For Fredy, one eye may have been on the road, but he also had one eye on the sky. We were birding, after all.
The Hidden Valley Inn & Reserve, in the Cayo region of Belize, is home to some of the rarest avian species in Central America. Fredy is the six-cottage property's conservation officer and a wildlife expert.
In short order, we pulled over to the side of the road with a jolt and disgorged from the van as Fredy urgently pointed toward the sky.
"That's an orange-breasted falcon," he whispered. Hidden Valley is home to one of only 30 breeding pairs of this endangered species in the region.
Serving as the backdrop for the sighting was Tiger Creek Falls, which at 700 feet is one of the tallest waterfalls in Belize and one of five located in the 7,200-acre private forest reserve in which Hidden Valley is based. Eagles, black-and-white-hawks, a stygian owl and a king vulture all turned out during our trip. We didn't spot the howler monkeys, peccaries or five species of exotic cats that also call Hidden Valley home, due mostly to our group being too big and loud to employ stealth.
During our stay we also hiked several of the 90 miles of trails on the property and had a "wow" moment as we came upon Butterfly Falls, an 80-foot cascade that ends in an improbably perfect green-blue pool of deliciously chilly water. A few of us clambered over the moss-covered rocks; took the short, shocking plunge; and swam out to the falls to enjoy an invigorating shower.
Farther on down the trail, we hiked to Secret Falls and found a lovely cabana, a table set for two and a rainbow-colored hammock overlooking the falls and a smaller, Caribbean-blue cove; honeymoon couples can book exclusive access to this spot for a day.
Secret Falls. Photo Credit: Kristin O’Meara
One hot shower and a cocktail later, and I was ready for a massage at the lodge, the centrally located main house where meals and drinks are served, just a few steps from my cottage. Afterward, I found my king bed turned down, with hibiscus flowers scattered across the pillow. Hello, naptime.
Before I knew it, the chatter of parrots provided my wake-up call for dinner. Walking back to the lodge, I heard only the crunch of the white-pebble path underfoot, and in the falling light, the property's free-form pool glowed in blue and lighted the way. The lodge's small bar was surprisingly full of Belizean soldiers and a few honeymooners.
Trevor and Jacquie Roe own the property and treat the guests as if they are part of a family party. The lodge has the comfortable feel of someone's well-loved, cared-for-yet-casual home, where guests are free to pull up an oversize club chair and put their feet up, too.
After a meal of suckling pig at a long, narrow table, our group repaired to the poolside for tall tales of hiking and narrow escapes from perilous misadventures.
Beyond the property, we visited Barton Creek Cave for an eerie canoe trip along a milky blue creek flowing through caves replete with stalactites, stalagmites and lots of bats — good, clean, scary fun, but not for the faint of heart or claustrophobic.
At the Women's Group of San Antonio, we visited with artisans who are reviving the art of Mayan pottery and got our own hands dirty, too, making tortillas. Afterward, our hosts used a recipe older than anyone's grandma to prepare tamales for lunch. All excursions are bookable through Hidden Valley.
A Romantic Getaway plan includes a three-night stay in an Estate Room, double; three meals per day; lunch with a bottle of Champagne or one-hour massage for two; and daily high tea. Book through July 15 for travel from May 1 through Nov. 30 at $615 per person, double, with taxes. To book, call (866) 443-3364(866) 443-3364 FREE; www.hiddenvalleyinn.com.