Maruba Resort Jungle Spa is a wonderful little slice of heaven carved out of the Belize jungle near Maskall, Belize. Maruba Resort is located about 40 miles northwest of the international airport at Belize City, Belize on the Old Northern Highway. Our trip report is broken into sections so you can skip around.
We don’t make recommendations or offer any ranking. These are our impressions. Yours may vary depending on the type of traveler you are and your expectations.
Here’s the best advice gleaned from their website
If you want a home away from home, why travel?
Here are the topics we’ll cover. If you need more details, leave a comment and we’ll share more.
What type of travelers are we?
Value hunters! We the kind of people who go to the jungle in August, Paris in March, Cancun in the summertime, Disney World in the fall, Grand Canyon in March. We love off season travel because we can stretch our dollars and stay in places that would be outside our budget if we stayed at high season. We don’t mind if the weather is “off season” as long as getting there is “off” too. We also don’t mind a little unanticipated adventure or inconvenience on our vacations too.
Both were present during our visit to Maruba Resort Jungle Spa!
Here are the things we did that you probably won’t do:
- Dodge a bounding wheel on I-65 at 3:30 a.m.
- Have an aborted take off due to an ajar baggage door
- Exclusive use of the resort for four of the seven days (See “other”)
Why Maruba Resort Jungle Spa in Belize?
We wanted something special – unique – different within a reasonable flying time of Nashville, and without breaking the bank. I noticed Belize after our last trip to Cancun. Francis Ford Coppola built a spa in Belize, which got a lot of press and drew my attention.
We had scratched Cancun from our return visit list after our last stay. It is just way too touristy. But Belize is just a short flying distance further south and seemed to have all the things we enjoyed about Cancun during the 80’s. Plus it has the advantage of being a former colony of the U.K. The Belizean dollar is pegged to the US dollar at a ratio of US $1 = BZ $2.
We are done with beach vacations unless we can find a better deal than Southwest Florida staying with daughter and SIL!
Nancy signed up for email alerts from two travel aggregators that we like: CheapCaribbean.com
Costa Rico was on our radar too, but we felt we hit the jackpot with Maruba Resort Jungle Spa.
- The Jungle!
- Four hours flying time in two legs
- Only 18 rooms!
- Near Mayan Ruins
Maruba Resort and Jungle Spa has a very complete and accurate website, so I won’t go into detail. We didn’t find any factual errors or puffery on their website. They promise luxury in the jungle and deliver. Caution: music auto plays.
Have you ever been to a luxury resort and made to feel like you didn’t belong? And you made to feel that way by the limo driver, bellman, and servers? The very people who’s jobs depended on you showing up? We have!
There was never a moment that even came close to that feeling at Maruba Resort. From the minute we were picked up until the minute we were dropped off for our return, everybody was friendly and accommodating.
Maruba Resort is past it’s prime, there is no doubt about that. Some classic resorts gain or maintain charm as they age: Del Coronado, Don Cesar, The Breakers have the corporate deep pockets to keep them first class. Maruba Resort is family owned. At one time, one of the owners told me, Maruba set the standards for luxury resorts in Belize: the first to have hot water and the first to have a pool.
Other resorts may have fancier rooms with more “stuff” but they don’t have
- Melanie – the hostess who always had a cheerful greeting with a big smile everyday. She often shared a personal story punctuated by a great laugh.
- Nicky – a guy with so many skills it’s ridiculous. From mosiac designer-installer to evening bartender. The guy was always working.
- Ana – Nicky’s mother has retired to Maruba Resort and is caring for her husband (Nicky’s father) Merrickston Nicholson. He suffered an incapacitating stroke in 2005. We teased Mrs. Nicholson that her biggest decision each day was deciding which bathing suit to wear.
- Mario – the first Belizean we met (he picked us up at the airport) and he is an all around good guy and great guide. “Nuts Up!” (details in Fun section – cave tubing) We got to know Mario and his family pretty well because he was our guide for all off-site tours.
- Selvin – our medicine man (jungle variety) and the resorts handyman. A wry sense of humor that always kept us on our toes.
- Jose – the resort’s apprentice for everything. Always ready with a smile and a wave.
- Jerry – the resort’s equivalent of a maitre de’. He always greeted a request with “Riiiight.” Drawn out, not in a snarky way, but in a way that indicated “your wish is my command.”
- Delwin – the lunch time server who was a little nervous until Nancy started calling him “Little Kobe” because of the resemblance.
- Shamille – beautiful 27 year old single mom with one daughter. Shamille couldn’t figure out why all her friends had three, four, or five kids. “I mean, don’t they have TV or phones or something else to do?” she asked us.
- Franziska – One of the family owners. We never met her, but she was there in spirit because it was her idea to build the resort and still handles many of the reservation duties out of an office in Houston.
Everything was fresh. Every meal. Everyday. Fresh. It was amazing! OK, the rice and beans weren’t fresh, but within steps of the kitchen was a small garden with a huge variety of herbs and spices.
I usually ordered the chef’s special, trusting that the chef knew what she was doing! I had chicken multiple ways, water buffalo, boar, lobster/octopus/conch medley (I dubbed it the bobblehead meal because the little octopus on top was bobbling), conch soup, talpia a couple different ways, shrimp, etc.
Everything is ala carte with usually three chef recommendations each for appetizer, entree, and dessert. Every meal had a vegetarian chef’s special too.
Did I mention it was fresh? Every meal was amazing.
Bruschetta? Fresh. Variety of breads? Fresh. Pineapple juice? Fresh? Salad Greens? Fresh. Mango, Papaya, Star fruit all fresh of course.
The taste and the presentation were outstanding.
One day I saw Jose wander into the kitchen with three gigantic banana tree leaves. That evening they were on our plate as decorations. We love that attention to details. Every meal had a palm leave instead of a placemat. Hibiscus everywhere!
Drinks: I pretty much settled in to the local Belikin Beer and gigantic Rum Punch. Nancy loved the Iced Coffee – sometimes with a little Kahlua. The tea was wonderful too. Jungle tea was very freshing and Nancy loved the Allspice tea too.
Refer to the website for details. Here are the adventures we enjoyed.
Jungle Medicine/Herb Walk.
Selvin guided us on a jungle trail pointing out the plants and trees and how the natives used them for medicines.
- The Tourist tree (likes sun, turns red and peels) is good for soothing skin injuries. (It works!)
- Water vine releases water when a section is cut near the ground. There are two kinds: one has a pinkish water with a taste, the other runs clear and is tasteless.
- Blood vine when cut the inner capillaries “bleed” red. Used to build the blood, especially for women.
- Breadfruit leaf is used to lower blood pressure or for headaches
- Sensitive Plant – the female leaf closes when touched – is used as a relaxer.
- Coconut water is high in potassium
- Allspice leaf will numb while the whole berry is used for babies teething
- Mahogany nuts are used to break a tooth. (seems like rock would accomplish the same thing!)
We tried many other native plants while on other tours: Canistel, a small pulpy sweet fruit, chewed raw sugar cane, and guave. It was a fun tour as well as being interesting.
Altun Ha Mayan Ruins
One of the reasons we chose Maruba Resort was it’s closeness to a significant Mayan area. Google it for details. A major discovery was made during excavation which disclosed the area as a significant trading area – a large jade head carving.
The original “crystal skull?”
On the return from Altun Ha, we stopped and met Mario (our guide’s wife) because she was a “hooker” (crocheter) and she and Nancy got acquainted, while Mario and I caught up on some Beliken Beer at a little pub.
Nancy and Brenda became immediate friends and Nancy will be sending some of her knitting and crafts stash to Brenda, a former school teacher, who is now teaching local women how to make crafts to sell.
Mario’s son also showed off his new pet Coati. Cute little critter.
Northern River Boat Trip
Unanticipated adventure. Our plan was to take leisurely motor boat ride downstream to Bomba, Belize and return. However the engine had other ideas. About 2 miles from Bomba the engine died (after a lot of previous stalls and restarts, equivalent to a PC giving you the blue screen of death after many restarts!) Mario removed the cover and found three dead birds. We were in a very narrow part of the river, but drifted into a nice mango grove for shade. Mario’s cousin happened along and towed us the rest of the way to Bomba. We had to return by land with a side trip to Maskall.
The river trip was fun. Mario pointed out lots of interesting flora and fauna.
Cave Branch River Tubing
Nancy had no intention of doing this – none! It was one of the activities that I was counting on. But the resort had a hard time getting the minimum two people for the tour. Jerry convinced Nancy by mentioning there would be souvenir shopping.
It was a ball. We drove for 100 minutes, hiked for 40 minutes and floated for 100 minutes on cool water through some wonderful caves. Or rather… Mario hooked onto Nancy and paddled her downstream, while I struggled to keep up. There wasn’t much floating. The river was very shallow in places. Mario knew the river well and guided them through the rapids without much difficulty. He would be fifty yards ahead and yell “Butt Up Mark.” Nancy told me later he started yelling “Nuts Up.” Even with his help, more than once I was grounded at the entrance or exit to a cave and had to push with hands and feet to get my nuts into deeper water.
The water was cold, there is no way my nuts were dragging. But I do have a nice scrape on my butt!
Huge fun. However, one caution: if you go when the cruise ships are in port at Belize City, be prepared to share the river with a few hundred ( ! ) other folks. We didn’t have to share with more than a dozen.
Croc and Bird Watching:
Within easy walking distance across a horse pasture is a tall viewing stand overlooking a pond with lots of birds and a couple crocs. Selvin took us there as part of the herb tour and pointed out the croc within ten feet of us. Later Selvin looked me up and we fed the croc some chicken skins. Nancy and I went alone at sunset one evening and saw some parrots and other birds.
Our Private Resort:
Here’s a huge advantage to traveling to the jungle in August. Nobody else does! The day we arrived there were nine other people in three rooms. The next day only one couple remained. (Bryan asked Stephanie to marry him that morning!) They left the next morning – leaving only US! Aside from some day-trippers (who had their own pool) we had the place to ourselves. A private pool!
It was pure heaven. Quiet, a nice breeze every once in a while, staff at our beck and call! We actually spent an entire day IN the pool. Well, from about 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. We didn’t even get out to eat lunch, they served us on the pool deck while we stayed in the water.
- I actually read a book! Playing for Pizza by John Grisham. Good read, but that’s another post.
- Was it hot and humid? Hell YES. It’s the friggin’ jungle. It was high 80’s, low 90’s every day. Usually a breeze would rustle the palm trees, sometimes a slight wind. The most uncomfortable time was when it was calm. But look at the temp in Kentucky at 6:00 p.m. the day after we got home! It was 100, 68% humidity giving a wind chill effect of 107 degrees.
- Rainy? Twice in seven days. One little bitty shower that barely got the pool deck wet and again on the river for about eighteen seconds. Maybe a couple night-time showers that we slept through. Everyone said that August is not the rainy season, despite what we read on may websites and Frommer’s. (Maruba got it right on their website.)
- There is very limited souvenir shopping. Mahogany is their main export so there were beautiful mahogany bowls, vases, carvings, dildoes, plaques, etc. I had plenty of wood that I shared with Nancy during the week, but she wanted something that lasted longer, so she stocked up at Bomba and the Maruba gift shop.
- Take plenty of bug repellent. Remember, you can’t take aerosol, so go for the pump bottles. We used repellent with Deet. We used it often – including every time we got out of the pool.
We came home with nice cases of Fly-byte-us.
I got the worst end of the deal. I had bites like this on my left hand and both elbows too. Yet nobody that lived there seemed to have a problem. Go figure! So go prepared. Take double the repellent you think you will use – and take a cream to relieve the itching and prevent infection.
- This isn’t a third world country, but it’s a second world country. Residents near communities all have electricity, but no sewer or water. The roads are very rough and wide enough for only one vehicle. “Chicken Highway” because drivers are expected to hit the shoulder when meeting another vehicle. If the other vehicle is loaded – with tourists or students – the driver may not yield willingly! The video is very typical – and not the worst road we were on! That honor goes to the road from Bomba to Maskall.
- No television. We were told there was satellite TV in the Hookah Room, but all I saw was a 13 inch TV that only got Spike TV.
- DVD players in room, but DVD selection pretty poor. No radio reception. CD players in room but I think they had to burn a CD for me to play when I asked for another selection.
- Music selection playing in restaurant is eclectic. Mostly tropical beats, but some hip-hop thrown in. I was told it was from the computer, so I’m guessing Nicky must use internet radio like pandora.com.