Origins

Our welcome begins with a quick look back, to a discovery that is the origin story of Chan Chich Lodge. The late Sir Barry Bowen is at the center of the story, and without him Chan Chich Lodge would not exist.

Sir Barry Manfield Bowen, K.C.M.G., a seventh-generation Belizean businessman, purchased the holdings of the Belize Estates & Produce Company in 1984. In previous decades this company had exploited Belize’s prized chicle and hardwood for export. Soon after the purchase he led an expedition into the remote, nearly inaccessible jungle of northwest Belize that were part of these holdings. One of the men in the expedition, an old chiclero named Tenico, mentioned a long-forgotten camp named “Santa Maria,” which became the expedition’s first discovery.

Located next to a creek named Chan Chich (which means “little bird” in Mayan) this camp was surrounded by jungle-covered hillocks typical of the ancient Mayan ruins found elsewhere in Belize and throughout Mesoamerica. After some days of brush-clearing, it became clear that this was an archeological site that had not previously been documented.

Plan

To protect this area from anyone motivated to help themselves to artifacts from the Mayan temples and burial sites a visionary idea emerged: as long as people were always present at the site, tomb-raiders would not be likely to visit. From this, conversation led to the concept of a conservation-focused lodge; one where guests would be contributing to the conservation of both the cultural patrimony of the Mayan archeological site and of the surrounding wilderness area.

The lower plaza, central within the jungle-covered archeological wonders, was perfectly suited for this plan. Official approval to develop Chan Chich Lodge, from the Department of Archaeology, was applied for and granted. The Commissioner himself spent a week on-site supervising the digging of post holes and trenches, and determined that the construction was not damaging in any way since the old plaza floor was weathered beyond repair. The Commissioner and the Bowen family shared a vision that the lodge would keep looters away, and at the same time would also put an end to the hunting of “trophy” animals that had been common for decades in northwest Belize.

Conservation

Trees and palms harvested from the newly cleared fields were processed and used in the construction of the lodge. All of the finished milling was done at Chan Chich, as well as the construction of all the window frames, doors and beds. The thatched roofs of the cottages were inspired by traditional Mayan architecture. A screened-in swimming pool, a restaurant with fully stocked bar and excellent cuisine, extensive and well-maintained trails, and an exceptionally hospitable team of locals all contribute to our being able to host conservation-minded travelers in greater comfort than might be expected in such a remote location. The Lodge opened on December 4, 1988 with a group of seven adventurous travelers prepared to expect the unexpected.

The Bowen family wanted to encourage conservation among its neighbors, and among other strategies donated 10,000 acres of the Gallon Jug estate to the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area. Today that neighbor to the north of Gallon Jug, known as Programme for Belize, has grown to 260,000 acres of conservation wilderness. Another set of lands surrounding Gallon Jug, amounting to nearly 200,000 acres, follow sustainable forest management practices certified by the Rainforest Alliance through the Forest Stewardship Council. The net result of all this conservation is that Gallon Jug today is at the center of several hundred thousand acres of wilderness that allow most native animal species, notably jaguar and tapir, to thrive. In addition to large mammals for which the area is famous, Chan Chich Lodge has become one of the premier bird-watching lodges in the world.

Today

The Bowen family has conserved Gallon Jug as a private reserve of 30,000 acres that includes the land where Chan Chich Lodge is located. An additional 3,000 acres are cultivated using organic agricultural practices for coffee, a pasture-fed cattle project using English Hereford bloodlines to improve local stock, and the vegetables used to make delicious local sauces. The agricultural lands of Gallon Jug form an extension of Chan Chich Lodge, establishing the farm to table ethos that provides coffee, vegetables, fruits, meats, and sauces for our restaurant.

We look forward to your visit. Every guest who stays at Chan Chich Lodge is making a direct contribution to our conservation commitments. We plan to do this forever, which is a long time, and it will only be possible with the support your visit represents.