Want to hear a love story? It all started in the early 1980’s when Francis Ford Coppola was visiting Belize….a place that awakens all your senses. It could have been the thunderous sound from plummeting waterfalls, the exotic melody of a Rufous-capped Warbler, the scent of the tropical plumeria, the panoramic vistas stretching through the rainforest, or simply the taste of rich rum and cacao that pulled at Coppola’s heart strings.
Whatever it was, he jumped into falls, lost his glasses, and thought ‘what a wonderful place to write!’ He discovered his “lost paradise”. The Mountain Pine Ridge Forest spoke to Francis inner need to find a tranquil place to reflect, and get away from hectic Hollywood.
It was love at first sight for the Coppolas and Belize. Francis and his wife Eleanor found and purchased the abandoned mountain lodge called Blancaneaux, their haven nestled deep in the ancient Mayan rainforest next to Privassion Creek.
For over a decade, he frequented this mountain hideaway to find inspiration from his new muse, write day and night, and spend time with family.
In 1993, he opened up his family tropical paradise to the public with a commitment to sustainable ecotourism practices to protect endangered species native to the area and their fragile environments. Francis and Eleanor Coppola are conservators, and team with Belize to maintain its pristine environment.
Click here for: Blancaneaux Sustainability & Conservation Initiatives
This Lodge is a 20-room eco-luxury resort hotel in the heart of the western Cayo District, located in the northwest corner of the 107,000 acre Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. This reserve thrives with lush vegetation, tropical pines, oaks, palmetto, tumbling waterfalls and sparkling rivers, a jungle canopy home for rare or endangered species of flora and fauna.
After checking in at reception, like Francis, I was drawn to the creek and plunged into its refreshing cool waters, and took in the sounds of the waterfall and spectacular vistas. The friendly staff had thoughtfully left a welcome note on the living area table with platter of “Tableta”, a homemade Creole coconut sweet delicacy, and a bowl of papaya, mango, bananas to snack on. We felt like we landed in a remote tropical paradise – a perfect place to relax, rejuvenate and explore Belize!
Which Villa? Cabaña to Stay In?
Guests can choose from spacious and cozy Riverfront and Garden Cabañas, Family Cabaña, an Enchanted Cottage, Honeymoon Cabañas, or even stay in Francis Ford Coppola’s Villa. Each guest stays in a secluded setting, elevated with dramatic views, yet close to enough to take a dip in the pool or creek.
There are spacious rooms with eclectic décor of native art and local textiles. Bathrooms have hand-painted tiles and some with a Japanese tub. Screened doors open up to the hardwood deck where we could sit and enjoy the views of the creek below to the distant jungle clad Maya Mountains.
We stayed in touch with the front desk via the Shellphone intercom system, and appreciated other comforts like the Delonghi espresso machine, monogrammed bathrobes, locally produced organic body products, pillow options, and the iPod docking station, WiFi Internet access, and the hammock for naps.
Food and Drink:
Jaguar Bar – when you enter the main lodge, and sit in the handmade wooden chairs at the Jaguar Bar, you are taken back in time. Framed pictures of 1950’s archaeological digs and Mayan excavations in Copan and Tikal led by Edwardo H. Thompson, Ed Shook with native guides adorn the wall next to the hand-carved bar, and above are ceiling fans from the set of Apocalypse Now. The bartender shares the history of the lodge and stories of early jaguar trackers who stayed at the lodge in its early days. You can order Coppola wine or mojitos and daiquiris, but we went with the signature Jaguar Juice, a potent concoction of local craboo liqueur, aged rum and fresh pineapple juice.
Montagna Restaurant offers Coppola’s Italian favorite family recipes from the southern region of Basilicata, where you can have pizza, pasta, fish or local meats prepared with the organic herbs and vegetables from the resorts garden.
Guatemaltecqua Restaurant – we dined here and savored every morsel of the Guatemalan inspired Mayan dishes. Local favorites include Salpicon, shredded beef salad flavored with sour orange and cilantro, Jocon, chicken cooked with green herbs and spices, and Rellenitos, a delicious dessert consisting of plantains filled with sweetened black beans. Our favorite was the Suban Ik, literally considered “the God’s meal” – a recipe that’s been passed down from Chimaltenango grandmothers. Basically the Guatemalan version of “Chicken Soup for the Soul” – but a little spicier with sweet pepper, chile quaque & cobanero, chopped cilantro, mint, garlic, pumpkin seeds, and the other ingredients we use in our chicken soup.
What to Do?
There are several activities at Blancaneaux and plenty to do – dip in the pool, or go track Jaguars, set off to explore the natural and archaeological wonders….
Hiking, Mountain Biking to waterfalls, Ziplining through the jungle, Horseback Riding through the lowlands of Mountain Pine Ridge, or Swimming in the Privassion Creek – just don’t get too close to the Waterfalls!
Moonlight Jaguar Quest – you can listen in to Dr. Marcella Kelly’s groundbreaking jaguar research in the Mountain Pine Ridge, and learn how the remote infrared, motion sensitive cameras to record data on the elusive jaguar has revealed that the forests surrounding Blancaneaux Lodge host some of the highest densities of jaguars and other cat species in the western hemisphere.
Cave Exploration – you have many options including visiting the well known Actun Tunichil Mucnal (ATM) one of the “Top 10 Caves in the World” by National Geographic Magazine, or Barton Creek Cave closer by, or cave tubing at Caves Branch Nohuch Che’en Reserve. You’ll learn about the ancient Mayan world, and visit their sacred ceremonial sites and trek through lush jungle.
Birding – We loved Birding with Blancaneaux’s Conservationist, Roni Martinez! At dawn, birds celebrated with song, and we joined Roni on the sunrise bird walk to look for some of the country’s 600 species – Plain Chachalaca, or brightly colored Green Jay and Azure-crowned Hummingbirds, or rare individual species such as keel-billed motmot, orange-breasted Falcon, stygian owl and ornate hawk eagle.
Tours offered include Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve, Caracol, Rio Frio Cave and Rio on Pools, Xunantunich, Cahal Pech & Green Hills Butterfly Farm, or Tikal, Guatemala.
Waterfall Spa: take it easy, and spend your day at the resort’s Belize spa, Waterfall Spa, that specializes in the art of Thai massage where you can choose from a variety of treatments, wraps and massages like the Papaya Body Polish.
Gift Shop: Eleanor Coppola personally finds hand-carved, hand-woven treasures from local artisans. At the resort’s shop, you can find an excellent collection of one-of-a-kind hand woven huipils bought directly from weavers in Guatemala.
What in the world are Huipils? The huipil (wee-peel) is not only a functional component of a Mayan woman’s wardrobe, but also doubles as collection of symbols representing her family, religion, village and social status. Worn everyday, the huipils are woven to last as long as thirty years. Special huipils are also made for ceremonial dress. Women in colder climates often wear a sobrehuipil over their primary huipil to keep warm. After a huipil eventually begins to wear and fray, it is often cut into sections that then are woven back together into a large piece of fabric, in which it continues to testify to the extraordinary weaving tradition of its culture.
Global Adventuress thanks Francis & Eleanor Coppola and Blancaneaux for hosting us during our stay!
For easy reference and inspiration on how we can all make a difference, we’ve included information from the Blancaneaux site on their conservation and sustainable efforts below:
The Coppola’s Conservation & Sustainable Initiatives
Design and Construction of Facilities At our luxury Belize resorts, we have created buildings that blend into the natural environment. We use low profile, environmentally sound designs, thatch, hardwoods, pine and bamboo, along with regionally produced tiles.
We use local and regional plants for landscaping that do not rely on intensive irrigation.
Energy/ Water Efficiency The design of our rooms allows us not to use air conditioning at our Belize properties. Windows, screened doors, ceiling fans and high, thatched ceilings allow sufficient air circulation to enable hot air to escape.
We use mulching to reduce transpiration from flowerbeds, landscaped areas and organic garden.
Flow control showerheads are used in the bathrooms at all properties. All swimming and plunge pools are sanitized with non-chlorine based treatments.
Blancaneaux provides water bottles to purchase and some of the proceeds go towards conservation efforts.
Sponsor/Partnerships Francis Coppola Resorts and our properties support several organizations and individuals in a continuing effort to preserve the biodiversity of Belize and Guatemala. Please click the links below to learn more about each of our partners.
Blancaneaux Lodge Friends for Conservation and Development – http://www.fcdbelize.org Belize Raptor Research Institute – http://www.belizeraptorresearch.org Jaguar Research Project – http://www.mjkelly.info
Turtle Inn SEA Belize – http://www.seabelize.org/ Alexandra Cousteau and Expedition Blue Planet –
Purchasing Policy Laundry – We use only biodegradable detergents and use automated washing machines that precisely measure the amount of detergents needed per load.
Toiletries – We use locally produced organic soaps and purchase hair care products in bulk from organic producer ‘Forest Essentials’ and transfer the shampoo and conditioner into individual ceramic and wood containers for guest use.
Bed linens – We use only 100% cotton sheets.
Reservations Office – We use LED light bulbs whenever possible and purchase only recycled paper for printing purposes.
Rainforest Alliance Verified™ Blancaneaux Lodge and Turtle Inn have had their sustainable tourism practices and operations Verified as best management practices by Rainforest Alliance.
Organic Garden The produce at our resorts is truly local. Our gardening staff grows all the organic vegetables and many of the fruits used at both Blancaneaux Lodge and Turtle Inn. “We want to offer our guests the best there is, and by growing it ourselves we can guarantee the quality,” says Francis. “Besides, what’s a good brick oven pizza without fresh basil?”
The gardener and chef consult daily on what the restaurant’s specials, what is available and what will soon be ready to make an appearance on the menu. The year-round growing season and careful crop rotation means there are always fresh tomatoes for salads, sandwiches, pizzas and pastas.
RESPONSIBILTY We currently provide full academic scholarships to five local students. Three are currently attending Sacred Heart College in the Cayp District town of San Ignacio, one is attending Mopan Tech in Benque Viejo, and one is attending St. Ignatius High School in Santa Elena. Scholarships include all tuition fees, and books. All students, once accepted, must provide progress reports throughout the four-year scholarship.
We contribute $1000 BZ monthly to the Cornerstone Foundation (http://www.cornerstonefoundationbelize.org/), a non-profit organization that provides assistance to the poor and needy, as well as promoting positive workshops geared towards children.
We also contribute $1000 BZ monthly to the health clinic in Placencia to help assist in the cost of medicines and medical equipment.
Additionally, we provide contributions throughout the year for the advancement of local sports in Placencia, as well in San Ignacio.