresh pre-breakfast snack from Chef Ken, the culinary mind behind the hotel’s cuisine.

After a trip down the coast from Belize City in a light aircraft, we’re picked up from the airport and taken around the coast by speedboat and down the river to the jetty, from which Belize’s only funicular railway means guests can avoid the 352 steps to the hotel.

Machaca Hill is an all-inclusive property, so all excursions are part of the package. The quality of the guiding is impeccable and a real selling point. Our guides, Hugo, Roberto and Will, took us trekking in the rainforest and in the Rio Blanco National Park, where I took the plunge and threw myself off the top of a cliff and over a waterfall into a natural rock pool.

Taking the speedboat, we searched for manatee among the mangrove cayes of the Port Honduras Marine Reserve and stopped for lunch on our own deserted island before snorkelling in the warm water.

Book it

Machaca Hill can be booked through Abercrombie and Kent or Steppes Travel, or direct with the hotel at machacahill.com, where commission rates start at 10% and increase on a sliding scale with the more you sell.

Current rack rates are $650 per person per night until October 31 and $725 from November 1 to May 31 2010. Rates are inclusive of luxury treehouse accommodation, all meals and beverages, activities, park and entrance fees, laundry, taxes and service charges.

Joanna's blog posts from Belize

  • Double take - notes and photos on Machaca Hill's funicular railway

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