Casa del Caballo Blanco was an intimate retreat on the outskirts of San Ignacio, in the Cayo District of western Belize. Perched on a scenic hilltop, it offered a panoramic view of the rolling hills on the northern bank of the Mopan River valley and the mountains of Guatemala to the west. The property was a birdwatcher’s delight. Flocks of red-lored parrots frequently flew overhead and hummingbirds hovered by the blooming shrubs around the grounds. The air echoed with bird calls from dawn until late in the night. The entrance to the recently completed Tz’unuun birding trail was a five-minute walk from the guest cabanas down a gently sloping meadow. This private 1.7 mile (2.5 kilometers) hiking trail meandered through a recently reforested area that was part of the 15 acre (60,000 square meters) habitat restoration project in progress on the property during my visit.
A tiny country wedged along the Caribbean Sea between Mexico and Guatemala, Belize has long been recognized by water sport enthusiasts as a diving and snorkeling paradise. The country, the smallest in Central America (8,800 square miles or 23,000 square kilometers, slightly smaller than Massachusetts), boast the longest barrier reef in the western hemisphere (180 miles or 290 kilometers) along its 240 mile (386 kilometers) coastline. Until now, the sandy islands that straddle the reef (cayes in local parlance), reputed for their white coral sand beaches and spectacular underwater canyons, have been the country’s greatest attraction. However, Belize is also blessed with a lush interior of unspoiled rain forests rich in wildlife, birds and Mayan archeological treasures. To capitalize on these natural assets, the country has designated 40 percent of its landmass as national parks and nature reserves. The Cayo District, with its 2,000 square miles (5,200 square kilometers) of verdant rolling hills along the Macal and Mopan rivers, offers especially scenic attractions. Home to the two most important Maya ruins in the country, Caracol and Xunantunich, as well as several nature reserves including the reputed Blue Hole and Guanacaste National Parks, it is increasingly becoming a favored destination of eco-tourists.