My wife and I took our two granddaughters, ages 10 and 13 to Belize during spring break the fourth week in March 2009. Knowing virtually nothing about Belize except for the glowing reviews of many who have been there during the past few years, we committed to 7 days in advance. We wanted some independence so we rented a car in Belize City and drove the easy 1.25 hours to Caves Branch Adventures. The accommodations were excellent for the jungle, but there was some false advertising. First all rooms are advertised as having hot water. That is not true. The water is tepid at best, and "warm" as described by Arnold, the concierge that introduces each guest to the facility and then indicates that you must sign away all of your legal rights to stay at the hotel. I could not find any mention of this on their internet site. All payments are required up front and there is very little chance, from our experience, that you could receive a credit if you decide not to sign the document giving precluding Caves Branch from all legal responsibility, or if you wanted to leave early.
The second negative was the absence of a single electrical outlet for charging cameras, IPods, or whatever, The lighting was two 20 watt bulbs, one on each side of the bed. We are not complaining about this, we knew that we were staying in the jungle. Clearly, the accommodations are for the adventurous, primarily short stay. We had no complaint about the facilities whatever. However, some truth in advertising would have been helpful during our decision making process (such as: no refunds, no electricity, no accommodation for extra meals). The location being in central Belize was convenient for trips to the west, e.g., San Ignacio and Xunantunitch, and even the shore at Hopkins and the Jaguar Reef Hotel (for great snorkeling), which is apparently run by the same business concern.
One strange aspect of the trip was that our reservations were made unintentionally through an organization called Adventures in Belize (AIB). I thought initially that I was sending an email for the reservation to Caves Branch, but instead it went to this organization (AIB) and I couldn't figure how to circumvent that. Unfortunately, that mistake resulted in our not being able to leave a day early to go to the beach because AIB would not give us a credit for the last night (of 5) that we had reserved. That might have been different if I had made the reservation directly through Caves Branch.
That failure to be able to leave a day early resulted in the worst day of our trip and a few nightmares that will last for a while.
The fourth day of our stay we returned to the Blue Hole National Park (5 minutes from Caves Branch) where our granddaughters enjoyed swimming a few days earlier. As they prepared to take a dip I wandered back up the hill to look for a trail. I picked the Humming Bird Loop, a mile long trail that meanders through dense jungle, mainly up, around a hill the entrance to which is situated not 500 yards from the road. I was well into the trail listening for birds and watching for anything that moved when I heard voices coming up the trail behind me. Two young locals, either Hispanic or Creole, well dressed and fluent in accented English started a friendly conversation about the locale, birding, and whether I was enjoying my trip. They were very friendly, well dressed, and in no way threatening. However, as the conversation turned to my new digital camera they wanted to take a picture of the "National Tree" for me and then began asking more detailed questions about its operation. Feeling somewhat uncomfortable I started walking ahead to put some separation between us when one of the boys grabbed me from behind placing a knife next to my throat and gruffly demanded my money. They took my camera, binoculars, and (fortunately) only $26. They were smart enough not to take my credit cards or other personal property. They simply turned away indicating that I was to return down the hill the way I had come.
The Park employees were of no help whatever. Caves Branch was more than helpful in calling the police so we could file a report (on a scrap piece of paper). They offered more security if we felt uncomfortable, and essentially made us feel more relaxed. Ian Anderson offered to obtain the report for me (but I have heard nothing yet). The police were not inspiring. Everyone in the Park, at Caves Branch, and the police insisted that the event was the first of its type in the Park. Hard to believe, but we have no reason to doubt their honesty.
In general, we enjoyed our trip to Belize tremendously, but the inflexibility due to advance commitments of cash and obtaining meals and food was stressful, especially in this area where restaurants are few. Meals were twice per day, good quality, but strictly limited to 8 a.m. breakfast and 7 p.m. dinner, with no chance for eating anything in between. They will fix a box lunch, for an expensive charge. The Belize trip was expensive and stressful especially when compared to our experience in Costa Rica, which by the way is much more lush and beautiful compared to the scrubby jungles found in Belize. Our hotel in Costa Rica, The Bougainvillea, just outside San Jose, was inexpensive and exceptional in quality and flexibility. For a trip to a country no visited previously flexibility is essential, unless you are willing to put yourself completely in the hands of tour guides. Costa Rica's tourism is much more oriented to ecological education and conservation while Belize is strictly oriented towards adventures, from mild to extreme. We found Fodor’s’ Belize 2008 helpful, but less than transparent about the negatives of travelling in Belize.
I sincerely hope that this commentary will help first time visitors to Belize to make a fully informed decision about a trip tailored to your needs.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Nestled in the lush rainforest of central Belize, Caves Branch Jungle Lodge offers visitors the opportunity to immerse in a culture of mid-range to extreme adventures. From the guest rooms that are open to the sights and sounds of the jungle, some of which are thatched in the ancient style of the Maya to our luxurious Treehouse suites, your experience should be something that must be experienced to be believed and once experienced, truly-never forgotten! ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Ian Anderson`s Caves Branch Jungle Hotel Belmopan
- Ian Anderson's Caves Branch Jungle Lodge Belize/Belmopan