The best of Belize converges in its southernmost region. Here in the remote Toledo District—sometimes called the Forgotten District—thick tangles of rain forest meet the sparkling Caribbean coast, offshore isles and inland caves beckon in either direction, and Maya traditions meld with Garifuna, Creole, East Indian, and other local cultures. Few places on the planet offer such an astonishing diversity, from the cacophonous wildlife of the jungle and reef to the vibrant people of Toledo villages—and yet Copal Tree Lodge (formerly Belcampo Lodge) feels as if it’s tucked away at the end of the world.
From its hilltop roost, the main lodge looks out over a 12,000-acre nature reserve that encompasses pristine rain forest, tropical gardens, a sugar cane plantation, groves of cacao trees, a prolific organic farm, which feeds the lodge's farm-to-table cuisine. Villa-style private suites are hidden in the jungle here, and howler monkeys and toucans hop among the branches. The Rio Grande runs along the property’s eastern side, providing a short pathway to the Caribbean and excellent fishing opportunities. Serious anglers have a chance at catching (and releasing) the coveted Grand Slam—permit, tarpon, and bonefish.
Edged by the Rio Grande, an important trade route since the Classic Maya period, Copal Tree Lodge reflects the history of the Toledo district through the ages. In the 1860s, Confederate settlers from Alabama and Texas retreated here to farm sugarcane, cattle, and rum. One of their descendants, Marie Louise Young, eventually bought the “Big Hill” property and started a rum distillery, called Rocky Run Rum, which operated here until the 1970s. The family ties continue today: Young’s grandson, known on the property as “Captain Jackie,” leads boat tours and shares local lore.
In 2005, marine conservationist Todd Robinson bought the land and transformed a rustic fly-fishing lodge on the property into a world-class eco resort, He worked with the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment to preserve more than 45,000 acres of surrounding rain forest, including 12,000 that belong to the lodge. In 2009 he joined forces with sustainable food expert Anya Fernald to help bring agriculture back to the heart of Copal Tree Lodge. These days, the lodge offers guests a fantastic experience in organic farming and artisan chocolate and rum production while providing good jobs for local people; nearly all of the lodge’s employees—from expert guides to kitchen staff—are from southern Belize.
Each of our lodges has created a special complimentary experience offered exclusively to guests who visit through a National Geographic Expedition. At Copal Tree Lodge, National Geographic guests enjoy a Bean to Bar Chocolate Making Class and a Coffee Cupping. Learn about Belize chocolate and its Maya roots: Visit the lodge’s cacao nursery, try your hand at grinding dried cacao beans on a traditional matate, and temper and mold a chocolate bar to take home. Later, join the lodge’s resident coffee expert for an in-depth coffee tasting.
Copal Tree Lodge is the largest employer in the Toledo District, and nearly all of its 140-member staff hails from the region. Employees receive a fair wage and are treated to a daily healthy lunch—the most important meal of the day in Belize. Many work on the farm, using sustainable methods to cultivate organic sugarcane, cacao, coffee, and other native and heirloom crops. The sugarcane planted here comes from two varieties with roots that date to the mid-19th century. The farm grows more than 70 percent of the food served to lodge guests.
The lodge minimizes its environmental impact with a rain-harvesting water system, recycling program, and efforts to reduce plastic and conserve electricity and water use. Solar water heating was integrated into the construction of the new Signature Canopy Suite. Food waste is fed to the farm livestock and composted for the organic gardens.
Condé Nast Johansens Best Green Hotel 2017
World Luxury Hotel Awards, Country Winner: Best Luxury Forest Resort 2016
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