Herons, swallowtails, Yellow-breasted orioles, and Rufus hummingbirds are just a sample of the variety of birds that claim residence in the open trees that surround the lake, but with just a few miles down a gravel path the scenery changed to dense forest where howler monkeys, spider monkeys, and a variety of bat species dominated the jungle. The most awe-inspiring creatures at Ballum Na, though, are the brothers Bosh and Chupi. It doesn’t take long to realize why the name of the lodge means “House of the Jaguar.” Ken rescued the two cubs from Mexico and created a habitat for them enshrouded by the lodge itself. A wrap-around walkway and master suite offer intimate views into their home. Bosh and Chupi are Ken’s messengers of conservation to school groups and guests of the lodge who not only profit from the company of these magnificent creatures but also contribute to the preservation of their natural habitat with their presence. Inside the lodge, warm woods and soft lighting create an earthy and elegant atmosphere. The rooftop veranda reaches above the canopy with views of the seven hills mentioned by Christopher Columbus in his journals and the Mayan ruins of Nim Li Punit. There is no other man-made structure as far as the eye can see.
Days at Ballum Na were spent bike riding, discovering the source of the Blue Creek deep inside a stalactite-filled cave, visiting the bird sanctuary, and exploring the Mayan ruins of Nim Li Punit and Lubaantun. Our next stop was Jungle Camp in the heart of the preserve, which can only be accessed by a 2 hour canoe or kayak trip along Golden Stream. We paddled our way through the jungle as our guide pointed out flora and fauna including a boa constrictor, bats, and duck flowers.
As we curved around the river bend, a multi-story lodge stood on the river’s edge, welcoming us to our home for the evening. In the heart of the untamed Belizean jungle we found ourselves enjoying elegant five-course meals, overstuffed sofas, and romantic rooms with canopy beds and private verandas that overlooked the river. Our morning was spent exploring the jungle by foot with a Mayan guide who explained the medicinal properties of otherwise unassuming tropical plants. The giant Ceiba tree at the river’s edge holds a steel canopy where guests can view birds and other wildlife and they will soon be adding a zip line to the fun. The large electric pontoon carried us away from Jungle Camp along the placid river and towards the coast. We watched the vegetation change to dense mangroves as the salt water from the Caribbean Sea entwined with the freshwater of the river. Kingfishers darted above the water's surface as an eagle flew away with a lizard in its talons and the manatees and crocodiles eluded us inside the dense mangroves.