- By Judy duPlooy
Just before Christmas in 1987, Ken and I loaded our five children and dog into our Suburban and left our home just outside of Charleston, South Carolina to head for Belize. After an adventurous road trip through Mexico, we found ourselves in San Ignacio, a quaint town in Western Belize, locally known as "Cayo".
After getting stuck in the mud 4 times in one day, we took this as a sign that we should start looking for a house. And after having been in Belize a whole three days, we found an isolated 20 acre farm at the end of the worst road we had ever driven on. However, when we walked down to river we were awed by the majestic limestone bluff facing us and the beauty of the river and large sandy beach. With no hesitation we went to find the owner and signed a contract, ignoring the fact that the farm had running water from only a small rainwater collection tank (not nearly enough to provide for a family of 7) and no electricity.
Ken & Judy duPlooy (1999)
duPlooy Family Photo (1993)
Returning to our hotel, we announced to our daughters, who ranged in age from 4-16, that we had just bought a farm in the jungle. The three youngest were thrilled. They had the beautiful river in which to frolic and rolling hills to explore and when they saw the beach and the 20-ft rock from which they could jump into the river, the little girls shouted with glee. When they found out that we weren’t kidding about the lack of running water and electricity, the two teenagers shouted, but not with glee.
Soon everyone was enrolled in local schools and adjusting to the adventure of living in Belize, including the 10-mile ride to school over a bumpy dirt road; or getting there via a motorized canoe down the Macal River.
Judy duPlooy looking out over Macal River (2015)
Building The Lodge
When we first arrived the only existing buildings were a farm house (now the Belize River House) where we lived until we could build a more accommodating home for the 7 of us and a small tool shed, now the office.
Within a week of purchasing the property, Ken hired a crew of workers and the planting and building began. Despite setbacks, wailing and sometimes even gnashing of teeth, duPlooy's Jungle Lodge opened 9 months later with 6 rooms and a dining room/bar. Over the next few years the great “Hangover Bar” (later renamed the Canopy Bar) was added, as well as a few more Standard Rooms and three Bungalows.
In 2009, we were able to convert partially to solar power and while we still use the generator at peak times and during heavy rains, most of our power is now supplied by the sun. Recognizing the need to accommodate more visitors during the busy season, in December 2011, we converted our spa room into the Tree House. We now offer in-room spa services. 2013 saw the conversion of the family house to La Casona.
If you have been to duPlooy’s before, you will note, in particular, the much improved landscaping around the lodge, the “fogon” deck and will enjoy walking our extensive trail network that extends throughout the grounds and you can even hike to the Maya archaeological site of Xunantunich or Flour Camp Cave from duPlooy’s. These and other projects were the work of our dedicated staff under the direction of Judy’s friend, Ronald Cruz
Over the years, additions such as running water, refrigeration, chairs and adult sized stoves have added much to the place, but the most noteworthy change has been the property itself. At the time of purchase a few citrus trees were the only plants around, as everything else had been cleared for farming by the previous owner. If you look around now it is hard to imagine this, as duPlooy’s has really grown into its ‘Nature Lodge’ title. There are now hundreds of tropical plant species and thanks to the lush tropical climate many of the trees look like they have been around for decades.
duPlooy's Jungle Lodge - Entrance Road
Botanic Garden - Palmarea
Belize Botanic Gardens
From the beginning the decision was made to have an organic property and the battle to control pests, by natural means, was on until it was noted that if things were left pretty much to sort themselves out, not many plants were lost. Now both the Jungle Lodge and Belize Botanic Gardens provide habitat and food to attract the many birds and small animals that make their homes here.
The construction of the nature lodge, noted earlier, is thanks to Ken. He also realized early on that he needed something to keep him out of a house filled with 6 women and began to dabble in gardening. Several thousand plants later something had to be done to justify his ‘hobby’ so, in 1997, 45-acres were dedicated to Belize Botanic Gardens.
Despite fighting heart disease for many years he worked enthusiastically in the garden until his death in August 2001. His ability to tell wildly exaggerated tales is still much missed by those who knew him.
Botanic Garden - Orchid House
Botanic Garden - Bamboo Stand
Family update (As of 2017)
Patricia, the eldest, lives with her two children, Kayla and Ethan in Austin Texas and takes care of reservations for duPlooy’s and our travel agency, duPlooy Travel; Heather, Brett and daughter, Ila (Eye-lah) live in Hendersonville, North Carolina where they grow cut flowers for the local market; Shayla and Chris live in Guatemala where Shayla teaches third grade in an International school and Chris is a chef. Lorna and Raul live in Florida where Raul is a partner in a plumbing supply business and Lorna holds down the fort at home taking care of Gavin, Brooke and Brynn; Youngest daughter Stephanie and her daughters Eve and Hannah, live in Austin, Texas
Looking back on it all, everyone remembers the early days before generators and running water as good times. Evening baths and play in the river were a must after a hot day in the tropics and, amid much laughter and tears, an unbreakable bond was formed among the duPlooy girls.
Judy lives on the property and, along with a great staff manages duPlooy's and Belize Botanic Gardens. Many of our staff members have been with us for more than 20 years.