Belize's Pook's Hill Lodge: Discovering Secrets of the Maya Heartland
Set in a 300-acre private nature preserve, the lodge has two miles of frontage on the Roaring River and borders on the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve, a 6,800-acre rainforest sancutary which is home to colorful toucans, hummingbirds, howler monkeys and jaguars.
The lodge is also among the best places in all of Central America to see firsthand the archaeological investigations which are unearthing the secrets of the Maya heartland.
One historic site of major importance is located right on the grounds of the lodge itself, where a team of archaeologists has recently uncovered an ancient Mayan sweat bath.
Pook's Hill is located at the site of a Mayan "plazuela" or "little plaza," the residence of an extended family with a temple, a 'feasting hall,' burial grounds, and several masonry platforms that once suppported pole and thatch buildings. The plaza was surrounded by cultivated fields and stone dwellings.
Architecture and artifacts from Pook's show signs of long-distance contact with central Mexico (Teotihuacano ceramic styles, green obsidian, and a circular shrine) and with the Caribbean coast of Belize (parrotfish and the incised Hawksbill turtle piece). Pook's continued to flourish during the entire Terminal Classic period (830-950 AD, when many other sites had been abandoned), playing host to feasts boasting parrotfish, venison and beverages served in molded-carved vessels. Shortly thereafter however, Pook's, like countless other sites, was abandoned.
A Real Jungle Experience
Traditional Mayan Cabanas
Birding - Many birds nest in the area including toucans, jacamars, spectacled owls, ferruginous pygmy owls and, of course, numerous types of hummingbirds. Pook's Hill Reserve is said by ornithologists to be in a league of it's own for birding.
Horseback riding - The varied trail under the jungle canopy, through the river and into the Roaring River Valley offers riders an interesting and exciting ride, suitable for both novice and experienced riders.
Swimming - Visitors can swim in the crystal clear jungle pools of the Roaring River or enjoy a "tube float" along the two-mile stretch of river adjoining Pook's Hill Reserve.
Hiking - Pook's Hill Reserve is a delight to explore. There are several well-marked paths and trails. There is an information sheet about the plants and trees and a guide is readily available to accompany visitors.
River trail - 1/2 - 3/4 hour trail. An easy walk through prime jungle and riverside, past the giant Strangler Fig, the Cortez, Ironwood and Mahogany.
Jungle Trail - 1-2 hour trail. A hike under the canopy, between the hills and through hidden plazas. This trail is marked with tape and we recommend a compass or guide, as it is easy to become disorientated in the mature jungle.
One of the most exciting adventures in Belize is in our valley, on our doorstep. Actun Tunichil Mucnal (Mayan for Stone Sepulchre Cave) is a unique caving experience, combining outstanding natural formations and the untouched remains of ancient Maya rituals. Visitors can take a journey to the ancient Maya underworld and discover what gave the cave its name.
Pook's Hill also has an Iguana Rearing and Release Program set up in 1996. In March 1997. One hundred Green Iguanas were released in the Pook's Hill Reserve and Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve. The program is on course for a further release in March 1998. The Iguanas are housed in an enclosure in the grounds and visitors are welcome to see and learn about them. To fund the project an "Adoption Option" was set up. For $30.00BZ an Iguana can be adopted and named. For adopting you receive an "Adoption Option" T-shirt plus information about the program.
One way to book a stay at Pook's Hill Lodge is through Adventure Life Journeys' Belize tours, a travel company committed to quality small-group tours in Latin America that have a positive impact on the local culture and environment. They utilize local guides, family-run hotels and local transportation.
Community tourism empowers local people to identify the cultural and natural resources in their midst and convert them into assets that can improve the economic life of their community. In so doing, community tourism becomes the engine for restoring and preserving those irreplaceable resources. This style of tourism falls under the umbrella of low-impact, socially conscious travel widely know as "ecotourism."
While some travel companies use the term "ecotourism" for marketing purposes only, Adventure Life Journeys lives up to its definition by building environmental and cultural awareness through education, activities, and pre-departure information; providing direct financial contributions for conservation efforts; minimizing impact on the environment and the local cultue; traveling in small groups; training tour guides in "Leave No Trace" ethics; seeking out excursions offered by local or indigenous people; supporting local businesses and service providers and using locally-owned services - hotels, lodges and transport companies - to ensure that as much revenue as possible stays within, and therefore benefits, local communities.
Stephen Hartshorne is the assistant editor at GoNOMAD.com
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