The first-ever Belizean lodge constructed exclusively for fly fishers 60 years ago is still a classic destination for anglers of all stripes. Over the years, Belize River Lodge has only gotten better with age. Its beautifully manicured grounds are breathtaking, and conjure up a bit of old-school fly fishing nostalgia amid a touch of Caribbean class. Comfortable, updated accommodations and over-the-top service greet anglers upon arrival, but it's the easy access to some of the best tarpon fishing and flats fishing in Central America that will keep fly fishers coming back. Tarpon up to 100 pounds literally swim right out the lodge's front door, and bonefish and permit cruise the flats a short boat ride away.
Add in the extreme convenience of being just a few minutes away from the country's largest airport, and a trip to Belize has never been so easy. How often can anglers plan a long weekend casting to tarpon, bonefish and permit and be back in the office without missing a beat? Belize River Lodge is where convenience meets high-end lodging and incredible fly fishing in a setting that belies its proximity to civilization.
Belize River Lodge could be accurately described as a tarpon destination, but that's selling it short. Yes, the tarpon swim right off the lodge's dock in the beautiful Belize Olde River, but it's just a short boat ride to the famed flats, cays and spits of Belize's coastline and offer up world-class sight-fishing for bonefish and permit.
For the angler who wants to experience a bit of everything the Caribbean has to offer, from secluded and wild jungle river fishing for tarpon of all sizes, to classic flats fishing for permit and bonefish, Belize River Lodge is the ideal home base.
There's literally no wasted time spent in airport shuttle vans — the lodge is five minutes from the airport in Ladyville, just outside of Belize City. But once you get to the lodge, it feels anything but urban. Thoughtfully located on the banks of the Belize Olde River, the fishing starts right out the front door. A quick 10-minute boat ride right up the river will put anglers within casting distance of schools of tarpon so thick it's mind-boggling. There's nothing quite so primal as chasing these acrobatic giants while the howler monkeys growl and scream from the tops of the jungle canopy, or while crocodiles slip quietly into the river as the panga glides by.
For flats junkies, it's an easy boat ride down the river to bay, where tarpon gather before they move up or down the Belize River. A little farther out, classic flats fishing awaits, with dependable fly fishing for quality bonefish and frequent shots at trophy permit. Other flats denizens are plentiful, too — big jack crevalle, snapper, snook and toothy barracuda await anglers interested in checking fish of their life lists.
Belize River Lodge is everything Caribbean fly fishing should be, but with an element that almost no other the lodge in the region can offer — extreme convenience. With no wasted travel time, anglers visiting the lodge can maximize their time on the water while enjoying world-class hospitality and service at a very appealing price point for budget-concsious travelers.
LODGING: Guests at Belize River Lodge will enjoy spacious, air-conditioned rooms amid the manicured grounds of the classic Caribbean establishment. The lodge's buildings and grounds are meticulously maintained by an attentive grounds crew, and daily maid service ensures a freshly made bed each evening. The lodge features a main dining room and living room, and gorgeous, screened-in veranda equipped with a full bar and view of the river, where breaching manatees and the occasional crocodile can be seen as the breeze moves through. The lodge has a fly-tying station as well as a small fly shop where anglers can get their hands on everything from leader and tippet to the right fly for the occasion. It's a surprising beautiful setting just minutes from the country's largest airport.
FOOD/DRINK: Daily meals at Belize River Lodge are a culinary experience offered up with lively Caribbean flare and a distinct Creole influence. Yes, fresh seafood is on the menu, but traditional Belizean cooking is heavy on chicken, rice, beans and fresh fruits. Daily breakfast is hearty and filling, featuring eggs, bacon, sausage and fresh mangos right from the lodge grounds. Lunches are packed daily and served on the water — usually sandwiches, fresh fruit and chips, with a cold Belikin beer to wash it all down. Dinner, served family style every night in the lodge's air-conditioned dining room, is crafted by a wonderful team of Belizean cooks and features everything from jerked chicken to grilled snapper, accompanied by delectable, fresh salads and fruit, and usually something that's traditionally Belizean, like rice and beans or fried plantains. Nobody goes hungry at the lodge.
CONNECTIVITY: The lodge has excellent internet service and cell service is incredibly dependable — one of the benefits of being right in Ladyville, a bedroom community to Belize City that's also home to the country's international airport.
After visiting anglers clear customs and collect their luggage — a piece of cake, typically — they'll be greeted by a lodge staffer who will drive them about five minutes to the boat dock on the Belize Olde River. From there, it's another five minutes up the river to the lodge, where guests will meet their hosts, the Miles-Heusner family, who have operated the lodge since the early 1980s. Guests can check into their rooms and then pay a visit the lodge's stunning veranda, where an iced cocktail awaits (a rum and coke is owner Mike Heusner's favorite). Guests can wander the stunning grounds or catch up with friends and family back home before appetizers are served on the veranda. Dinner's at 7 o'clock sharp — you don't want to miss it.
You'll likely hear one of the servers utter a very important question: "Would you care for some lime-aid?"
Yes. The answer is absolutely yes.
The fabled Belize Olde River starts high in the Central American rainforest near the Belize border with Guatemala and flows for almost 200 miles before it empties in the Caribbean just a few miles from Belize River Lodge. And after a delicious breakfast at the lodge and a leisurely walk to the dock, you guide awaits. John "The Tarpon King" Moore is legendary around these parts — he's helped Belize River Lodge anglers boat thousands of tarpon over the years, and it's your lucky day — he's on your boat.
With John at the tiller, your panga motors upriver, away from any reminder of civilization. In minutes, the river is wild and primal, and a few minutes later, you see your first school of migrating tarpon — a group of about 20 fish, each one about 30 pounds, porpoises 300 yards upstream. In the river, the tarpon are almost always on the move as they hunt for baitfish in the deep, green water. At John's urging, you're on the bow of the panga, and he's putting you and the boat in position to be successful. Then, the school breaches again, about 30 feet off to your left.
"Cast in front of them," John urges. "They are always moving." You do your best to flip the Tarpon Toad on your 40-pound bite tippet ahead of the cruising fish, and the cast isn't half bad. As John instructs you to "let it sink," you wait with baited breath. A big tarpon on the first day? It could happen.
"Strip," John says from the platform. You do as your guide instructs. On the third pull, a freight train nails your fly and the river erupts. A three-foot-long juvenile tarpon catches the morning sun on its first jump, and you know immediately why this fish has earned its famous moniker, "the silver king."
But, the fly refused to grip those iron-strong jaws, and it flips out of the fish's mouth on the mighty leap from the river. Tarpon 1, you 0.
But the day is young.
Maybe that first day on the river was epic, and the tarpon cooperated. Then again, if your cast was a bit rusty or your strip-set was off, the hooking and the catching might not have matched up like you had hoped. Either way, it's time for a change of scenery.
This time, John motors the boat downriver at a quick clip, until he slows the panga to a crawl to navigate a bend in the river where giant manatees are common. It doesn't take long for you to see why the boats on this river slow down — in a quarter-mile stretch of river, you see half a dozen beautiful manatees sunning themselves just under the surface of the emerald water of the river. John is perfectly happy to let you snap a few photos of the big "sea cows" as they slowly paddle around the river in search of submerged vegetation. It's a cool experience for anyone who's never seen these majestic mammals before.
With the manatees in the rearview mirror, you're off to the flats. Today, John says, is a bonefish day, with a shot or two at permit very likely. And, after a short 20-minute ride to some nearshore cays, you see your first school of bones. And it's huge — maybe 100 strong. The fish, fresh off a bonefish "mud" where they stirred up the otherwise crystal-clear flats, are on the prowl, and a well-time 40-foot cast puts your Gotcha right in their path. One strip. Two strips. Boom. Check the Belize bonefish off your list.
The success on the flats the day before has you yearning for more, and John suggests a bit of a boat ride for you third day. You'll cruise down the river after breakfast to the bay, and head northeast into the backcountry.
Here, bigger bones swim in tight schools of three or four fish and you'll likely have more shots at permit in the green, hip-deep waters of the Caribbean. And, with John on the poling platform, you'll have Belize's best tarpon guide with you — he's got an eye for rolling fish, and these are bigger tarpon that frequently top 100 pounds. You may cruise right in front of Belize River Lodge's sister operation, the Long Caye Outpost, while you're out on the flats. That's something to consider next time.
There's something very ... interesting about fishing the jungle waters of the Belize Olde River for tarpon. Maybe it's the growls and the violent roars of the howler monkeys as they swing through the canopy, or maybe it's the chance to glimpse a jaguar ghosting off into the banyan trees. Or perhaps it's just the raw, primal experience that comes with fishing water home to everything from 2,000-pound manatees to 15-foot crocodiles. It's wild. And that first day on the river just whetted your appetite.
On this last day at the lodge, John has something a bit different in mind. While you will still be able to chase the migrating schools of fish up and down the river, there are a few spots that only John knows about, and these hidden little grottos are where the monsters dwell. Big tarpon between 50 and 100 pounds skulk in the depths below downed trees and snags, where they lie in wait for hapless baitfish... and well-cast streamers.
When a five-foot-long jungle tarpon comes calling ... well, you'll never forget it.
- Guided fly fishing Fully guided fly fishing on the Caribbean flats, the Belize Olde River, the Sibun River and the Manatee River.
- Lodging Comfortable, air-conditioned rooms featuring old-school Caribbean class, but updated with modern amenities
- Meals Locally sourced and prepared meals with a Belizean/Creole flare, vegetarian options available, daily appetizers served before dinner
- Beverages Non-alcoholic beverages, including juices and sodas; cash bar; you're welcome to bring your own bottle
- Ground transportation Complimentary shuttle from the airport to Belize River Lodge
This might be the easiest part of the whole trip to Belize River Lodge. Guests will arrive at the airport in nearby Ladyville (BZE), and will be greeted by a lodge staffer right outside of baggage claim. From there, it's literally a five-minute ride to the river followed by a quick boat ride to the lodge. The country's international airport is serviced by several U.S.-based airlines and direct flights from a host of U.S. hubs arrive daily.