A paradise of modern eco-minimalism perched among the trees in Belize’s jungle, Gaia Riverlodge hotel is one of those places that you want to keep all to yourself. While you’re there, the warm staff are your friends, the hidden riverside ‘beach’ and swimming holes your backyard pool and your hardwood-and-Mexican-tiled bungalow your home.
Double rooms from $333.20, including tax at 19 per cent.
Rates usually include Continental breakfast.
Every evening before dinner, a popular and informal ‘social hour’ is held in the bar area, and guests and staff get together and chat about the day’s adventures over an aperitif.
Annually from 18 September to 6 October.
At the hotel
Mountain bicycles to borrow, river ‘beach’ with palapas and swimming holes, spa, sprawling grounds, free WiFi in main building. In rooms: flashlight, beach towels, screened windows, mosquito netting, purified water in reusable jugs.
Our favourite rooms
Each cabana is distinct, with its own blend of Mexican tiles, native Belizean hardwoods and handmade local textiles, but the most impressive views can be found in the rooms overlooking the on-site Five Sisters Waterfalls; the Waterfall View Suites even have private terraces with views of the waterfalls.
The lodge doesn’t have a typical swimming pool, but if you walk down the 300 steps to the Privasson River, deep natural pools filled with mountain spring water await you, lined with soft white sand, sunloungers and palapas shading hammocks and chairs. Drinks and snacks can be delivered to you, and a trolley can take you back up to the restaurant deck.
The Jungle Spa offers a range of treatments – including massages and facials – using natural and indigenous ingredients in its one treatment room.
Keen eyes for spotting wildlife like the reserve’s many wild jaguars, and a good book by one of Belize’s most renowned authors, like Zee Edgell, for digging into while basking on your riverside lounger.
Children age 16 and older are welcome, but not catered to. The Waterfall View Suite is the best lodging choice for families, as the living room sofa can pull out into a queen bed.
All electricity is supplied from the hotel’s own hydro power plant, generated from the river below; to limit usage, there are no minibars, air-conditioners or hair-dryers in rooms. Most building materials were locally sourced, bath products are eco-friendly and the restaurant’s ingredients are grown on-site or sourced locally.
For the full rainforest effect, nab a table at the edge of the deck and watch the jungle canopy spread out before you. Sunset up here – known as the ‘purple sunset’ to locals – is especially awe-inspiring.
Easy breezy jungle chic – simple linens and cottons, and maybe a splash of colour to help you fit in with the wildlife.
A veritable treehouse perched over a rainforest ravine and the Privasson River, Gaia Restaurant is an extension of the airy, natural-feeling lobby. The regularly rotating menu, sourced from the on-site organic garden and neighbouring farms, features local Belizean favourites like coconut rice, ceviche and empanadas; nightly specials include the popular spicy Creole shrimp. Breakfast includes a range of Continental, American, Belizean and Maya options, including fresh fruit and yoghurt.
Part of the restaurant and lobby, the open-plan bar is the perfect place to settle in for a cosy evening with a local beer or the Gaia Kiss signature cocktail and make friends with the bartenders.
Breakfast is served from 7 to 10am; lunch from noon to 3pm; dinner from 6:30 to 9pm.
The full restaurant menu is available in your room during regular restaurant hours.
At the end of an unpaved road in the middle of Belize’s Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, Gaia Riverlodge is picturesquely isolated, an island of luxury in the midst of the jungle.
Belize City’s international airport (BZE), serves direct flights to and from a number of major US cities, including Houston and Miami, with connecting flights to other major international cities. Once in Belize City, you can either continue your journey by car or via a scenic 40-minute flight on TropicAir to the Maya Flats Airstrip, an hour’s drive from the lodge. Charter flights can also be arranged to Blancaneaux Airstrip, at neighbouring Blancaneaux Lodge, a 10-minute drive from the hotel.
Hire a car in Belize City if you want to make the scenic three-hour drive to the hotel and have the freedom to explore the Cayo District more independently. Otherwise, the hotel can arrange transfers from Belize City, Maya Flats Airstrip and Blancaneaux Airstrip. Parking at the hotel is free.
Worth getting out of bed for
Set in the middle of the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, Gaia is a prime getaway for outdoors and adventure enthusiasts. On the hotel’s grounds alone, there are the makeshift beach and swimming holes on the Privasson River, a hike (or bike ride on borrowed bicycles) to swimming at Big Rock Falls and a hiking trail through Broadleaf Forest. The concierge can plan any other adventure further afield that you might have in mind, from a visit to the Maya ruins at Caracol, cave canoe trips, zip-lining excursions and organized visits to the market in San Ignacio.
The only other restaurants for miles are the two 10-minutes away at Blancaneaux Lodge: Montagna, which boasts a menu of owner Francis Ford Coppola’s Italian favourites, and Guatemaltecqua, which specialises in Guatemalan cuisine (+501 824-3878).
Eyes closed. Warmed by the Belizean sun. Lulled by the gentle sound of flowing water and the flutter of leaves, thoughts only broken by a bird’s call from deep within the forest. I’m lying on a cushioned double sunlounger on boutique hotel Gaïa Riverlodge’s beach; this hidden paradise is secreted away in the stunning Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve in Belize’s jungly interior.
This is no conventional beach, but an island in the centre of the sparkling Privasson River, surrounded by freshwater pools fed by the shimmering Five Sisters waterfalls. The clear water is perfect for a cooling dip and the hotel’s clutch of thatched palapas provide the ideal place for sheltering from the sun. We’re at the bottom of a river gorge, reached by a leafy walk through the forest stairs or, my favourite, a hydro-powered rainforest aerial tram: a tiny two-person ride down through the trees into a remote paradise. With 300 steps to navigate down to the bottom, this quirky mode of transport is a welcome ride back to the hotel. It’s hot, but after a quick walkie-talkie conversation with reception, two ice-cold lemonades arrive, hand delivered to us at the beach in chilled bags. They really have thought of everything.
Gaïa Riverlodge itself is quite the looker (although this is something of an understatement). Perched at the top of the valley, the resort focuses on the spectacular views of the Five Sisters waterfalls below. We may be more than 100 kilometres away from the coast, but at Gaïa Mr Smith and I can dig our toes into the soft sand, relax on loungers warmed by the sun and plunge into clear-as-crystal waters.
We’re greeted on arrival by the manager Nigel, his wide smile and welcoming introductions to his team make us feel immediately at home – they’re one big family. We’re shown the central lodge, a large thatched cabana with polished hardwood floors, ceiling fans and views out over the falls from the veranda that wraps around the building. It’s here you can curl up on an enormous white sofa, perch yourself at the mahogany bar for a well-earned margarita or take your cocktail on the veranda outside before dinner. During our stay we often partake in a pre-dinner cocktail, like the resort’s signature Gaïa Kiss, always chilled to perfection and served with a smile.
Mr Smith and I stayed in a Riverview Suite, a private cabana nestled into the forest just a short stroll from the central lodge. The route there passes through the beautifully landscaped grounds, which are crammed with colourful tropical blooms and lit gently in the evening. Everything here is respectful of the lush natural setting, from the indigenous Belizean hardwoods used to construct the buildings, to the hotel’s own hydro energy-plant powered by the river, which supplies all the hotel’s electricity.
Our cabana has an almost panoramic view of the forest and waterfalls from the bedroom. Shiny wooden floors, local artwork and reclining chairs greet us in our new home. The bed is outrageously comfortable: I want to know their secret. It’s draped with lovely linens and a romantic (and practical) mosquito net to keep out any creepy-crawlies. Perhaps best of all, on the lower floor, furnished with a lovely large sofa and second bathroom, there is our own private veranda. We sit here in the late afternoon listening to the sounds of the forest, the gentle rush of the river and the roar of the waterfalls in the distance.
Gaïa Riverlodge is certainly one of those hotels that guide books might describe as a ‘hidden gem’, but it’s a much more treasured find than that moniker would suggest. Its remote location in the Forest Reserve requires an hour of travel along an uncultivated dirt road – a journey made wonderfully comfortable by the lodge’s off-road private transfer option, accompanied by merciful air-conditioning and a delightfully chatty local driver. However, the epic trek is undeniably worth it and your labours are richly rewarded. Once you seek this hideaway, it’s a secret you’ll want to keep all to yourself.