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Punta Gorda, the final frontier of Belize

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.)

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