This article is from the May 2000 The Mexico File newsletter.
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A Belizean Oasis, Jaguar Paw Jungle Resort

by Gale Randall 

Gale Randall, who admits to a passion for jungles and ruins, has traveled extensively in Mexico and Central America. 

We're having a pleasant lunch in the elegant dining room of Jaguar Paw Jungle Resort, when suddenly the back door is pushed open by a small dark furry creature with a snout and long bushy ringtail. Hotel

personnel scramble to catch him and send him on his way. It's only Willie, the resort's pet quash, or coati-mondi, making the rounds. A while later, an attractive blonde, wearing what appears to be a black fur piece, wanders in and introduces herself. It turns out she's Donna Young, proprietor, with her husband, Cy, of Jaguar Paw, and her furry companion is none other than Chica, a pet howler monkey along for a free ride. Such encounters are fairly typical at Jaguar Paw, an eco-resort hidden deep in the jungle of the Maya Mountains in Belize.        

Named not for the jaguar but for a 4th century ruler at Tikal in Guatemala, Jaguar Paw is an extraordinary place. The first thing that strikes one as unusual is the resort's design. Reached via a long gravelly road seven miles off the Western Highway in the Cayo district, the resort suddenly looms into view as you crest a steep hill and what you gaze down upon is an imposing Mayanesque building framed by giant cohune palms and tropical plantings, with smaller satellite buildings a jungle path away. Sporting a roof comb, masonry glyph motifs, enormous mahogany doors carved with Mayan personages and framed in green marble, the main building not only recalls jungle ruins one has visited, but also Frank

Lloyd Wright's Mayan houses in Los Angeles. The element of surprise continues inside with a stone waterfall reaching from floor to ceiling, and a ceiling‑high mural adapted from the famed Mayan murals at Bonampak in Chiapas marching across three walls. Mixed with modern art, Guatemalan textiles, Panamanian molas and oriental rugs, these elements somehow all work together to create a visually dazzling effect.       

The sixteen guest rooms clustered in four small buildings are also full of surprises. There's a Mayan room, a Mennonite room (yes, there are colonies of Mennonites in Belize), a Chinese room, Safari room and Seashell room, to name a few. Appointed with wicker, antiques and handmade furniture, all except for three of the guest rooms sport firm queen‑size beds, all have hot and cold water and air conditioning, a rarity at eco-lodges.       

On our arrival, four of the resident canines adopted us, followed us everywhere, and even camped out on our doorstep with two tiny frogs every night. We slept so well in our English‑themed room that we never

made it up in time to observe the mother coati and her eight tiny offspring venture down the hillside every morning for a breakfast in the cabana, Jaguar Paw‑style.       

A major draw at Jaguar Paw is inner tubing through five caves of the Caves Branch River, which meanders alongside the property. As you float along, you observe otherworldly stalactites and stalagmites, bats flying overhead and ancient Mayan pottery scattered about. Additional adventures include boat trips into the cave openings, rock climbing expeditions, and guided hikes along Jaguar Paw's jungle paths. The resort will also arrange for treks to the Mayan ruins of Caracol, Xunantunich and Cahal Pech near San Ignacio, and to Tikal in Guatemala. Although the elusive jaguar has occasionally been spotted by a hotel guest or two, we weren't so lucky, settling instead for viewing the healthy looking specimens at the Belize Zoo, which is close by and is devoted solely to the animals of Belize. The resort is also near Guanacaste National Park, off the Western Highway. 

Jaguar Paw's gourmet restaurant is also notable. Belizean rice and beans, seafood pastas and tasty shrimp creoles are specialties of the house. The Youngs have attempted to maintain as natural a feel as

possible to their resort's 215 acres: nine miles of trails meander through the property, and numerous species of birds can be spotted in the area. An hour and a half from the Belize airport, this jungle oasis makes an excellent choice for a first or last night in the country. Doubles from $125‑170. 888‑77‑Jungle; fax 011‑501‑81‑3024; email: cyoung@btl.net 

Why Not Belize?

If you love Mexico, you'll no doubt fall in love with Belize. This pint‑sized country, about the size of Massachusetts and sandwiched between Mexico's Yucatan and Guatemala, has a lot to offer the visitor

mysterious Mayan ruins, fine beaches and cayes, and pristine jungle ecosystems, rivers and cave systems. Although many visitors to the country opt for a watery vacation on one of its Caribbean cayes, we

concentrated our stay in the Cayo district of western Belize, a gorgeous verdant area boasting notable ruins and proximity to Tikal in Guatemala, the bustling frontier town of San Ignacio and many of Belize's finest inns. 

You can drive to Belize from Chetumal in the Yucatan, or fly into Belize City on American, Continental, Taca and several other airlines. A four‑wheel drive vehicle is recommended Belize has only two major

highways. In addition to Jaguar Paw, which opened in 1996, other noteworthy Cayo resorts include the African‑style Chaa Creek (mfleming@btl.net), DuPlooys (duplooys@btl.net) with its Spanish casitas,

and the centrally located Windy Hill (windyhill@btl.net). Several tour operators, including International Expeditions (nature@ietravel.com), Far Horizons (journey@farhorizon.com), and TourTech (tourtech@pacbell.net) offer Belize packages and tours. The Belizean people, an English‑speaking

mix of Mayan, Spanish‑Indian, African, East Indian, Chinese, Anglo and Mennonite cultures, number about 200,000 and are noted for their friendliness. 

2000 Gale Randall