Our Eco Hotel Series: GAÏA Riverlodge in Belize
Nestled in the Belizean landscape, you will find luxurious, eco cabanas and villas belonging to GAÏA Riverlodge. Today we talk to the team at GAÏA Riverlodge who share with us what makes this location so special and the efforts they put in to maintain sustainability and conversation efforts as well as providing guests with the ultimate Mayan rainforest experience.
“Surrounded by the dramatic Five Sisters waterfalls of the Privassion River, GAÏA Riverlodge is an eco-resort providing an authentic Belizean experience in the most culturally rich and scenic regions of the country. Preserving the natural beauty and upholding the highest standard of sustainability while still maintaining our signature relaxed approach and consummate hospitality is of the utmost importance.”
First of all, can you introduce GAÏA Riverlodge and your mission with it?
Surrounded by the dramatic Five Sisters waterfalls of the Privassion River, GAÏA Riverlodge is an eco-resort providing an authentic Belizean experience in the most culturally rich and scenic regions of the country. Preserving the natural beauty and upholding the highest standard of sustainability while still maintaining our signature relaxed approach and consummate hospitality is of the utmost importance.
The Green Globe Certified, hydro-powered hotel fits seamlessly into the breathtaking rainforest and we pride ourselves on numerous ecological and community initiatives. Onsite, guests can take guided nature walks and tour the onsite organic garden or sit back and relax to the gentle sounds of birds chirping and water cascading just outside their private cabana. We have also curated a variety of offsite activities for guests to experience the local culture and learn about the Mayan history.
What’s the history of the land and the story behind your coming to it?
After falling in love with Belize and opening our first property in 2006 on Ambergris Caye, Matachica Resort & Spa, I opened sister property, GAÏA Riverlodge, in 2012 in order to provide a broader Belize experience to clientele.
GAÏA is located within two national parks; the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve (MPR) and the Elijio Panti National Park (EPNP).
You are a Green Globe Award certified hotel – can you tell us a bit about what that means?
Green Globe is the global leader in sustainable tourism certification. Twice a year we are evaluated on our economic, social and environmental sustainability to guarantee adherence to the highest standards. We are proud to be Green Globe certified.
How do you focus on maintaining biodiversity and protecting the wildlife whilst still welcoming outside guests to the land?
The MPR is one of the oldest and largest protected parks in Belize, while EPNP was reserved in the early 90’s. Both parks are managed by the Forest Department who seek to enforce the Environmental Protection Act for conservation and protection of natural resources with relevant stakeholders. In addition, the EPNP has been co-managed by the Itzamna Society (IS), a community based organization (2019), founded by locals of the adjacent village of San Antonio–a Mayan community. The IS has now implemented a Collaborative and low Impact Tourism Plan with nearby resorts to generate income for sustainable use and maintenance of historical, cultural, and recreational hotspots within the park. GAÏA is proud to share partnership with this effort.
The property is designed to allow guests to experience and appreciate the natural beauty and surrounding environment with features such as the fresh water natural swimming pools and private access to the waterfalls and trails. Expeditions and tours are offered by our passionate and nationally certified guides so guests are ensured an authentic experience.
How do you think creating a connection to the natural world through GAÏA Riverlodge stays can lead to a commitment to sustainability for your guests?
While at GAÏA, you realize how infinitely generous nature can be. The sights and sounds of mother nature awaken the senses. It is more than the trees, jungle and mountains; it is the value of the rich biodiversity, the historic and cultural significance of the resources and the quality of life it can provide.
What does your farm to table dining look like?
Farm to table has always been a way of life in Belize before it became trendy. With an onsite organic garden maintained by local expert Mayan organic farmer, Sam, guests have the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the garden during a complimentary tour in addition to the pleasure of tasting the freshly harvested fruits and vegetables in the restaurant.
Located directly above the falls, the GAÏA Riverlodge restaurant, bar and lounge offer a fabulous variety of cocktails and culinary delights as well as spectacular views of the falls from the wraparound veranda. Their trained chefs have put together breakfast, lunch and dinner menus that highlight the variety of fresh fruits and vegetables grown in GAÏA’s own organic garden and fresh seafood from the nearby Caribbean – always with a unique Belizean twist.
“While at GAÏA, you realize how infinitely generous nature can be. The sights and sounds of mother nature awaken the senses. It is more than the trees, jungle and mountains; it is the value of the rich biodiversity, the historic and cultural significance of the resources and the quality of life it can provide.”
How have you empowered and engaged with local communities whilst running the hotel?
Community values have and continue to be integral for us. One of the key factors that set the properties apart is that they are managed and staffed by locals – locals who have become a part of our family. GAÏA also offers guests the opportunity to connect with the locals through guided hikes to Xibalba, visits to Caracol Archaeological Site, guided canoeing in the caves of Barton Creek as well as tours to the San Antonio Mayan Women’s Center in a Mayan community nearby who promote the preservation of Mayan culture through demonstrating traditional pottery and teaching guests how to prepare local dishes such as corn tortilla, caldo and bollo.
We recently launched a new program with Kind Traveler through their “Every Stay Gives Back” initiatives. When staying at GAÏA (or Matachica) guests are invited to donate $3 per night, which will go to the Cornerstone Foundation. The Cornerstone Foundation works to develop and empower people at the local level in San Ignacio and Santa Elena to solve issues and meet community goals. GAÏA is also a member of Pack for a Purpose, which gives travelers the option to bring school supplies to their destination for the local school. GAÏA then facilitates the donation of the supplies to El Progresso Community School.
In addition, at the start of the global COVID-19 pandemic, GAÏA, and its sister property Matachica Resort & Spa, implemented new community programs to benefit future guests and the Belizean community at large. These efforts included expanding GAÏA’s organic garden program to help feed those most in need, including the elderly community at the Octavia Waight Center in San Ignacio. Additionally, daily food baskets, including fresh produce, fruits and vegetables, were provided to the hotel’s local staff to feed their families and bolster spirits.
How do you make sure that the design of your hotel and the rooms are reflective of your sustainable ethos?
Remote, private and sustainable by design, GAÏA effortlessly blends into the surrounding environment so guests can enjoy the rainforest’s intimacy. We also operate on hydropower and offer an electric tram to transports guests from the lodge to the river.
The lodge’s signature cabanas and the Riverside Villa – tucked away from the main lodge for the couple seeking ultimate privacy – all feature Belizean hardwood flooring, bathrooms with exquisite hand-painted tiling, locally made Mahogany furnishing. Amenities such as Matouk and Frette linens as well as Haeckles bath products complete the balance between nature and comfort.
Are there any other ways you have looked at sustainability for the hotel that you feel are unique?
Because we are committed to preserving GAÏA’s natural environment, most of what we do is unique to this place. From being hydro-powered to the Mayan farming methods used in our organic garden, we are dedicated to being authentic to the community and ecosystem we deeply value.
What are your hopes for the future of GAÏA Riverlodge and its wider impact?
Evolution is a constant at GAÏA and we’re continuously reimagining our offering of activities in order to deliver a unique, authentic and inspiring experience for our guests.
For example, we’ve recently added the opportunity for guests to experience an authentic Mayan Ceremony performed by a Don José Magana and his son Ruben. Don José Magana is a Yucatec Mayan He’men (Mayan Priest and Traditional Medicine practitioner) who has embraced a lifelong calling to ensure the Maya of today remain connected to their roots and has done so by creating awareness that the Maya of today are still the creators and keepers of ancient skills, wisdom and knowledge. Now, guests searching to continue their journey into the rich tapestry of Mayan culture will be able to arrange Mayan Ceremonies and Cleanses through Sak Tunich performed by Don José and Ruben Magana at GAÏA.
In a globalized and hyper-connected world, we often lose the authentic experience when visiting a foreign country. We work incredibly hard to ensure our guests have an experience that connects them back with themselves, their travel partner and to the local Belize culture that surrounds them during their visit.
Finally, can you give us your top three tips for sustainable, and even better regenerative, travel?
- Engaging with a destination’s unique culture begins with home base so be sure to stay somewhere that delivers an authentic experience.
- Localize. If it’s not available in your backyard garden, then try your neighborhood store, followed by your adjacent town’s shop and so on. Don’t just reach for your phone to order something.
- Slow down and enjoy your surroundings. You’ll be amazed at how fulfilling and energizing nature can be.
Follow Gaïa Riverlodge @gaiariverlodge