Chaa Creek Cottages: An Ecotourism Pioneer

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SAN IGNACIO, Belize--Ecotourism was, in the 1970s, an unfamiliar term.

Yet ecotourism was the basic concept for the development of Chaa Creek Cottages, recently named the Green Hotel of the Year by the Caribbean Hotel Association, the Caribbean Action for Sustainable Tourism and American Express.

British-born Mick Fleming and his American wife, Lucy, opened Chaa Creek in 1981 in western Belize, above the Macal River and seven miles upstream from San Ignacio.

It was an immediate hit with natural history buffs, as well as with those who fancy pampering in the jungle and the comforts of Maya-style cottages with thatched palapa roofs, Mexican tiled floors, large mahogany beds and private bathrooms with hot water showers. In 1990, Chaa Creek Cottages was declared a private preserve by Conservation International.

Chaa Creek has no electricity in keeping with the natural ambience of the property. Included are tents (with cots, linens and towels) set on platforms in the Macal River Jungle Camp. The Tower, a focal point on the property, is a 12-sided cabana set high in the rain forest.

Before dinner, guests gather on the bird-watching deck, near the wood bar, to discuss events of the day before adjourning to the dining room.

The resort offers a full menu of on-site activities that range from kayaking, canoeing and white-water rafting to hiking, mountain biking and riding. Guests can explore Mayan caves and nearby ruins such as Xunantunich and Caracol or go farther afield to Tikal in Guatemala. Birding is top grade at Chaa Creek; more than 190 species have been sighted at the property.

According to Fleming, "We hope to demonstrate the long-term benefits of ecotourism by stimulating interest in the environment, natural history and local culture."

The Flemings have succeeded in all that through projects such as the following:

  • Chaa Creek Natural History Centre, located on a hilltop behind the guest cottages, provides information on Belize's history and geography. The center houses display archaeological artifacts, butterflies, insects and amphibians.
  • Linked to the center is the Chaa Creek Butterfly Breeding Farm, built and funded by the Flemings to demonstrate that breeding and exporting the blue morpho butterfly can be one of many alternatives for rain forest sustainability.
  • Chaa Creek Cottages, Phone: (011)-501-92-2037, Fax: (011)-501-92-2501
    E-mail: [email protected]

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