Experiencing a slice of rural Belize life at Calico Jacks

We felt bereaved on leaving the Belize beach at San Pedro as it felt so settled and beautiful there, but you don’t discover a country solely by eating space brownies on the beach, so it was time to move on.

Although there was a hard act to follow, our stay in the heart of Belize’s rural community about 20 miles from San Ignasio at Calico Jacks was top point.

Here we discovered the relaxed beauty of trees, farming and staff who simply could not be faulted. To get to remote places takes a bit of effort; the roads to the hotel are bumpy and slow (although better than some routes I have travelled).

Calico Jacks is a tourist destination with an intention of putting something back. There aren’t many opportunities for poor children of rural farmers. School is chargeable here and secondary schooling is not compulsory and is even more expensive. In a country where 4 kids are commonplace, your standard kid doesn’t get the opportunity of the 6am bus into San Ignasio School and as well as school fees, there’s breakfast, lunch and tea costs given the long travel times. At Calico Jacks, 14 staff are given the opportunity to muck in around the estate picking up a variety of skills and gaining access to tourist tips along the way. The staff adore this place, the opportunity to earn a decent living amongst the nature and to share their knowledge. It shines through.

Calico Jacks is a 300 + acre slice of jungle with a swimming pool, a great conservatory and restaurant area and a zip line activity. There is accommodation for about 20 people.

If you want conversation with fellow guests, then you might just find it a bit lonely at Calico Jacks (we ate in the dining room pretty much alone but for the friendly chatty staff) but for chill time around the pool and for connecting with the locals and discovering something about rural Belize life, then it is top notch.

My only slight criticism is that there isn’t a huge jungle hike opportunity but of course, with green tourists and lots of biting and stinging beasts, insects and plants the two don’t exactly meld together easily.

Our pad for 4 was lovely; a large public space with kitchen, dining space and living room with TV and then 2 large ensuite rooms behind and a bit of private garden space before jungle beyond. I could spot hummingbirds in the morning.

Meeting the local “wildlife”

This is Jaguar country although none of the staff have spotted one directly. There are snakes, so be a little mindful of that although again it is rare for a tourist to encounter one.

Food is really fresh and tasty with the estate growing what it can, and vegetables are market fresh. You need to set out your dinner order by 2 so it can be made for you. There is a good choice of fish, veggie and meat dishes and again (pretty standard in Belize), the style is quite Mexican. Tasty not spicy hot (unless you add some explosive sauce). The restaurant tends to close by 8 and this is where the internet is (connectivity does not extend to the rooms), so it might be worth having some emergency rum and coke in your luggage.

The local shop is about 15 minutes walk in El Progresso Seven Mile, the local village. Soft drinks and snacks can be bought here and don’t forget to give Joker the insanely friendly shop dog a tummy rub. There are a few photo opportunities across the valley in the village.

The in house zip wire is challenging and thoughtfully done; sadly my bust knee tendons cried at the very thought of taking the strain of a zip wire landing (or indeed climbing some of the ladder assents to the platforms), so I had to duck out, but my travel companions enjoyed the challenge.

There are some ladders, platforms and a scary lift (Belize as a country has 11 lifts in total, including this generator run outdoor one). My travelling companions completely enjoyed the well thought through zip lines, although they also discovered the lines run faster in heavy rain.

While they were out, I had a dip in the pool which was a luxury to have to myself. One of the groundsman dropped by for a chat about books; he loves reading. The pool isn’t spotless but it’s perfectly usable. You can find lizards basking around the pool and there is a covered space with chairs and hammocks for chillin and to sit out any sudden downpours.

On one of our 3 days, staff member Julio took us the long bumpy ride to Caracol, the biggest Mayan site in Belize which is deliciously uncommercial given the tricky road to get here. Even when roads are reasonable in Belize they seem to be quite the fan of the speed bump. The Mayan site was called home by anything up to 180,000 people and extended up to 60 square km, although most common people lived in wood huts which have not survived. What you see is the stone alters, palaces and religious structures although only 15% has been exposed and brought back to life. That mix of wild unexplored mound and exposed structure gives a real explorer feel.

Julio was a top lad and totally buzzing about his recent goal for the local 7 Mile El Progresso football team, which brought them through to a national championship He and his team mates were basking in being local heroes. His evident pride was well deserved, and of course his shining excitement gave a real connection to him. A bright and engaging young man, Julio was building his home in the village and he shared a lot about village life, how different groups co-existed and how they farmed and looked after the land, and the troubles in Guatemala which led to his father relocating to Belize.

As part of the tour, we also dropped off at a local cave, where Julio had to assist this old man with bad knees and poor eyesight over the uneven terrain in poor light. I think I held Julio’s hand for longer then my beloved’s that day. We also went for a splash in some rock pools. The road is going to be improved soon, so it felt an honour to see these places in comparative solitude. I could see echos of future restaurants and tourist shops which would rob these places of their delicious solitude.

I won’t describe Calico Jacks as real top end resort, although there is enough flash to make it a very pleasant and comfortable environment. For me, the sheer pleasure was the chance to hear the jungle noises, to have a complete reboot from our busy lives (but still being in contact with friends and family) and making real connections with the gentle, caring souls who work and benefit from Calico Jacks.

Chris R


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