A Travellerspoint blog

April 2020

Sleeping Giant Rainforest Lodge, Belize

Luxury, tranquillity and adventure in the Belizean rainforest. We loved it so much we went twice!

I’ve been lucky to experience many wonderful accommodations in this world. When we booked a last-minute trip to Belize, I was fortunate to find the Sleeping Giant Rainforest Lodge.. I hit it out of the park on this one.

The lodge is about 90 minutes from the Belize airport and they will happily arrange transport for you. As we wind our way through the impossibly green countryside on the Hummingbird Highway, I wonder what awaits us in this jungle paradise. Nestled in the foothills of the Maya Mountains, the lodge promised beauty, relaxation and adventure. Would it deliver?

Arriving at the open air lobby, we are greeted with a fresh cocktail, complete with a bamboo straw. Sleeping Giant prides itself on being eco friendly, and they are committed to doing everything they can to support sustainable environmental practices. The lush landscaping, brilliant colors and friendly welcome draw us in. They already know our name, and we toast to new adventures. The grounds are lush, peaceful and verdant. Ducks splash in the streams and palm trees sway in the breeze. The smell of the flowers follows you everywhere you go and even though it rains nonstop for the first few days, we know this place is special. To say we were happy to be there would be a major understatement. As a matter of fact, we liked it so much we came back a month later!

Axel, our new friend (everyone in Belize is your new friend...I’m being serious!) walked us over to our Creekside cottage. The warm colors, Belizean hardwoods, open air bathroom and sumptuous fabrics made us feel at home and happy. All of the accommodations are pretty extraordinary, and next time we opt for a sprawling suite overlooking the Sibun River. All of the accommodations are nestled seamlessly into the river bank or the side of the mountain, and views are exceptional everywhere you look.

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I’d say Paul loves hanging out in the hammock but that’s pretty obvious.

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The grounds at the Lodge are spectacular, lush and peaceful. All we hear are babbling brooks, waterfalls and birds. OK so the first time we visited all we heard was the constant downpour of rain lots of peaceful showers, but it is still gorgeous. Like I said, we came back again a month later!

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The bathrooms are an absolute dream, with spa amenities and my favorite, outdoor tubs and showers. I could live there.

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The first time we visit the lodge we did not have a car so we spent all of our time on the property. Like I said, we battled almost nonstop rain but we learned to drink more cocktails make the best of it and just get wet. Honestly, when it’s 82° and you’re in a place this beautiful it really doesn’t matter.

The lodge has bicycles, kayaks and standup paddleboards that we can borrow any time. We eye the river, but with all the rain the water is high, so we are content to sit and watch the birds. One morning, we grab a couple of bikes and set off to find five “hammock bridges” over the river that runs through the property. We stop at each bridge and marvel at the beauty of the jungle landscape. We see a brilliant scarlet macaw in the distance and hear parrots squawking in the trees. The soft rushing water over the rocks in the river almost has a hypnotic effect. We sit on the bridge, swinging and watching.

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At the fourth bridge, we find a swimming hole that looks like something out of a magical jungle movie set. I try not to think about all of the magical jungle creatures that are probably watching us, so I can focus on this extraordinary place. I remember someone telling me they saw a hundred shades of green during their travels, and I wondered how that could be. Now I know. We shed our wet clothes and swim in the warm, crystal clear water, stopping to listen to the jungle around us, and for some reason, we laugh. It feels marvelous. It rains for four hours straight and yet we return happy, soaked and ready for the hot tub in our Creekside garden.

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So this is a cow and her calf. “That’s nice,” you say. Well, here’s the thing. All of the cows on the property roam free in the pastures, and are managed by real life Belizean cowboys. Apparently this calf gave birth a few days before we arrived, and the staff notices on trail cams that there were TWO jaguars stalking the calf, so they wrangle mother and baby and bring them to the corral near the lodge. “ I am so glad they are safe now!” I say to the cowboy. “Well, safer,” he replies. It is the jungle, after all.

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When you stay at Sleeping Giant, you can be as chill or active as you want. They offer a variety of tours every day if you’re into that, and if not, the lodge has an incredible pool, great restaurant, elegant bar and as of February 2020, a woodfired pizza oven restaurant. They infuse all of their own vodkas with fruit and herbs from the surrounding area, and happy hour at the pool is from 2 to 4 PM. Happy hour at the bar starts again from 4 to 6 PM which suits us just fine! The restaurant, The Grove House, was voted best restaurant in Belize in 2019. Make sure you try the pollo asado. Wait, try the oxtail stew. The carne asada. Yes indeed, just try everything. You’ll be glad you did.

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Did I tell you it rained a lot during the first trip? And we still came back!

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The Sleeping Giant is in the distance...can you see his profile and chest?

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There are trails all over the property. One morning we rouse ourselves from our delicious bed, our relaxing hammock and our warm outdoor shower and make our way to the top, up a steep muddy trail in the rain. We climb over roots and vines, creep around long lines of leaf cutter ants, and wonder what the heck we are doing when we have such beautiful accommodations below. We ascend the gazebo stairs at the top and stand silent. We stare out at the impossibly green orange groves, the Maya Mountains and the always present Sleeping Giant. The view is so worth it. Let me think of something articulate and insightful to say to describe this moment. I’ve got it. “Wow.”

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Since it was so rainy during our first trip to the lodge, we opted not to do day trips. We did find out that Danny the cowboy was hosting carriage tours of the property, so we sign up because we are feeling lazy looking forward to learning more about the area. We do learn a lot and even make it back in time for happy hour (OK we planned that part).

We sit in the carriage, dodging the raindrops. Danny tells us about the lodge, its history, and the geography of the area. We stop to pick fresh oranges and eat them like little kids, with the juice running down our chins. We meet the horses in the pasture, who barely notice us as we pass by, while they nod to the horses leading our little tour. “Not my turn today,” they seem to say. The carriage crosses the river, and as we splash through the shallow water, the horses speed up, as if the water might catch them. We stop to learn about growing cacao - the fruit that ends up as chocolate. I am forever indebted to whoever figured out how to turn this orange, squishy bean into something everyone can love. I enjoyed learning about something that I would love to eat every day enjoy on special occasions. I never knew the pods grew right out of the trees! Did you know they only harvest them once a year? Don’t you feel smarter just knowing that? I know I do.

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Next stop... Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Lodge

Posted by traciekochanny 16:54 Archived in Belize Tagged mountains rainforest jungle belize sleeping_giant sleeping_giant_rainforest_lodge luxury_hotel unique_properties Comments (0)

Bora Bora, French Polynesia

Yes, it really is that beautiful

sunny 82 °F
View French Polynesia on traciekochanny's travel map.

There are some places in this world that live in our heads as having almost mythical beauty. We see them in pictures, dream about them in movies, and wish we could know if it really looks like that. Bora Bora is one of those places. The iconic images of its impossibly blue lagoon and the dark, towering Mount Otemanu rising in the center had been seared on my brain for as long as I could remember. Let’s go there.

As the folks from the Tahitian tourist board say, Bora Bora is known as the “Jewel of the South Seas.” It is the most celebrated island in the South Pacific, French Polynesia's leading lady. Her beauty is unrivaled and her fame, unwavering. Bora Bora is one of the few places on earth that everyone hopes to witness in their lifetime—and once you see it, you are forever enamored.

We fly to Bora Bora on Air Tahiti from the magical little island of Huahine (more on that in another post). Flying between the islands in French Polynesia is something to be experienced. There is no security, the airports are open air, and the scent of flowers is everywhere. It’s literally the exact opposite of most airports. No long security lines and crabby attendants, just people waiting to put leis around your neck.

The flight into Bora Bora is breathtaking. As we approach, we circle the lagoon and get a bird’s eye view of all of the overwater bungalow resorts on the outlying motus. It’s cliche to say it takes my breath away but it does. When we land, we walk across flowered walkways and see that there are stands set up throughout the open air terminal with women in colorful dresses holding armfuls of fresh flower leis. Palm fronds sway in the breeze, people smile and wave “Ia Orana!” The hotel ‘shuttles’ are beautiful boats that whisk you away to your intended destination across the impossibly blue lagoon. I have to pinch myself to make sure I am not dreaming.

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This is the airport bathroom. Imagine that.

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The hotel shuttle skirts the island while we all look around in awe. We arrive at the Intercontinental Le Moana Bora Bora and are met with cool drinks and warm greetings of welcome. As Platinum Ambassador members, we are upgraded to an overwater bungalow and everything about it exceeds every expectation. The property is stunning, the lagoon is breathtaking and the people are wonderful.

It really feels like we are in some otherworldly movie set. The colors are brighter, the air is warmer, and the flowers smell like heaven. Speaking of flowers... In French Polynesia everyone wears flowers every day, and I mean everyone. Men women and children wear brightly colored flowers on their head and around their necks, and many men wear pareos instead of shorts. It’s really beautiful.

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Each bungalow has a glass coffee table that looks down into the lagoon. The hotel has had local marine biologists start little coral gardens under each bungalow to serve as fish nurseries, and they provide eco friendly fish food that you can sprinkle down into the water. I have wanted to say those words...” I am feeding the fish through a hole in my bedroom floor!” If anyone had ever told me that I could spend hours looking down into the coffee table I would’ve had thought they were crazy but it’s amazing and, quite frankly, a little addictive. “Wait, the blue wrasse is coming back! I can see the eel’s head!” Just like in Moorea, the occasional black tip shark slides by, giving us the eye but never threatening. Again, if anyone had ever told me I’d jump in a lagoon with sharks and not give it a second thought, well...you know.

The elusive moray eel finally shows himself and you’d think we just won the lottery.

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One night we decide to explore a little and take a taxi to the Bora Bora Yacht Club. for dinner. The scenery on the way looks like something out of a South Pacific movie. I know I keep saying it, but it’s true. Children play in the surf, people wave, and color after color whizzes by the windows like a giant mixed up rainbow. The yacht club is a hit. We enjoy a beautiful evening on the water and can not help but notice a couple at the table next to us. They’re celebrating an anniversary and despite the incredible location, they don’t put their phones down during the ENTIRE MEAL. The wife is continually staging pictures, providing direction to her husband and the staff, and actually has the waiter bring the champagne twice because he did not do it to her satisfaction on camera the first time! She announces every post on Instagram as if it’s a sport during their so-called special dinner, and we shake our heads.

Have you ever seen a taxi that looked like this? I feel like I am in a garden!

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We ask the taxi driver if we can stop at a store for a few things. We marvel at the rows and rows of fine French wine, patès and baskets full of baguettes. We laugh at seeing Lays potato chips flavored with ‘rotisserie chicken’ and ‘ancient with smoked ham’. We’re tempted to find out what that even means but pass for this time.

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Our time at Le Moana is spent lounging in the water, enjoying meals by the lagoon, joining other guests for sunset happy hours, perfecting our French rosè drinking skill and generally being in awe of such a beautiful place. At night, there is a celebration of Polynesian dance. In the torch lit evening, under the full moon, the gorgeously colorful dancers spin and sway. The energy is palpable. The music intensifies, drums beat, and stories are told.

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There are times when I write that I honestly don’t know what to say. I feel like no words could really describe the beauty of this place so for now I will just leave the rest of the photos right here for you to enjoy while I dream of returning to Bora Bora someday. It will live forever in my memories

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Next stop...Tahiti!

Posted by traciekochanny 09:10 Archived in French Polynesia Tagged islands flowers beach lagoon moth french_polynesia bora_bora blue_lagoon leis le_moana matira_beach Comments (0)

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