Deep in the jungle where five waterfalls converge lies Gaia Riverlodge, a peaceful setting where tranquility and adventure meet.
A luxury ecolodge in the heart of Belize’s Cayo District, Gaia Riverlodge offers a secluded stay in the protected Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, with guided tours to ancient Mayan ruins, trekking expeditions, river kayaking and cave excursions.
Five Sisters Falls
Swimming at the base of the Five Sisters Falls lures many people to this mountain paradise. From the main lodge, you hike about 10 minutes down winding wooden and stone steps, with platformed vistas to stop and pause along the way. There’s also a tram if you don’t want to walk. (Or if you stay there until sunset and don’t want to brave the stairs back in the dark.)
We grabbed a bucket of beer from the bar, and ordered our lunch to be delivered from the main lodge so we could have a picnic by the water.
The beachy area is nicely spread out with Adirondack and lounge chairs, a small palapa, and a row of hammocks situated further back. There’s a good mix of options for sunbathing or cooling off in the shade between dips in the natural pool.
The water flows from Privassion Creek, which means ‘to faint’ in the Belizean Kriol dialect. Legend has it people would go to the river at midnight and often see a lady dressed in white – an “ishtabai” or ghost. They would faint upon the sight, leading to the river’s namesake.
The falls powers 80 percent of the resort, which is Green Globe certified for travelers seeking a sustainable stay.
It’s possible to spend all day basking in the tranquility of the Five Sisters. But if you’re craving more activities, snag a free mountain bike from Gaia or hike about 20 minutes to Big Rock, a 150-foot falls. Brave the current and spray to swim to the rocks at the base of the falls, and stand underneath it as the water pounds your back. Going to the spa is great, but there’s nothing like a massage from nature.
With that in mind, Gaia also offers an on-site spa, as well experiences such as bird watching, an early morning jungle walk, a nocturnal rainforest walk and a tour of their organic garden.
You can also book tours to ancient Mayan ruins including Caracol and Tikal, as well guided excursions that include cave tubing, zip-lining, horseback riding and more.
From “Stream” to “Summit,” each of the 15 cabanas are all named after elements of the outdoors. Gaia offers garden, mountain, river or waterfall views. It’s definitely worth it to book that last one, and let the sound of the rushing water lure you to sleep. The thatched palm leaf roofs give the lodge a vacation-worthy vibe, and each fully screened cabana allows guests to take in the scenery from panoramic windows, or a private deck. I stayed at “Breeze,” one of the cabanas with a veranda, and had a wonderful evening sipping wine beneath the stars.
Inside there’s a mix of rustic luxe, with hardwood floors, simple mahogany furniture, hand-painted Mexican tile, soft mattresses and a ceiling fan. There’s no air conditioning, but you don’t need it. We appreciated the daily refills of purified water, folded towels in the shapes of animals, and fresh flower petals sprinkled throughout the room.
Beautifully landscaped paths lead to each cabana, and to the main lodge, which hosts the on-site restaurant, and offers the only Wifi connection.
The majority of the produce at the restaurant comes from Gaia’s organic garden, and it shines on the menu. Fresh papayas and zesty red peppers round out the main courses, which include seafood from the Caribbean, and Belizean specialties like fajitas and enchiladas. For breakfast order the Mayan and opt for the fried jacks, which are basically like fried dough. Worth it.
While prepared with a Belizean twist, many items on the menu also seemed “safe,” and would appeal to even picky eaters. The chef can accommodate special dietary requests, including food allergies and gluten free meals. Although this is the only nearby dining option, the menu is long and varied, and doesn’t get boring. The breakfasts and lunches come in large portions, and dinner, amid white tablecloths and candlelight, is an event in and of itself.
There’s plenty of seating in the main dining room for chilly nights, but most people choose to eat outside on the wraparound porch directly above the falls. A lower deck also provides a perfect spot for lounging, or enjoying a cocktail before dinner as you watch the sunset.
Fly to Belize City, and either rent a jeep at the airport, or hitch an arranged ride through the resort for the three hour drive through tropical foliage, small villages and farming communities. The last hour involves some maneuvering along an unpaved clay road into the rainforest.
Follow the well-marked signs for Gaia Riverlodge. Once you arrive, you’ll be able to clean off with a mint-scented hot towel as your bags are carried to your room, you’re handed a welcome cocktail, and are shown around the resort.