Stays

A Cinematic Stay at Blancaneaux Lodge and Turtle Inn

Visionary director Francis Ford Coppola’s Belizean mountain retreat and seaside escape.

Visionary director Francis Ford Coppola’s Belizean mountain retreat and seaside escape.
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ACCLAIMED FILM DIRECTOR and hotelier Francis Ford Coppola (the multihyphenate is also a writer, producer, winemaker, restaurateur, and all-around man of mythic versatility) says constructing a scene is similar to constructing a space. “I think it is the same process,” he explains. “First comes the instinct of how it ought to be, and if a satisfactory solution doesn’t come immediately, by gut reaction, I ask myself — what is the core theme of the overall pieces? If it’s, for example, an ecological or archaeological theme, I follow that lead to imagine something expressing that — a space that reflects it or seems to suggest that.”

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Different things draw Coppola to a property. At his southern Italian Palazzo Margherita, “it was the magical gardens where a lovely princess might while away her time.” At his Argentinian Jardin Escondido, “it was the labyrinth of gardens, also magical, where plays could be written, poems composed, and novels imagined.” At Guatemala’s La Lancha, “it was the thrill of being awakened by the roar of the howler monkeys and the uniquely great food.” And in the swaths of jungle around Belize’s Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, the magic for Coppola was “the fact that it was hidden.” These surrounds would shape his very first hotel — Blancaneaux Lodge — the first part of my journey to both of his Belize destinations.

Blancaneaux Lodge

Following a two-hour drive from Belize City, arriving at Blancaneaux feels like stumbling across a secret. The property sprawls over hilly tropical landscaping, snakelike paths, and steep stone stairs that dot the lush grounds. The mountain air is sweet and misty. Everywhere I go, I hear the sound of the trickling Privassion Creek rushing into a waterfall — an energy source bringing hydropower to the entire property.

In the swaths of jungle around Belize’s Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, the magic for Coppola was ‘the fact that it was hidden.’

The screened-in porch of my cabana overlooks a canopy of tropical green so bright and slick with rain that it glows chartreuse. Pots of vibrant red ginger sit pretty like fat fuchsia feathers. A short stone path leading to a set of wooden doors reveals a private infinity pool overlooking the endless jungle expanse, blanketed in a silvery mist. I immediately dive in and the cold water resuscitates my leaden plane muscles, which are subsequently warmed by the hot pool — perhaps my favorite part of the entire property. Beside the creek is a curved stream-like dark pool canopied by vines and heated by the excess hydropower.

My first dinner is at the property’s Guatemalan restaurant. Everyone dines on the balconies surrounded by candles, crisp night air, and the hum of jungle sounds. I order a glass of the ever-drinkable Coppola shiraz before cutting into a tender slab of beef with fragrant coconut rice. Later, guided by nothing but the dimly lit paths and the stars above, I take in a lovely turndown service back at the room. All lights are turned off with candles lit in their stead; the printed throw and decorative pillows are replaced by layers of thick blankets. It’s chillier at night than I expected. Though sliding into bed, I feel pockets of warmth — hot water bottles placed between the sheets.

The next morning, I try fry jacks for the first time — puffed chewy bread perfect for filling with scrambled eggs and a glug of Marie Sharp's hot sauce. Bernie, the longtime general manager, gives me a tour of the property. His longstanding experience at Blancaneaux is the norm here, he tells me. Most staff have been here for upwards of 10, 15, even 20 years. He shows me the stables where I hold the gaze of a striking horse with one blue eye. Afterwards, I hike to nearby Big Rock Falls and as it rains, the scent of wet, sweet soil lifts into the air. I walk back on the main trail, dripping and dazzled by the earthen roads. Rich in iron, they’re the color of saffron.

I make it back to the property just in time for my Thai massage, in the pavilions Coppola had shipped from Thailand. My body is kneaded and stretched to the pitter-patter of rain. In a daze, I receive tea and honey to finish. With profuse thank yous to the healer, I stumble across the property to the organic garden. Hector the gardener leads some fellow guests and me around the land, pointing out each crop: “Tomatoes, bell peppers, cabbage, star fruit, passion fruit, custard apple, French string beans, bok choy, zucchini, cauliflower …”. He shows us the compost, a massive ordeal, where every single piece of waste, from food to horse manure, goes back into the land. He also shows us Blancaneaux’s trapiche — the ancient, traditional sugar press used to make natural sweetener from sugar cane. “Where did this machine come from?” someone asks. Hector softly smiles. “It was my grandfather’s.” We all instinctively reach out to touch the worn handles, to say hello, to say thank you. What follows is a delicious plant-based dinner sourced from the garden.

The next day I meet my guide, Geronimo, to explore some caves and the ancient Maya ruins of Caracol. Geronimo is a walking encyclopedia of both Indigenous culture and the natural world. We stop in the gargantuan mouth of a cave and so begins his oral history of the Maya empire. On our drive from the cave to the ruins, we see a rare sighting: two scarlet macaw parrots in the wild. I peer up at their vivid colors through binoculars as Geronimo tells me about the gorgeous species. Hunted and poached for their feathers, these intelligent creatures can live up to 80 years. When they mate, they mate for life. When one dies, the other does too, soon after.

Arriving at Caracol, we have the entire lost city to ourselves. Between sharing facts, Geronimo stops to pick things off the ground and from the trees. He squeezes a seed’s shell, and a sweet-smelling oil spurts into my hand. “What the Maya would use for incense.” He tells me to spread it across my skin — a natural bug repellent. He pulls a leaf off a tree. “What does this smell like?” My mind races through associations: anise … root beer. “Is this sarsaparilla?” I ask. He smiles and nods approvingly. Another, like Christmas in the Northeast: “Allspice.” He squeezes the white sap of a fruit the Maya used as a natural glue and as a sealant to waterproof their basketry and rafts, then points to a beautiful white trumpet flower: “Eat that, and you die.” At the top of the ruin, we stop to gulp our water and gaze over the tops of the trees. He points to mountains in the distance. “And that over there, that’s Guatemala.” I touch the crumbling limestone beneath us and imagine the hands touching these same stones — over 3,000 years ago.


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Back at the lodge in the evening, I think about Coppola’s own recipe for a perfect day on his properties: “A spartan breakfast gazing at the beauty of the five varied surroundings; hopefully some exercise, and then thinking amid the beauty, letting my imagination fly (early, so no one has yet hurt my feelings via a phone call or other communication). Some adventure or other that is available at each spot, then dinner.” Biting into my tender conch steak, I feel I’ve stuck pretty close to his approach. No one had yet hurt my feelings that day, either, through some undesired contact. The utter lack of cell service around the Belizean mountain ranges is an excellent help in that regard.

Turtle Inn

From the mountains, it’s a three-hour scenic drive to the beach at Placencia. Turtle Inn’s former steward, a charismatic marine biologist named Skip White, is a fascinating part of the place’s history for Coppola. The place “made me imagine ‘Doc’ and his students, gathering samples in the tide pools and studying them with their microscopes,” he says. In contrast to the misty and mystical mountains, it’s sun-soaked and salty down here. The colors are equally beautiful. Light streams through the screened-in front porch, illuminating dark, intricate Balinese woodwork in the doorways, daybed, and weighty chests. Fuchsia hibiscus flowers float in the bird baths by my front door and along the paths.

After check-in, I explore the property, finding my way toward Turtle Inn’s version of the organic garden. The same warm hospitality flows through this beach location. As soon as I meet Palma, the gardener, he takes me on a guided tour through every piece of growth, carefully explaining the names and properties of each plant — spreading the bright red dye of annatto seeds over his palms, “tattooing” me with the white-powder imprints left on the skin by the underside of a fern, and ripping open fresh aloe vera leaves to sooth my bites after getting swarmed by mosquitoes.

I walk to the beachfront, hungry for sea on my skin. Dipping into the calm Caribbean blue, darkened by patches of seagrass, I spot a serene couple bobbing on floating deck chairs, reading in the sun. I follow the coastline and find a statue of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus encased in glass on top of some rocks. Who put them there, I wonder? I take a visit to the old fishing village of Placencia, where I hear Creole, Spanish, English, Garifuna, and Chinese spoken. Island music blasts from the bars, fishermen hang by the docks with their catches, and kids scamper into the shops with change in their hands.

The next morning, I wake up early. A day of snorkeling awaits, a chance to see a slice of Belize’s rich and varied marine life. Led by Doren, our guide, a few other guests and I are taken to Laughing Bird Caye, a tiny and unpopulated white-sand island. We kick off with our fins and snorkels, swimming alongside nurse sharks, neon and jewel-toned fish, and one shifty looking moray eel. Returning to the island, our chef puts together a gorgeous barbecue lunch. I tuck in, breaking open my very first Belikin, Belize’s national beer. It’s crisp and light. Music starts playing and I follow the source. The chef is blasting a popular Jamaican artist in Belize, Christopher Martin. He kindly lets me take photos of his playlist while we chat. I grab another Belikin and sway to the tracks, crystalline waves lapping at my feet. Our next snorkel stop brings me face-to-face with a turtle that appears to be around 200 pounds in size, casually posted on the ocean floor. There’s simply no rush, he seems to understand.

I eat dinner at Gauguin Grill that evening, walking on the sand floors past the briny, smoky scent of cooking seafood. Tables are set up right by the water’s edge with tiki lamps glowing against the night sky. I rip into a hot lobster for my main, and finish with a cold coconut gelato. I sleep well that night, under a dramatic mosquito net, surrounded by the dim glow of candles. I wake up before my iPhone alarm, to the harmonious sound of nature’s alarm — birds chirping their hellos to the world. I giggle into my pillow. It’s a cinematic moment that feels almost orchestrated by the director himself. To my question, “What about these places simply cannot be translated through pictures?” Coppola had simply responded: “The sensation of awakening in a lavishly beautiful place!”

Essentials to Take You From Mountain to Sea

From warm and dry to cool and light — some key pieces for your next multiterrain trip to Belize.

  • Blundstone Waterproof Boots

    Not to sound hyperbolic, but I worship at the altar of Blundstones. They’re an ideal mix of style and utility. Their light soles are perfect for shock absorption and their streamlined and versatile silhouette can be dressed up or down. This pair is totally waterproof and thermal — perfect for a muddy trek through the jungle or a chillier alfresco dinner.

  • Darn Tough Hiking Socks

    With a lifetime warranty, Darn Tough socks are made to last. This cooling pair is great for a day climbing ruins. Wool is naturally sweat-wicking, so no blisters. The socks’ cushioning has a walking-on-a-cloud feel — even when you’re actually just walking on 3,000-year-old stones.

  • Vitamin A Oversized Linen Shirt

    This linen shirt contains multitudes. It’s a perfect cover-up for the beach but can look more formal when paired with its matching Wide Leg Pant as a set. It’s light, breezy, and sun-protecting, and the Desert Ecolinen shade is just beautiful.

  • Kinfield All-Natural Bug Repellent

    DEET-free, this natural bug repellent uses Indonesian citronella to keep biters at bay — and smells heavenly too.

  • Ralph Lauren Merino Two-Piece

    Merino wool is the ideal temperature-regulating fabric, and camel is a timeless neutral shade. Pajamas in disguise, this elevated set is ideal for soaking up that cool mountain air in the evenings, and stretchy enough to sit on that plane back home again.

  • Balenciaga Rubber Slides

    I live in my Birkenstocks, known for the mold-to-your-feet comfort of their leather soles. But they aren’t so ideal for the wet terrain of the jungle, or at the beach. Which is why a light, waterproof rubber pair like these low-key Balenciaga slides are nice. They’re clean and functional, and an upgrade from flip-flops.

  • Vitamin A Swimsuit

    Made from 77% plant-based polyamide, this sculpting one-piece not only uses sustainable fibers, but is also the little black dress of swimwear.

  • Blundstone Waterproof Boots

    Not to sound hyperbolic, but I worship at the altar of Blundstones. They’re an ideal mix of style and utility. Their light soles are perfect for shock absorption and their streamlined and versatile silhouette can be dressed up or down. This pair is totally waterproof and thermal — perfect for a muddy trek through the jungle or a chillier alfresco dinner.

  • Ralph Lauren Merino Two-Piece

    Merino wool is the ideal temperature-regulating fabric, and camel is a timeless neutral shade. Pajamas in disguise, this elevated set is ideal for soaking up that cool mountain air in the evenings, and stretchy enough to sit on that plane back home again.

  • Darn Tough Hiking Socks

    With a lifetime warranty, Darn Tough socks are made to last. This cooling pair is great for a day climbing ruins. Wool is naturally sweat-wicking, so no blisters. The socks’ cushioning has a walking-on-a-cloud feel — even when you’re actually just walking on 3,000-year-old stones.

  • Balenciaga Rubber Slides

    I live in my Birkenstocks, known for the mold-to-your-feet comfort of their leather soles. But they aren’t so ideal for the wet terrain of the jungle, or at the beach. Which is why a light, waterproof rubber pair like these low-key Balenciaga slides are nice. They’re clean and functional, and an upgrade from flip-flops.

  • Vitamin A Oversized Linen Shirt

    This linen shirt contains multitudes. It’s a perfect cover-up for the beach but can look more formal when paired with its matching Wide Leg Pant as a set. It’s light, breezy, and sun-protecting, and the Desert Ecolinen shade is just beautiful.

  • Vitamin A Swimsuit

    Made from 77% plant-based polyamide, this sculpting one-piece not only uses sustainable fibers, but is also the little black dress of swimwear.

  • Kinfield All-Natural Bug Repellent

    DEET-free, this natural bug repellent uses Indonesian citronella to keep biters at bay — and smells heavenly too.

Explore More
Our Contributors

Sophie Mancini Writer

Sophie Mancini is an editor at Departures. Born and raised in New York City, she holds a degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University and has a background as a writer in brand and editorial.

Victor Stonem Photographer

Victor Stonem is a Dominican photographer who specializes in still life, spaces, travel, and storytelling. Growing up in the Caribbean, as well as living in Barcelona, helped him create a strong focus on the use of natural light and its reflection on textures and surfaces.

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