In the Mayan mountain foothills of western Belize, there lies a 300-acre private nature reserve of prime broad leaf forest that serves as home for the Pook’s Hill nature lodge. The Pook's Hill Lodge itself is a real jungle experience, ideally situated by Five Blues Lake, The Blue Hole, Mountain Pine Ridge, Caracol and Xunantunich. The lodge has two miles of frontage on the Roaring River, plus it borders the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve, a 6,800-acre rainforest sanctuary inhibited by colorful toucans, hummingbirds, jaguars and howler monkeys.
Pook's Hill is located at the site of a Mayan "plazuela" or "little plaza". This plazuela was an extended family homestead with a temple, feasting hall, burial grounds, and several masonry platforms that once supported pole and thatch buildings. Cultivated fields and stone dwellings surrounded the plaza.
Nowadays, travelers partaking on Belize tours to Pook’s Hill can rent a traditional Mayan style white-washed cabana that is spacious and cool. All cabanas are built with high thatched roofs, full screens, electricity, and roomy bathrooms with hot water showers. The cabanas form a circle around the ruins of the Mayan plaza.
Nestled in the hillside, the lodge’s main building is designed using traditional Mayan architecture, and provides views of the lawn, creek and dense forest below. Lantern-lit evening meals of European and Caribbean dishes are served here, typically buffet style. There is the Verandah Bar and Lounge too, which is a large thatched open space that is comfortably furnished, providing a tranquil environment that is ideal for relaxing. Additionally, the lodge has a small, but interesting library.
Mayan Sweat Bath
During your Belize tour, Pook’s Hill is among one of the best places in all of Central America to see firsthand the archaeological explorations that are unearthing the secrets of the Mayan heartland. One historic site of major importance is located right on the grounds of the lodge itself, where a team of archaeologists recently uncovered an ancient Mayan sweat bath - the first of its kind in Belize.
The Mayan sweat bath was discovered in the northwest corner of the plaza by the Belize Valley Archaeological Reconnaissance Project under the direction of Dr. Jaime Awe, Belizean archaeologist with 22 years of field experience in Maya archaeology.
According to their research, the sweat bath was located near the primary residence of the plaza, and was probably used by the most exalted members of the community. The sweat bath was a common practice among the ancient Maya, as it still is among many modern Amerindians. It is suggested that male and female recreational bathing was commonplace and that the sweat baths were also used for discrete romantic encounters. It was associated with medicinal purposes too, and was thought to be of particular importance to pregnant women.
Architecture and artifacts from Pook's show signs of long-distance contact with central Mexico and with the Caribbean coast of Belize. It is found that Pook's Hill continued to flourish during the entire Terminal Classic period, 830-950 AD, when many other sites had been abandoned. Feasts of parrotfish, venison and beverages served in molded-carved vessels were held during this time. Shortly later though, Pook's, like many other sites, was abandoned.
The investigations at Pook’s are still ongoing, and future analyses of recovered artifacts should provide for further insight into ancient Mayan culture.
Visitors to Belize and the Pook's Hill Lodge are welcome to tour the archaeological site and talk to the people involved in the excavations.
Pook’s Hill Activities
In addition to archaeological site tours, there are also guided day trips to the caves of the Roaring River Valley where archaeologists have discovered the remains of Mayan rituals, humans, jewelry, pottery and snail shells. The lodge also provides day trips to Caracol and Tikal, Guatemala, two other significant Mayan population centers.
Pook's Hill has an Iguana Rearing and Release Program that was established in 1996. This program released one hundred Green Iguanas in the Pook's Hill Reserve and Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve. The Iguanas are housed in an enclosure and visitors are welcome to come and learn about them during their Belize tour. To fund the project an "Adoption Option" was set up where an Iguana can be adopted and named for $30.00 BZ. For adopting you receive an "Adoption Option" T-shirt plus information about the program.
Additional activities at Pook's Hill include:
Birding - Pook's Hill Reserve is said by ornithologists to be in a league of it's own for birding. Many birds nest in the area including toucans, jacamars, spectacled owls, ferruginous pygmy owls and, of course, various types of hummingbirds.
Swimming – Visitors can "tube float" along the two-mile stretch of river adjacent to Pook's Hill Reserve or they can take a dive into the crystal clear jungle pools of the Roaring River. A refreshing addition to any Belize tour.
Horseback riding - Riders can set out on an adventurous trail outing under the jungle canopy, through the river and into the Roaring River Valley. One can experience an interesting and exciting ride, suitable for both beginner and advanced riders.
Hiking - There are several well-marked paths and trails for a visitor to experience. There is an information sheet about the plants and trees and a guide is readily available to accompany visitors.
River trail – An easy walk through prime jungle and riverside, past the giant Strangler Fig, the Cortez, Ironwood and Mahogany. Typically takes about 1/2 to 3/4 hour to complete.
Jungle Trail – Hike under the jungle canopy, between the hills and through hidden plazas. This trail is marked with tape and we recommend a compass or guide, to avoid disorientation. Approximately a 1 to 2 hour hike.
Caving - One of the most exciting adventures in Belize is right near Pook’s, the Actun Tunichil Mucnal, or Mayan for Stone Sepulchre Cave. Visitors can take an expedition to the ancient Maya underworld and discover what gave the cave its name. Experience exceptional natural formations and the untouched remnants of ancient Maya rituals.
One way to book a stay at Pook's Hill Lodge is through Adventure Life Belize tours. Adventure Life utilizes local guides, family-run hotels and local transportation, and has always had a commitment to community tourism - locally initiated offerings that preserve the natural and cultural resources of destinations, while producing better livelihoods and higher standards of living for residents. Adventure Life builds environmental and cultural awareness through education, activities, and pre-departure information; providing direct financial contributions for conservation efforts; minimizing impact on the environment and the local culture; traveling in small groups; training tour guides in "Leave No Trace" ethics; seeking out excursions offered by local or indigenous people; supporting local businesses and service providers and using locally-owned services - hotels, lodges and transport companies - to ensure that as much revenue as possible stays within, and therefore benefits, local communities.