This Luxury Eco-Lodge Provides An Authentic Sense Of Place—and Taste—of Southern Belize

With a sustainable rum distillery and an organic farm, Copal Tree Lodge delivers a slew of dynamic rainforest experiences.

If you were only allowed to peruse the bookshelves inside the main gathering room of the clubhouse at Copal Tree Lodge, you might have difficulty ascertaining the lodge's primary purpose. On those shelves, titles such as Lords of the Fly and The Fisherman's Guide to Life share space with The Fat Duck Cookbook and The Art of Simple Food. Wedged in between, you'll find books on mixology—Speakeasy and The Bar Book, specifically—while a current volume of Gray's Sporting Journal abuts two issues of Condé Nast Traveler.

Is the southern Belizean property a fishing camp? A gourmand's retreat? A luxuriously appointed eco-lodge? While the library suggests it could be any of those things, Copal Tree Lodge is, in fact, all of them. What once began as an understated fishing lodge—a property that attracted adventurous and enthusiastic sport fishermen (and still does, albeit to a lesser extent given the lodge's evolution in recent years)—Copal Tree Lodge is a boutique resort perched on top of a bluff and nestled into the heart of a 16,000-acre estate that today includes an organic farm and a sustainable rum distillery.

An aerial view of the farm and distillery at Copal Tree Lodge in Belize.
The farm and distillery are alluring for any travelers who love creative food and spirits. | Copal Tree Lodge

The resort offers guests easy access to a lineup of seafood shanties and bars set only a few hundred yards from the Caribbean Sea in the town of Punta Gorda, less than 20 minutes to the south. And while a visit into town offers a glimpse into the local culture, which has its merits, guests likely won't feel compelled to venture away from the estate for long—nor should they. From its dock positioned along the Rio Grande River, the lodge runs snorkeling, river fishing, and sunset cruises; while serious fishermen who are yearning to cast flies for bonefish, tarpon, and permit can set sail from the nearby marina in town.

"Fly fishing is a serious sport," says Waluco Maheia, the lodge's assistant manager. "River fishing can be more relaxed."

A man fishing near Belize
Fishing is one of many adventures available at this Southern Belize retreat. | Copal Tree Lodge

Of course, notable guest experiences don't require ventures out onto the water. Those looking for a day (or multiple days) of leisure, will be drawn to the lodge's Jungle Spa, while Copal Tree's small, teardrop-shaped pool provides an ideal oasis for quiet dips and peaceful lounging. Guests can also venture down the hill for guided tours of the organic farm, or they can participate in a bean-to-bar chocolate class. And for those who take immense pleasure in flavorful sips and bites, the lodge offers a farm-to-table, all-inclusive package ($150 add-on per night for each adult guest), which covers meals featuring ingredients grown on the 3,000-acre farm, as well as stirred and shaken cocktails highlighting a trio of estate-produced rums.

Annual production at the Copalli Rum distillery currently sits around 42,000 cases, and plenty of that rum makes its way up the hill to the lodge, which means guests will never ask the question that Johnny Depp famous quipped in the first Pirates of the Caribbean film: "Why is the rum gone?" Guests are also encouraged to schedule distillery tours, not to mention mixology classes and guided tastings.

During the latter, Maheia—who also serves as Copalli's brand champion—prefers to learn from guests which flavors and aromas they identify. He doesn't like to dictate what they're likely to smell or taste. "We like to make this part of the tasting very interactive," he explains. "And, of course, we're going to name the dominant [flavor] profiles within the spirit, and I'd like to know what you all think is in there. What kind of flavors do you get?"

A trio of Copalli rums
Copalli's rums are delicious for drinking neat or in cocktails, but the educational element makes it even better. | Copal Tree Lodge

The white rum elicits responses that include prominent citrus notes alongside hints of banana and lychee. "So, what we're getting is some tropical fruits," Maheia acknowledges. "We're definitely getting pineapple and banana and citrus; we're getting hints of vanilla; and then you get some grassy notes in there, a bit of vegetation, something that compares to lemongrass."

The barrel-rested expression, by contrast, introduces aromas of leather, burnt orange peel, and cola, which transition to baking spice flavors and tobacco on the palate. And Copalli's Cacao rum delivers the roasted (almost bittersweet) aromas that are commonly associated with dark chocolate. When sipped, the rum offers up equally rich cocoa flavors with a pleasingly long, creamy finish.

All three spirits are the handiwork of Ed Tiedge, Copalli's first master distiller, who learned the distillation trade at a family-owned cognac house in eastern France several decades ago. The rums also serve as an homage to the hundreds of acres of organically cultivated sugar cane that grows almost in the distillery's shadow (as well as at off-site locations nearby).

"Our role as the rum makers is to transition those flavors from the field to the bottle, to not mess up what the farm has created," Tiedge says. "That's really the secret—exceptional sugar can juice. You have to start off with a high-quality product in the field, and if we're good stewards of that juice at the distillery, you're going to get a pretty good-tasting rum at the end."

Copal Tree Lodge's clubhouse bar in Belize.
After a long day of adventure, there's no better way to unwind than by sharing stories with fellow guests at the clubhouse bar. | Copal Tree Lodge

That good-tasting rum is proudly on display as the foundational spirit for 15 cocktails served at the rum bar inside Copal Tree Lodge's clubhouse. Some are shaken with allspice or sage leaves; others include freshly squeezed pineapple juice or hand-cut chunks of watermelon; and some are sweetened with a variety of infused syrups, including fresh ginger and vanilla. All, however, provide a distinctive taste of the estate, which is yet another example of the property's success.

Ultimately, Copal Tree Lodge accomplishes the most important objective of any luxury resort, especially one set in such an exotic locale. It delivers a dynamic and authentic sense of place—one that, in an unusual twist, can also be poured directly into your glass.