(Mirror) My trek deep into the heart of the Belizean Jungle was well rewarded by what I found at Mariposa Jungle Lodge (MariposaJungleLodge.com). After a short flight from Florida to Belize City, the car ride to the lodge was about two and a half hours; not really a long distance away from the airport but because some roads are unpaved it takes a little longer.
My guide and one of the resort’s new owners who met me at the airport stopped at a fruit stand along the road to get fresh coconut milk before we stopped for lunch, making for a very refreshing welcome to the country.
Once I arrived at the Lodge, I felt a literal release in my body tension. This secluded, out-of-the-way spot was the perfect combination of nature, sensuality, adventure and relaxation. The resort is small and intimate, with only six guest cabañas, all separate ensuring privacy and space while you’re there.
My cabaña had a king-size bed, all the expected comforts (yes, even indoor plumbing!) and purified water. There is a main lodge, which was the meeting space for meals; the newly built Malachite Spa featuring techniques from Swedish massage to Mayan Purification massage; a swimming pool with an outdoor cooking area and a brand-new yoga deck. There are many hiking trails winding around the property, as well as a bird-watching tower and outdoor games like frisbee golf. All in all, there were many excuses to get outside and explore.
The day after I arrived, we jumped right into seeing the surrounding jungle with our first activity exploring the Mayan ruins at Caracol. The site was once a city home to approximately 150,000 people. Unlike some other sites with Mayan ruins, at Caracol we were able to climb up the steep stone steps of the temples, which were only accessible to the elite during the times they were in use for ritualistic purposes. Like the pyramids in Egypt, it’s easy to stare at these prolific monuments and wonder how in the world a primitive society managed to build them.
After Caracol, we made a stop to see Rio On Pools, natural pools formed in the granite rock which is plentiful in Belize. We then hiked down to Big Rock Falls for a refreshing afternoon dip in the mesmerizing waterfalls.
The highlight of my trip by far, was my adventure into Actun Tunichil Muknal — better known as ATM by the locals — one of the natural cave systems in Belize used by the Mayan for rituals and ceremonies. It was like something straight out of an “Indiana Jones”movie; after being outfitted with a helmet, headlamp and life vest, we set off on a 45-minute hike through the jungle, crossing three shallow waterways, then quite literally jumping into the river to swim into the cave. Once inside it got very dark and was a vigorous workout to climb over and through rocks, occasionally stopping to admire the stalagmites and stalactites that had formed over thousands of years.
Once we had ventured far enough into the caves, we came across a great ceremonial room where relics were left by the Mayans that they used in their rituals, like clay pots and tools. This was indeed a very spiritual place where the Mayans made human sacrifices to the gods, and the skeletal remains were there to be seen. Tours have been limited in the last few years to cut down on the number of visitors to the caves, and likely will continue to be limited even more in the future to preserve them, but it is still an amazing opportunity to get insight into one of the Mayans’ most important rituals while it’s still accessible.
As of Sept. 1, Mariposa Jungle Lodge, now under new ownership, will be going fully vegan and alcohol-free. Instead of alcohol, the lodge’s “bartender” Freddy serves up heavenly fresh-squeezed lime, orange and watermelon juices. The hotel’s skilled head Chef Esau and kitchen staff put together delectable meals, which included dishes like vegan meatloaf, quinoa lettuce wraps and the most delicious desserts like banana ice cream and carrot cake — that I never would have known were vegan if I hadn’t been told.
The resort felt very welcoming to folks from all walks of life and is soon to become a haven for those who are health-minded and crave the chance to refresh among nature. An upcoming gay wellness and yoga retreat will be offered in August, coinciding with Belize’s LGBT Pride in August. If you are interested in visiting, visit MariposaJungleLodge.com for more info.