“A nature lover’s paradise” may be a tired cliché but it actually applies to Belize. With forty-two percent of the country protected reserve or preserve land, this small Central American country draws purists and eco-travelers for a good reason. According to the Protected Areas Conservation Trust, “Belize has become one of the world’s most biologically diverse nations with the integrity of its natural resources still very much intact. It boasts 93% of its land under forest covers, the largest coral reef in the western hemisphere (second only to Australia’s), the largest cave system in Central America, over 500 species of birds, thousands of Maya archaeological temples and the only jaguar reserve in the world. With only 8,867 square miles and 250,000 people, the population density is the lowest in the Central American region and one of the lowest in the world.” And best of all, the government has recognized and protected these advantages, so eco-sensitive tourism has developed solid roots and now flourishes.
For visitors, Belize’s two biggest draws are its Mayan ruins in the jungle and its coral reef, which offers some of the world’s best snorkeling and scuba diving. The small, former English colonial territory as long attracted devout divers, but only in the past decade has the country begun to develop more sophisticated properties for high-end travelers. One of the best jungle options is Lucy and Mick Fleming’s ecolodge, Lodge at Chaa Creek, which grew out of their own homesteading in the jungle and has become a model for green hoteliers. A cushier approach to living in nature was conceived of by the well-known movie director Francis Ford Coppola. He shot much of Apocalpyse Now in the jungles of the Philippines, which masqueraded well for Vietnam, and hoped to find a similar landscape closer to home. After falling in love with Belize’s scenery and its inhabitants, Coppola bought a house in the highlands of the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, Blancaneaux Lodge, and then decided to share it with paying guests. Perhaps, recognizing that once people made the trek here, they should also get to the coast, he bought another small hotel on the water, called the Turtle Inn. (His hotels have done so much to raise the profile and possibilities for tourism in Belize that Coppola has been made the country’s honorary ambassador to the U.S.)
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