Chaa Creek Lodge, on the Macal River, is in a 345-acre forest
We were attracted to Chaa Creek because of the many outdoor adventures along the Macal River including canoeing, kayaking and tubing into the caves and the naturalist hikes. There are also external tours to Mayan sites and the mountain area. We had planned to do canoeing and tubing into the caves but the unusually wet weather was so bad that both activities were unavailable. Also the evening Creatures of the Night tour was abandoned as the creatures don’t like to come out in the rain.Our activities included a guided Medicinal Plant Trail, a 2 hour nature trek (on the muddy trails), butterfly farm, early morning bird watching, a visit to the nearby Botanic Gardens, a visit to San Ignacio and a day tour to the Mountain Ridge Pine Forest. We also visited Belize zoo en route to Belize city where we met the boat to Long Caye. We enjoyed seeing the colourful birds - there are over 600 species of birds in Belize with about 20% of them being migratory. On the early morning bird watching I saw 29 species of birds.
Mountain Ridge Pine Forest
We drove into the Mountain Ridge Pine Forest in which the Caribbean Pine flourishes well in the red clay soil. There is also Petula pine that is logged. Surprisingly there is an abundance of St John’s wort growing there too. In this park is both Pine Forest and Rain Forest separated by the Macal River. We visited Black Rock waterfall (about 90 ft), Cascada Pinol and Rio Frieo Cave which has the largest cave chamber in Belize, with an entrance and exit through which the water flows. Unfortunately, the 100ft waterfall was closed due to the recent heavy rainfall.
Green Iguana Conservatory
We enjoyed our close encounter with the iguanas. They were very tame and happy to be held or sit on your shoulder. However, whilst this is a good project I do worry that the iguanas are tamed and handled by the public so open to abuse when they are set free. We were lucky to be just 4 people in the small cage with the iguanas but I dread to think what it’s like in a large tour group. It was interesting that the name originates from what they eat, as some of them are dark orangey colour.The Green Iguana Conservation Project is in the rear of San Ignacio Resort Hotel. It was created in 1996 by Mariam Roberson and Daniel Velasquez due to the decreasing survival rate of Green Iguanas in Belize caused by overhunting. There is a continuous, cyclical system of rearing the Iguanas from the egg to juvenile stage and releasing them into their natural habitat.
The Botanic gardens was a 20 minute car ride from Chaa Creek. It is adjacent to duPloys Jungle Lodge. We enjoyed our guided visit, despite the rain and that we were there early in the season so there was not much colour. In the orchid house was a hummingbird feeding her 2 chicks in the nest. Amazingly the gardens were created from cleared farmland in 1993. Ken duPlooy bought the land and started planting, specifically for the local wildlife to have a pesticide free area to call their home. This 45-acre garden is now home to over 2000 plant species, including hundreds of native species of plants and trees. There are now 10 full-time gardeners and several volunteers.
AJAW chocolate factory
The visit to the chocolate factory was really interesting. It’s not a tour but an educational workshop that takes about 1 hour. You sit in a large room and get an introduction to the Kawaka (Cacao) pod/fruit. AJAW only grow the Forestero and Criolle cacoa beans. They explain and go through step by step how chocolate comes from the cacao bean and you get to taste it throughout the process from the bean to the final product. From the raw bean, it is fermented for 9 to 12 days, then the white skin is washed off and it is dried in the sun. The beans are then roasted before being ground by hand into a paste using a mortar. You get a chance to grind the bean using the old method and then make a traditional Kakawa mayan drink with chocolate, honey and spice (allspice and cinnamon). It’s interesting to see how much the chocolate process has changed from Mayan times to the present. AJAW made their first chocolate bars in 2005. (Cadburys made the first chocolate bar in 1830 and the Swiss added milk to the chocolate in 1875).