It’s one thing to spot wildlife when you’re on a jungle hike. It’s quite another to discover it right outside your front door. The following three ecolodges, located in the remotest reaches of Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras respectively, provide the opportunity for just that. Offering total jungle immersion far away from any towns or cities of note, they practically ensure you’ll make an impressive dent in that list of must-sees.
Chimino’s Island Lodge (Guatemala)
Calling Chimino’s Island Lodge secluded is a bit of an understatement. Located in Guatemala’s sparsely populated department of El Petén, on the banks of the Petexbatún lagoon, Chimino’s is reached only by boat from the small town of Sayaxché—itself about a one-hour drive from Flores, El Petén’s main hub. The lodge is part of the Petexbatún Wildlife Refuge, home to incredible wildlife and several ancient Maya ruins.
Six thatched-roof bungalows made of reclaimed mahogany blend seamlessly into the verdant jungle tapestry and sit several hundred feet apart—you may have neighbors, but you’ll quickly forget they’re there. Bungalows have decks with lagoon views and are also screened in to keep pesky insects out and allow the sounds of the jungle in. Expect to fall asleep to the haunting calls of howler monkeys (five monkey families live on Chimino’s grounds).
For wildlife encounters during the day, explore the jungle paths around the lodge or plan an early-morning kayak trip on the lagoon, which serves as a pit stop for migratory birds. (If you’re really into birding, be sure to talk to Chimino’s on-site host, Tono. He’s lived in the Petexbatún region for more than 25 years and is an expert at helping guests spot their target species.) You can also check out local wildlife and learn how the ancient Mayas lived by visiting the half-dozen ruins that are sprinkled throughout the area, some accessible by road, others only by boat. Popular ruins include Aguateca, a fortified ancient Maya city built high on a cliff, and Ceibal, once home to more than 10,000 inhabitants.
Best for: Adventurous families and travelers looking for an eco-archaeological adventure and modest amenities.
What you should know: Bungalows are powered by a generator that’s switched off at night. All rooms have fans (but no air-conditioning), as well as a private bathroom with hot water. There’s an open-air restaurant where set meals are served.
Lamanai Outpost Lodge (Belize)
Located on the jungle-lined banks of the New River lagoon, next to the famous Lamanai archaeology site, Lamanai Outpost Lodge is a three-hour trip from Belize City by shuttle and speed boat. Staffed entirely with members of the local community, the lodge has twenty simple but reasonably outfitted cabanas that are made from local hardwoods and that sit on a gentle hill. If you can, opt for a lagoon-facing room for sunrise views.
Lamanai offers myriad ways to experience the incredible jungle around it. Begin your day in a canoe on the lagoon looking for manatees and otters or end it there on a comfortable pontoon boat searching for tree frogs, tarantulas, scorpions, and the elusive jaguar. If you’re a birder, guides can take you to wetland areas, broadleaf forests, and pine savannahs to help you spot your must-sees. If it’s reptiles you’re into, take a trip to the surrounding flood plains to observe—and even assist—naturalists from the Lamanai Field Research Center as they collect data on Morelet’s crocodiles.
Of course, one of the lodge’s most popular trips is to the famous Lamanai archaeological site. Here, you’ll see jungle-covered temples and more than 700 structures, as well as the occasional black howler monkey leaping from tree to tree.
Best for: Couples, families, and small groups seeking wildlife and archaeological tours in a remote location with modern amenities.
What you should know: All cabanas have a private bath with hot water, a mini-fridge, a verandah, and ceiling fans; two rooms have air-conditioning. The open-air restaurant offers a fixed menu; vegetarian meals are available.
Pico Bonito Lodge (Honduras)
Located at the foot of Pico Bonito National Park’s rainforested slopes, about a 30-minute drive from the Caribbean city of La Ceiba, the Lodge at Pico Bonito is a gorgeous, 161-hectare (400-acre) property made for nature-lovers and adrenaline junkies alike—especially those who prefer the plush comforts of a luxe boutique hotel. Built from stone and native pine, the lodge’s 22 plantation-style cabins are scattered among cacao groves and have vaulted ceilings, verandahs, and comfortable furnishings, and are decorated with indigenous pottery and artwork.
Pico Bonito park comprises approximately 100,000 hectares (247,105 acres) of pristine, largely unexplored rainforest and offers incredible hiking: Set out at night to see tree frogs, possums, and numerous species of bats; during early-morning hours for bird-watching; or on an excursion to the popular double-drop 30-meter-high (100-foot) waterfall known as Unbelievable Falls. Be sure to check out the lodge’s observation decks for incredible views of the jungle canopy, too.
In addition to hiking, the lodge provides opportunities to horseback ride, tour rural villages, and whitewater raft. Incredible snorkeling along the world’s second-largest barrier reef is also just a short trip away. For anyone who loves manatees, a visit to the Cuero y Salado coastal wildlife refuge (home to the marine mammal, as well as monkeys, sloths, caimans, and turtles) is a must. Children at the lodge will also enjoy its iguana farm, serpentarium, and tropical butterfly farm—the latter of which features more than 40 species.
Best for: Couples, families, and small groups looking for wildlife and high-adrenaline adventure at a luxe boutique lodge.
What you should know: Some cabins have air-conditioning, others have fans only. Families should ask for adjoining cabanas that connect via internal doors. The newly renovated restaurant comprises a screened-in dining room and serves local Honduran dishes made with fresh seafood and locally grown herbs and vegetables.