As we flew in the miniature Tropic Air plane, en route to Hopkins, a coastal village in eastern Belize, I tried not to pay attention to its rattling propeller, or the passengers behind me joking about "which one of us could fly this thing if we go down?"
Instead, I focused on the verdant sea of trees below, mesmerized by their intense green and the sheer amount of them. Their overgrown leaves looked like they could reach up and grab the wheels, pulling us into the lush jungle never to be seen again.
We landed with a safe and loud thud on the tarmac at Dangria airport. By the time we arrived at The Lodge at Jaguar Reef, about a 40-minute drive from the airport, my nerves had settled right down, with a little help from a welcome cocktail.
The Lodge at Jaguar Reef: The vibe
Weary from the journey and hands full of various bag straps, I nearly curtsied when the friendly concierge placed a lanyard around my neck — the key to my seafront suite. Unlike giant resorts, where you have to walk what feels like miles to your room, The Lodge has the air of a private retreat.
You're not just close to the beach, you're right on the Hopkins coast — freshly raked sand with swirling patterns line the pathways to the coastal cool cabanas that are only a short flip-flop away. I sipped the rest of my welcome cocktail on my suite's balcony, complete with private plunge pool and an unobstructed view of the gently lapping Caribbean sea.
In the distance, a rainbow peeked through the soft clouds above the water, and I wondered if I was having some sort of fever dream. I stayed until it faded before checking out my sweet digs: a four-post king-sized bed, vaulted ceilings with exposed wood beams and a spacious bathroom with open views of the light-filled room.
The Lodge at Jaguar Reef: Food and drink
Seafood is a given when you're this close to the water, but The Lodge takes it up a notch with the Big Dock Ceviche Bar floating over the sea. Stroll along the beach and you can't miss the two-story, palapa-roofed bar at the end of a long wooden dock. It's the kind of place where you could spend the whole day without even realizing.
The Big Dock's hammock-floor netting and relaxing hanging chairs are the best kind of trap. Why go anywhere else when you have refreshing cocktails at your fingertips and a revolving menu of Caribbean and Central American snacks like their famous ceviche with cassava chips? I couldn't decide between the fresh-caught shrimp or conch ceviche, so I ate both, every day. The canker sore from all the delicious citrus was worth it.
In the mornings, sunshine pours into the Paddle House Restaurant's open floor-to-ceiling glass doors, providing a dreamy backdrop to your Belizean breakfast. I often started my days with their filling vegan options, or a chef's omelet. Johnny Cakes are a must — the light and puffy breakfast bread is great for slathering with anything from hot sauce to sticky jam.
For dinner, most menu items are influenced by the surrounding Garifuna community, whose cultural meals revolve around the sea, plantain and root vegetables like cassava. They also have an entire vegan menu with comforting dishes like the farmers vegetable lasagna or the soul-soothing sweet potato soup with spiced coconut milk and toasted crostini for dipping.
The Lodge at Jaguar Reef: Amenities
Hopkins is a quick bike ride (available for guests) down the main road, or a 20-minute stroll along the beach. It's a laid-back coastal village, where there people are as cheery as the brightly painted seafront houses and businesses. Stick your toes in the sand at local-fave restaurants like The Coconut Husk or Ella's Cool Spot (go in the evening to catch a Garifuna drum performance).
If you want to stay closer to home, The Lodge has plenty of amenities to keep you occupied. Pineapple coconut sugar isn't just for your margarita glass — scrub away stress with a rejuvenating polish or massage at their onsite full service spa. Then take your baby soft skin for a dip in the heated infinity pool with swim-up bar, or out for a rip in their kayaks, mini catamaran or paddle board. Floating in a state of pure Belizean bliss also counts as a physical activity.
Rooms from $427 a night.
The Lodge at Jaguar Reef, 100 Sittee River Road False Sittee Point Hopkins, Belize; jaguarreefbelize.com