Francis Ford Coppola’s trio of esteemed lodges headlines Belize’s eco-luxury revolution. By Paul Rubio
Connecting the landmasses of North and South America, the isthmus of Central America explodes with extraordinary landscapes reflecting the rich and fertile lands once ruled by the Maya. Following the eco-tourism successes of its Mesoamerican neighbors, Belize is the latest country to hop on the green-travel bandwagon, satisfying a hunger for both enthralling adventure and sun-drenched bliss. Focusing on the history and majesty of the history-steeped Maya Mountains and the aquamarine rapture of the world’s second-largest barrier reef, quiet Belize is now making a name for itself in the world of high-end travel, thanks largely to a very special Hollywood director.
While best known for The Godfather films in the United States and Europe, the name Francis Ford Coppola takes on a different meaning in Belize and neighboring Guatemala. In between Oscar-winning films, Coppola’s mad love affair with English-speaking Belize spawned several offspring: Blancaneaux Lodge in Belize’s Maya Mountains; Turtle Inn along Belize’s Placencia Peninsula; and La Lancha, situated near the ancient city of Tikal off the Belize-Guatemala border. Mention Coppola’s name in these parts and imagery of eco-luxury immediately comes to mind.
The Placencia Peninsula, along Belize’s central coastline, is the latest hotspot for Central American beachfront real estate and is home to Coppola’s thatched-roof beachfront retreat, Turtle Inn. To those who’ve previously stumbled upon Belize’s downtrodden coastal capital, Belize City, fear not; Placencia bears no resemblance to the country’s economic epicenter and will quickly replace any previous feelings of “paradise lost.” With its own airport and all the trappings of a textbook bohemian beach town, a visit to Placencia and Turtle Inn is likely to inspire future investment in this small slice of coastal heaven.
Placencia epitomizes Belize’s diversity with a vibe that’s distinctly laid-back Caribbean, cuisine that pulls from both the islands and the Maya heartland, and a population that blends all races. The mangrove-rich peninsula recalls the beauty of the Florida Keys, while the presence of the world’s second-largest barrier reef farther afield reveals some of the globe’s top dive spots.
Turtle Inn’s stylish and expansive bungalows are at once rustic and luxe—just what honeymoon dreams are made of. Simplicity is key, so forget about all technological distractions, because you won’t find them here. Even if you want to communicate with the front desk, you’ll have to page them with your in-room “Gilligan’s Island”-style conch “shell phone.”
Your days at Turtle Inn will consist of poolside and beachside lounging, the occasional swim to the resort’s floating sundecks, feasting on Italian and Belizean cuisine, and spending plenty of romantic time in your personal alfresco shower garden. For added relaxation, the Thai therapists at the house spa are available to perform invigorating and stress-relieving massages and rituals from their homeland in outdoor pavilions.
The majority of accommodations take shape as villas and cottages that offer garden or sea views and are adorned in Balinese and Guatemalan fabrics and woodcarvings from the onsite wood shop. Elevated triangular wood ceilings capture the day’s heat while ubiquitous screen windows channel coastal zephyrs, reducing the need for air conditioning. (Those travelers who are sensitive to heat will want to visit in cooler months, from December to March.)
Larger families and those in-the-know frequently opt to reside in Coppola’s personal vacation villa, the larger Balinese-inspired Francis Ford Coppola Family Pavilion, which flaunts its own private pool and attendant, all while still being part of the Turtle Inn complex. High-profile guests and those looking for extreme privacy seek refuge in Turtle Inn’s Beach House, a completely secluded private home designed by architect Laurent Deroo, reflecting a tropical blend of modern luxury.
While Belize’s coastline makes its mark as a destination for plenty of fun in the sun, the mystical ruins and mountainous landscapes in western Belize also appeals to both seasoned and novice outdoor enthusiasts. Coppola’s Blancaneaux Lodge showcases the best of western Belize’s Maya Mountains, a region teeming with mysterious caves, dramatic waterfalls, hiking trails, and exalted Maya archaeological sites, such as the stunning Caracol.
Blancaneaux stands tall in Belize’s Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, peering over the serene Privassion River, its mammoth huts and villas connected by labyrinthine walking trails through a magical pine forest. Blancaneaux calls to those seeking an “eco-light” experience, with nature serving as nothing more than a scenic backdrop, as well as more hard-core travelers looking for rigorous hikes and intrepid adventures, like searching for tracks of the elusive jaguar.
Whatever your preferred style of vacation, days at Blancaneaux are commonly split between enthralling day trips (the preeminent one being to Caracol) and lazy afternoons of bespoke bonding with nature. This includes soaking in the pool-sized hot tub while listening to birdcalls, swaying in a riverside hammock with a good read, or succumbing to the call of the wild in the private plunge pools and the outdoor shower gardens of the Deluxe Cabanas. Onsite, guests can tour Blancaneaux’s organic garden, the source for the majority of fruits and vegetables for the property’s restaurant, Montagna Ristorante, and the beautiful floral arrangements found within guest villas. Horseback riding is also a popular pastime, with 17 horses eagerly waiting for riders to wander with through the surrounding pine forest and nearby broadleaf forest.
Similar to Turtle Inn, guests at Blancaneaux have the option of walking in Coppola’s shoes by staying in his personal vacation villa at Blancaneaux. Naturally, the Francis Ford Coppola Villa has the best seat in the house, directly overlooking Privassion Creek, and boasts a private pool and service from a private attendant. Inside the villa, expect plenty of artifacts from Coppola’s personal travel collection, namely a wealth of colorful Guatemalan huapils (pronounced wee-peel), which are colorful, handwoven poncho-style garments found in the varied regions of the Guatemalan highlands. Analogous to Turtle Inn’s Beach House, Blancaneaux also offers the exclusive 1,800-square-foot Enchanted Cottage, with its own private entrance. True to its namesake, the Enchanted Cottage wows with its juxtaposition of stone and wood and features heated floors, a bedroom fireplace, and an exotic Japanese bathtub.
All international flights land at Belize City International Airport; and once in Belize, Coppola’s lodges provide land transfers and work closely with Tropic Air to secure seats on the airline’s wealth of regularly scheduled, connecting services to the country’s most remote pockets. Though it is possible to simply visit one of the Coppola lodges exclusively, the excellent tourism infrastructure connecting the Turtle Inn, Blancaneaux, and the third lodge, La Lancha, often prompts visitors to sample at least two, if not all three lodges, for a deliciously diverse sojourn through Mesoamerica.
The Details: Belize
Guatemala Unedited Opt for an excursion to Guatemala to experience Coppola’s La Lancha lodge.
Given time constraints of the modern traveler, it’s not always possible to sample all three of Coppola’s lodges. In most instances, Guatemala’s La Lancha fails to make the final cut. However, travelers should note that La Lancha is true eco-tourism at its finest, and getting to and from Flores, Guatemala is fairly simple.
Less than two hours from the Belize border, in Guatemala’s El Peten region, the rainforest meets the sparkling waters of Lake Peten Itza at La Lancha, Coppola’s charming 10-room boutique lodge. Those looking for charismatic wildlife will certainly find it here. Outside the balconies of the Lakeview Casitas, colorful toucans take flight, while curious howler monkeys go about their daily “monkey business.”
Wildlife endeavors notwithstanding, the anchor for a trip to La Lancha is a visit to the most famous of all Mayan ruins, Tikal. A trek through the ancient world of Tikal is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that could easily headline your Central American travels. coppolaresorts.com/LaLancha, $90-$340/night.