“But where exactly is Belize?” This is one of the most common questions I receive when telling people about my recent adventure in Central America. Belize, a tiny but diverse country of 350,000 inhabitants, is bordered on the north by Mexico, on the south and west by Guatemala, and on the east by the Caribbean Sea.
Its population number is so low that it’s quite normal to be the only car on the road and to rarely even see a traffic light. One of the most fascinating aspects of Belize’s low head count is the diversity and rich cultural heritage of its citizens.
While the official first language is English, Creole, Spanish, and even Mandarin are widely spoken. I was quickly corrected when greeting my driver with “hola, como estas?” He assertively said he was more comfortable with English. I knew in that moment that this was going to be an interesting ride.
We embarked on a lively journey to Gaia Riverlodge, where I would be experiencing beautiful seclusion, tradition, and adventure the Belizean way. Gaia is completely off the grid, and although the three-hour ride may seem like a long stretch for some, you won’t feel the time pass. Yes, it does get bumpy, but seasoned travelers know that nothing really worth seeing comes that easily. Gaia’s drivers are knowledgeable and always keen to share their local history. I probably learned more on this ride than I did the whole time I was in school.
Located in the scenic Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, Gaïa Riverlodge is one of Belize’s most sought-after ecotourism destinations. Inspired by the property’s natural beauty, the resort overlooks spectacular waterfalls located right on the grounds of the lodge. Upon arrival, a rum punch was ready and waiting for me, as were the fresh flowers and plants in my room. The sound of the waterfall, the birds, and the exquisite beauty of it all suddenly made me feel at ease.
The next two days were spent canoeing through ancient Mayan caves, zip lining, and enjoying lots of fresh vegetables. Gaia’s on-site farm gives you easy access to the freshest produce, all used in their dishes and collected daily.
Did I feel spoiled? Yes. Especially as my driver pulled up to collect me and take me shopping in San Ignacio. He told me there are not many specialty shops in Belize but that he knew a tiny place that sold Mayan essential oils. It’s all about the small details. We continued onto San Ignacio’s charming landing strip, where I would be jumping on a plane to San Pedro and then a boat to Ambergris Caye, where the stunning Matachica was waiting for me.
Matachica resort and spa is situated on the heart of Ambergris Caye, easily accessible by boat. From the distance you can spot the clutch of bright palapas and cabanas scattered in the sand. There, I was also greeted with a cocktail as the friendly staff took my luggage over to my room, turned on the AC, and lit up incense. A colorful hammock outside my door was luring me toward my Zen retreat, yet the sound of crashing waves and the daybeds on the pier lured me to a perfect day in paradise and a tan.
Looking at my surroundings was inspiring and very romantic—maybe too romantic for someone traveling alone. I then decided to go snorkeling at Hol Chan, where romance was limited to a pair of nearly extinct dancing fish.
Returning to my Zen cabana at sunset via speedboat made me feel like life was being very kind to me, and as a result I decided to celebrate and join the honeymooners at the bar.
Matachica’s bartenders are local island boys, keen to give you the best recommendations—recommendations so good that I ended up getting on another boat to go try street Salvadorian pupusas. It was all very unbelizable. I returned to my room that night more grateful than usual and with so much new knowledge that I couldn’t sleep. The rose petals in my bed were also too cute to be moved, so I went out to my hammock and slept under the moonlight.
Text by Jade Moyano
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