Jungle rivers, Maya ruins, gentle mountain breezes…
Over the years, we have heard many good things about Windy Hill Resort in the Cayo District of western Belize. Located just west of San Ignacio, the resort rests on a hillside that commands a fine view of the Macal and Belize River valleys and has the jungle at its back door.
After spending a couple of days here, it was obvious that this resort has some of the best management we have seen anywhere in Belize, thanks to owner Bob Hales, who lives on the site. Along with a crew of 60 dedicated Belizeans, he runs a tight ship.
As with most successes, there is always a story behind the story. This one began in 1968 in Louisiana, where Bob met Lourdes (a San Ignacio native), who was attending Tulane University. Bob, who knew a good thing when he saw it, soon proposed marriage. When they came to Belize for their honeymoon, Bob saw this country for the first time. He fell in love with it and realized that their future was here in Belize, not in Louisiana. He made a quick trip home, sold everything and returned to Belize for good.
Bob and Lourdes bought this property in 1975 and named it Graceland Ranch. As tourism in Belize was just starting to grow, they saw a good future in the industry and in 1987 opened Windy Hill for business with three cottages. More were added, as they could afford them, and the resort now consists of 25 individual cottages, each with such amenities as cable TV, mini-bars and hot showers. At the same time, they also produced one daughter and three sons. Two of their sons, Robert Jr. and Joe, are now finishing their studies in Miami, specializing in hospitality management. They will become the second generation of Hales’ actively engaged in running Windy Hill.
The extensive site is landscaped with exotic plants and coconut palms, which attract large numbers of brown jays and woodpeckers from the bush. The cottages dot the hillside above two large thatched buildings; one housing the dining room, and the other a large entertainment area and bar. This is where the evening activity buzzes as the guests swap stories about their day’s adventures, whether they be Maya ruins, jungle trips, river excursions, or bird and wildlife sightings.
Bob holds court here every evening, sharing the guests’ experiences and telling a few tall tales of his own.
Each meal we had was tasty, well prepared and efficiently served by the friendly and accommodating staff. All meals are served as a set menu, and one of the best was a dinner comprised of corn soup, grilled chicken breast with squash, rice and vegetables. The pineapple upside-down cake was a fine finish. No one leaves the table hungry at Windy Hill!
In addition to operating one of the best resorts in western Belize, Bob Hales is also in the tour business. Their primary advantage is being strategically located right in the centre of some of the greatest tourist destinations that Belize has to offer, including Maya ruins, rainforests and jungle rivers. Fifteen different, full package tours are available to fit your desires, from 3 days/2 nights to 7 days/6 nights.
They have vehicles ranging from 10-passenger, air conditioned vans, to a new, luxury, 40-passenger bus. All are very clean and well-maintained. You can reserve any of these packages prior to leaving home through your local travel agent, and you will be met at the Belize City International Airport to begin your adventure with Windy Hill. Package prices include lodging, meals, all transportation, entrance and guide fees, and taxes. The only extras are alcoholic beverages and gratuities.
Excursions are offered to Maya sites of Caracol and Xunantunich, the Belize Zoo (a unique experience), and Mountain Pine Ridge. You can go horseback riding, swimming or canoeing…even take an excursion to Tikal in nearby Guatemala. Currently, one of the most popular excursions is a visit to El Pilar, the largest Maya centre in the Belize River area. Dating back to 250 B.C., it is presently under excavation and has only recently been opened to the public.
Independent types are also welcome at Windy Hill. You can rent a 4×4 from Budget Rent-a-Car (and others) in Belize City and do your own thing, visiting the areas you want to see at your leisure. You can still sign up for a day tour with the other guests, or lie around in a hammock and watch for the many beautiful birds that inhabit the area. One morning, we saw the largest flock of toucans here that we have ever seen. Windy Hill is one of the best bargains in Belize-two people can get a room and three meals each, for less than US$170, taxes included.
On our first evening, having drinks with Bob before dinner, we asked about the local wildlife. He recommended getting up at dawn (the birds will awaken you), walking around the site and taking the trail leading into the jungle. “You will see lots of birds and small wild animals; maybe a gray fox, too.” The next morning, as we tip-toed around behind our cabin and looked toward the jungle, sure enough, a little gray fox trotted out of the bush, right on cue. He stared at us for a few seconds, then disappeared. We figured Bob was hiding in there and booted the little guy out, just for our pleasure!