Hidden Valley Wilderness Lodge: The New Villas, the Endless Property, THE FOOD Will Blow You Away

I fell in love with Belize during my first visit to Ambergris Caye 18 years ago…with the sun, the beach, the food, the people, and the island life. I never even thought about living anywhere else in Belize but this recent trip has me thinking…just thinking. Hidden Valley Wilderness Lodge is THAT special.

Jeff and I are back from two amazing, rejuvenating, fall-in-love-with-Belize-all-over-again nights and activity-packed days at Hidden Valley Wilderness Lodge in the Cayo District‘s very distinctive Mountain Pine Ridge region.

Fire Tower Inside
The uber-romantic, secluded new Fire Tower lodging -so cool

We experienced THE perfect day: waking up to the knock of room service served in our beautiful, sprawling villa, hiking down to unreal waterfalls where, at the end, a gorgeous, gourmet picnic spread was waiting, a cooking class by young Belizean chefs showcasing Maya ingredients and what’s cooking on their grandmothers’ outdoor fire hearths around the country, and then a 10-course dinner choreographed by the famous Chef Sean Kuylen paired with delicious, craft cocktails…

Waterfall at Hidden Valley Lodge
Jeff admiring just one of dozens of waterfalls at Hidden Valley – for once looking up rather than looking for fish

No, seriously…it’s real!

We swam in waterfalls, hiked a tiny fraction of Hidden Valley’s 100 miles of beautifully maintained trails, spotted rare birds like the orange-breasted falcon and the huge King Vulture, learned about the region’s amazing cultures and ate…oh, we ate!

The restaurant over the pool
The intimate kitchen/restaurant above the pool used for classes and the 10-course private feast

Since my last trip to the property in 2017, HV has made fantastic upgrades to what was already an awe-inspiring property. They’ve upgraded the cottages, built some luxurious private villas (we stayed in one!), and added a one-of-a-kind, super romantic Fire Tower with a sweeping view of the rolling hills and at night, crackling lightning storms.

The screened in porch at our villa
The outdoor porch, seating area and plunge pool at our villa

In the last year or so, THE celebrity chef of Belize, Sean Kuylen, has opened two new restaurants, Slate and Sap, on the property. Both source almost every ingredient from farms and suppliers within a 15-mile radius of the lodge—fruits and veggies, almost primarily from nearby San Antiono Village. We would later visit to see exactly where the ingredients came from and even help pick a few.

Sign at the Wilderness Lodge
Traditional decor at the lodge that I love

Before I get into the photos, Jeff’s (co-owner and head chef at Ambergris Caye’s now closed Rojo Lounge, also my boyfriend…man-friend?) summation of the food and restaurants: “What we enjoyed over two days was arguably the best dining experience I’ve had in Belize in 20+ years living here (my own restaurant included). The team Hidden Valley Wilderness Lodge and Chef Sean have put together should be endlessly proud.”

Cohune cabbage
The fire-roasted heart of a cohune tree – also called “cohune cabbage” – a very special treat

Buckle up! This post is going to be long but this place is that special. Here we go.

The Property

7200 acres. Over 11 square miles! Hidden Valley is owned by a Belizean family, The Roes, since the early 2000s. It was part of a larger piece of land that was also privately owned/part of a logging operation before them. The Roes are devoted to preserving all of it. There are almost 100 miles of beautifully maintained hiking trails for different levels of hikers. Many trails go along, and sometimes across, rivers and creeks, pools carved in the rocks by nature made for swimming, and waterfalls. From tiny cascades to one almost 900 feet tall.

Here’s one of our hikes.

Trails and bridges across streams
Sturdy bridges, steps and hand rails where needed

After hiking for about 15 minutes…you reach the most incredible waterfall.

Perfect for diving
Perfect for swimming or…if you are much more daring, diving

And later we saw King Vulture Falls…where Bear Grylls repelled a few years back…

Gorgeous King Vulture Falls

It’s just stunning location after stunning location. We took a ride over to 1000 Foot Falls – off-property but not far. (The falls were originally part of the Roe property, but it was annexed by the Govt of Belize as a national site)

Chef Sean
Chef Sean’s side-gig…testing the limits of the Polaris on the red, iron-rich roads of HV 😉 Jeff on the right

1000 Foot Falls is terribly named. It is 1600+ feet high, and you can’t see the entire thing from the lookout…it ducks below an outcrop of rock. Who would think that the tallest waterfall in Central America is NOT in Costa Rica or Panama but in Belize?

For some perspective, Niagara Falls in NY/Canada is 320 feet tall. Pfft! An American or European Football field is about 350 feet long. The Eiffel Tower is 980 feet tall. The Empire State Building is 1250 feet tall. This waterfall in Belize is…very very tall 🙂

We finished off our morning of hiking with a gorgeous picnic lunch that magically appeared at the bottom of our hike down to Butterfly Falls. The lunch included fresh corn and plantain chips, homemade salsa and beans dips, fresh watermelon juice and coconut water, and big sandwiches on homemade bread. Fresh towels ready by the waterfall’s pool for a swim.

Later, at sunset, at this gorgeous lookout below, we spotted a very rare orange-breasted falcon while sipping a fresh ginger and guava mocktail. That’s my kinda birding!

See her perched at the top of the tree on the upper left in the photo below? This raptor is endangered in Belize, and this very specific area is thought to have 60-70 pairs. HV has received awards for its conservation efforts.

Spotting a orange breasted falcon

Birders travel from all over the world to spot them – some spend days seeking them out. We got so lucky!

The Accommodations

After our van transfer from Belize City, we entered the lodge proper and were handed a cool lemongrass drink and an icy cloth scented with eucalyptus. (Our luggage magically appeared in our villa when we entered) There is a very comfy living area lined with bookshelves filled with books all about Belize- orchids, animals, history, and birds.

The living area at sunset
A look into the lodge in the evening

The adjoining room is a coffee cafe with fresh coffee, tea and coffee drinks from 6am until bedtime made with coffee grown on the property. There’s a lounge and a bar from drinks anytime and the Sap Restaurant by Sean Kuylen…serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. (I’ll get to the food in a bit!)

Everything is as beautiful in the day as it is at night.

The lodge under the bright moon
The stars here at incredibly bright

The Wilderness Lodge hosts 12 cottages, all with fireplaces.

Fireplace wood
Make your own fire or call a staff member to help

Wait…fireplaces in Belize? Yes! The Moutain Pine Ridge (MPR) experiences the coolest temperatures in Belize, dipping into the low 60s in the nights in January and February. (That’s COLD in Central America! though it warms right up in the day)

It was perfect during our mid-June visit—warm, mid-80s during the day and 70s at night. There was no need for air conditioning, even though it was available in our luxe villa.

Cottage at Hidden Valley
Garden Cottage at Hidden Valley

Even more roomy Estate Cottages have screened-in porches/lounge areas, bathtubs, and gorgeous outdoor showers.

Rock shower with orchids growing on it
Rock shower with orchids growing on it

And the brand new Villas! We stayed in the Valley View Villas Delux, which had more space and seating areas (I LOVE it when you and your partner can lounge or work—if you must—separately or together) than our home. It was huge, beautifully appointed, and just gorgeous.

The view from the villa
The view from a villa – you are IN the forest
The greeting card on our bed
The card that greeted us – I tried all these things and LOVED the oil they provided

The cutest card on our bed from lovely Brandon at the front desk. The Ramsey Mule is a local play on a Moscow Mule. Named after the last mule-cart driver in Belize City, Mr. Ramsey. He passed away in 2004.

I used the bug oil they provided and didn’t get one bug bite at Hidden Valley. I always find that there are lots more bugs on the cayes rather than in the jungle. The oil they provide is a delicious blend of lemon grass and citrus and maybe mint – and it made me smell great bugs or no bugs.

All soaps and products offered are made in Belize. Hidden Valley takes this theme very seriously.

Eating area and plunge pool
Huge eating area, outdoor lounge, shower and plunge pool

After a morning of hiking, the rain shower (or the TWO outdoor showers), the huge bathroom with the heaviest, most plush towels I’ve ever held and the super comfy outdoor porch made it hard to go back outside. (AND they leave fresh baked cookies in the room when you return!)

All the seating in the villa
Gorgeous comfy bed – you can close in bedroom and bathroom for AC if you need it

Last and maybe the most unique is a new Adults-Only Fire Tower. Set above the rolling green hills and valley with a 360-degree view during the day. And at night, you can watch the summer lightning storms over the mountains from your balcony, from your plush bed, or from the deep soaking tub. It’s just epic.

The Fire Tower
The privacy! Though room service is always available

The view!

View from the Fire Tower

Please see their website for more photos of the accommodations. They are stunning, and the privacy on this enormous property is unparalleled.

It is now time to talk about the food—more than just food, the incredible dining experiences.

The Cuisine and The Food Experiences

The Villas and the Fire Tower are so beautiful and so luxurious but I think the biggest change since I last visited Hidden Valley is the cuisine. The Roe family has a long-standing work- and just-about-family relationship with Chef Sean Kuylen, an incredible chef born and raised in Belize. He is classically trained internationally but came back to Belize and really embraced all the country’s cultures, ingredients, food, and history. He is THE local celebrity chef (Guy Fieri’s got nothing on Sean)…maybe even the country’s most recognized face – and he…oozes pride in Belize. It’s infectious.

Sap the inside restaurant
Sap, the inside restaurant

Here, at Hidden Valley, he has revamped their indoor restaurant, called Sap, with all local ingredients – veggies, meats, and fruits, most raised within 15 miles of the lodge – and designed with Rachael Roe, the gorgeous outdoor restaurant named Slate.

Some of the incredible dishes on the dinner menu
Delicious dinner items on the Sap Menu (prices in USD)

Each bite we ate was special and had a story. We took an incredible cooking course (half learning and half eating amazing dishes) where young Mayan chefs from around the country showed how the big three in the Mayan world: corn, cacao, and peanuts were used in their communities.

Roasting Peanuts in San Antonio
Peanuts are an INCREDIBLE amount of work – freshly roasted (30 mins, hand crank over a fire) in San Antonio village

Some of the food we even picked at a local farm in San Antonio village that morning!

Picking veg in San Antonio
Early morning farm tour – picking carrots, green papaya, cassava, mangos and more for lunch that day

Let me start sharing some pictures. The first night we dined like royalty…a 10-course private meal hosted by Chef Sean highlighting the local Maya cultures (Yucatec in the north, Mopan Maya in Cayo and the south and the Keichi people)

Chef Sean
Chef Sean telling us about the history and the food

The table with seating for up to 10…the fogon or fire hearth in the corner – the way that food is traditionally prepared in Belize. Everything tastes better prepared over a fogon.

We had simple courses like fresh-made grilled vegetable salsa with 4 types of chips (from plantain to cassava), grilled pork salpicon (the best, most flavorful, tender pork I’ve ever tasted), a very traditional drink made from corn and cacao…we ate a bubbling chaya and cheese dip served with handmade flour tortillas, we enjoyed a play on the street food of Belize with a tiny tamale, salbute and panade…it was incredible.

All very traditional but…extra. We ate a gorgeous relleno (the traditional celebration meal of northern Belize – especially for weddings) – a chicken stuffed with seasoned pork and served in thick, delicious soup.

A FAVORITE in Belize, relleno

Watermelon cubes, slightly charred with arugula and delicious panela-glazed pork belly. Tender local tilapia roasted in a salt shell served with charred vegetables and the heart of cohune palm in a coconut turmeric sauce. The dessert was a creme brulee made with local sweet corn, cinnamon, and allspice and topped with caramelized popcorn.

The drinks were just as impressive. A cold Belikin was served with the street food trio, and cocktails were made with local blackberries, ginger, lemongrass, citrus, and…oh my.

A delicious horchata drink
A delicious drink made of horchata (a sweetened rice milk) and cacao – we have not YET found evidence that the Maya invented marshmallows

Over the top? YES! But so much fun, soooooo delicious and just incredibly special. Thank goodness we’d be hiking in the morning!

The next day was equally incredible. After hiking, we sat down for a food course run by Sean’s incredible team of young chefs. We all know that Sean is an amazing chef—he serves cooks and hosts on TV, plans menus for heads of countries, and serves his dishes to British Royals—but maybe his greatest accomplishment is stepping a bit off-stage. He has bolstered and empowered these incredible young chefs from all over Belize to have confidence in themselves and in their Belizean cuisine.

These cooking courses are just a walk-off homerun. We learned so much, like how much work is involved in the seemingly basic tamale and just how much pride can be poured into a simple dish.

Straining the masa
Pushing the masa thru incredibly fine cloth to make tamales
Young gentleman teaching us about cacao
Learning about cacao and getting ready to make delicious mole
The fogon
The fire hearth and the preparation of the most delicious peanut soup
Peanut soup
Peanut Soup with chaya
Incredible mole
The mole with confit chicken crisped on the fogon

Just a few hours later, we met up at Slate Restaurant, the brand-new outdoor restaurant—it’s just gorgeous.

Slate Restaurant

You can watch all the chefs at work in the HUGE open kitchen.

Inside Slate

We had buried a pig rubbed in spices the night before – a pibil. 24 hours roasting underground…

The night before: The young chefs lowering the pig into the pib – it will then be sealed in with local clay

Before eating, a local shaman blessed us and the pibil. I was nervous about getting blessed…standing up in front of everyone – but a local gentleman said “You neva gwan regret a blessing”

He was right. It gave me goosebumps.

Local SHaman
Shaman and his son and daughter-in-law from the local village

We ate the tender pibil with homemade tortillas and sauces. We sampled some mango glazed ribs with a habanero kick, we tasted some very very tender local beef…

The tender pibil
The Slate drink menu
The Slate drink menu – love the focus on local and that you can buy your chefs a Stout!
The pibil
Chef Sean serving some steak grilled over the fire
Incredible desserts
Churros with coconut and chocolate sauces, a tender rice custard and the Madarass chocolate cake

All so soo good.

Let’s Wrap This UP!

Hidden Valley Wilderness Lodge is INCREDIBLY special. I’m not leaving Ambergris Caye—it is where my home is and our businesses are —but good grief, I LOVED our stay. It’s a totally different view from the reef and the sea but equally epic, with amazing food, incredible staff, and a property you could easily spend days exploring if not months. I will be back as soon as I can.

A local orchid
A local orchid blooming by the lodge

And if you run into me in town or email me asking for recommendations? I’ll tell you about this spot…about Hidden Valley Wilderness Lodge. Jeff and I will be reminiscing about this trip for a long time.

A last look at the food

Bye Chef Sean and Rachael and Einer! I’ll be seeing you again soon. Maybe you need an onsite blogger? Let’s talk 🙂

For all the details about the lodge, see their website. But know that you want to visit Hidden Valley. It’s one-of-a-kind incredible.

And stay tuned. I will be giving away a two-night stay at Hidden Valley to one of you very very soon.

Einer, Chef Sean and Rachael Roe

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  1. Andrew Roe on June 19th, 2024 at 11:55 am

    Thanks for the wonderful blog post Rebecca! Looking forward to seeing you guys again soon!

    • San Pedro Scoop on June 19th, 2024 at 1:15 pm

      We had THE BEST time – so glad Jeff could come along (he’s usually too busy working!) Thank you!

  2. Mark Furr on June 19th, 2024 at 12:56 pm

    Wow! That food looks incredible.

    The cooking of the pibil reminds me of luau pig, one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, from my many years living on Kauai.

    • San Pedro Scoop on June 19th, 2024 at 1:07 pm

      I’ve never tried a luau (or been to Hawaii) but I can attest that cooking pig underground makes it sooooo crazy tender and juicy. Yum.

  3. David Martin on June 19th, 2024 at 4:30 pm

    5 Star resort and 5 Star review, Rebecca. Great photos but my favorite to showcase Belize?
    “hand rails where needed”
    LOL – Jeff crossing the creek bridge with one handrail and nothing else to keep a person from toppling off. Not in ‘merica: here it would have two rails, side netting, and probably an ADA compliant surface to roll a wheelchair across. Score 1 for Belize.

    But no, you wouldn’t wanna move there. In no time at all you would miss the bouncy dirty cart rides on your sandbar and inhaling parrot fish poop dust…

    • San Pedro Scoop on June 20th, 2024 at 9:22 am

      Ha definitely NOT compliant but…I was NOT going across the bridge without a handrail…or down some of the steeper steps. You might be surprised to hear this 😉 but my skill level at any real hiking is pre-beginner (infant level) so this made me feel like I was really doing it! Plus, the walking sticks that you could choose at the beginning of the trail made it all feel really doable but exciting. I’m an ATHLETE!

  4. Tina Ferrato on June 19th, 2024 at 10:16 pm

    Quite the write-up — what a review! Makes me want to stay there when I return for a visit! And yes, like Mark, makes my mouth water for a Hawaiian style luau, too–interesting similarity! Mahalo for sharing so many details, and Congratulations to the Roes and Chef Sean for “keeping it local”!

    • San Pedro Scoop on June 20th, 2024 at 9:20 am

      I had to leave some of it out too…we had such a great time. And the food was just sooo good.

  5. Myrna on June 20th, 2024 at 12:56 pm

    Thanks for an amazing article!! We will definitely go there when we visit next year!

    • San Pedro Scoop on June 21st, 2024 at 3:55 pm

      SO so good 🙂

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