Let me begin by saying that this is not the place for you if you are a professional rock-climber, explorer, speleologist or naturalist in search of never-before-seen frontiers. While Ian Anderson's Caves Branch bills itself as an adventure company and does offer adventure tours, do not expect to come back with photos of where you planted your flag for the first time, nor anything that is more challenging that a day's hard hike or rappel. Second, if you don't like the idea of tramping through snake-infested jungle or wading through underground rivers, but just want to relax and see the jungle and Mayan ruins from deluxe comfort, you might consider going to Francis Ford Coppola's place instead.
If you fall in between those extremes, as we did, then Caves Branch is a delightful little treat in the heart of the jungle. Since it is all-inclusive, with accommodation, food and tours all part of the bill I will deal with each in turn.
We were visiting Belize for our honeymoon and opted for the River View Treehouse. As accommodation, it was stunning. Fantastic views, privacy, incredible view of the sunset, sumptuous furnishings and the delightful novelty of the outdoor jungle shower. From that perspective, it couldn't have been better for us.
The staff are very friendly and accommodating, on the whole. Overall, we got on best with Carlos, who was very attentive all the time, as well as Pablo and Edgar who gave us fun (and informative) tours of the jungle and caves. Ian himself was away, so we didn't get to meet him, and talking to other guests it seemed they had been shown more attention by other guides and staff, so it seemed that responsibility for the guests was shared out, not that those we didn't get to know were standoffish. Otherwise, the bedroom was always immaculate, there were always fresh towels by the pool, the bar staff were always eager to serve us drinks (local rum punch and beer were included with the room).
We checked out the reviews beforehand, and after initial doubts, decided we would come in spite of what others had said of the food (and, to a certain extent, the tours). Actually, we are very happy to contradict what has been said before us, as we found the food very tasty on the whole. As we are a vegetarian and a pescatarian, we can't speak for the meat dishes, but so far as dinner and breakfast were concerned (the two meals served in the lodge) everything else was delicious. It is buffet and canteen style, i.e. everyone shares fairly large tables of 8, but we enjoyed that aspect as we met some lovely people while we were there, which contrasted with the slightly more isolated time we had in our hotel on Caye Caulker.
As for lunch, this is admittedly a little more basic - do-it-yourself burritos with a selection of fillings from boiled eggs, fresh vegetables, salads, tomatoes, ham, etc. Perfect for those on long adventures, but maybe slightly boring for those who expected to come to the jungle and be served by Gordon Ramsay.
Apart from the accommodation, the real highlight of Caves Branch is the tours. They have a vast property (50,000 acres, we were told) which covers a lot of jungle, cave systems and sinkholes, most of which they keep as conservation land (a small part is leased to citrus farmers). A whole range of tours are offered from the pedestrian (horse riding, Belize zoo, Mayan ruins) to adrenaline-pumping ziplining, waterfall jumping and the ubiquitous "black hole drop". Frankly, it may not be worth coming here if all you wish to do is see the zoo and ride a horse, unless your childhood desire was to stay in a huge treehouse, but the rest of the tour menu is second to none.
On our first day, we opted for the waterfall caves expedition. I don't want to give too much away, other than that you should expect to get wet, to crawl on your hands and knees (and belly!), and that you can see the fairly impressive remains of state archaeological excavations of a Mayan ceremonial cave. The waterfall part must be experienced in its own right, but it is huge fun and a massive buzz. Not for the faint of heart (and probably not suitable for children under 12 - there was a 12-year-old with us on our trip and he managed beautifully but parts of the expedition are strenuous and challenging). However, what a way to begin our stay - we loved it!
After the highs of caving, we took the sedate route and went to see the Mayan ruins at Xunantunich and Cahal Pech. These were stunning, and our guide seemed reasonably knowledgeable about the history of the Maya and the cities themselves. An excellent day out.
Our third, and last, day was spent cave tubing. While the cave system itself is spectacular, and while our guide took very good care of us, we decided we would rather have opted for kayaks rather than tubes, which is also an option available - slightly more fun, slightly less sedate, and still offering the opportunity of seeing the same stunning vistas.
Two more brief mentions - we went on an after-dark jungle safari hike, which was also fun, although again may not be for the faint-of-heart (on this occasion it was just the two of us and our guide, and several times we switched off our torches to encourage the wildlife to come closer). Second, we were planning at one point to do the 2-day jungle exploration, which when it was explained to us sounds particularly fun and challenging. It is subject to availability, since if the lodge is too busy they may not have enough guides available, but you leave the lodge with just a machete and bag with water, and you must then catch you own food and build a shelter for the night. It sounded fantastic, and may go some way to mitigating my initial statement that this is not for the very hardy adventurer. Worth booking in advance if you plan on doing this (they also offer a 3-day version).
All-in-all, we had an excellent time at Caves Branch. A wonderful way to get out into nature and leave the world of iPhones and facebook behind for a while, We found the isolation refreshing, the tours exhilarating, the company excellent and the accommodation second to none. Well done, Caves Branch! (Now work on not scaring people with your disclaimer, or warn them in advance).
- 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