Agritourism. Or agrotourism…? I think either is acceptable. Agritourism is tourism (accommodation or activity) based around agricultural hospitality, education, and/or recreation. Examples include but are not limited to farm stays, pick-your-own-produce activities, horseback riding, petting zoos, horticulture or husbandry lessons, cultivation classes.
Belize is a rather small country in terms of size, population, and economy. Its two main industries are tourism and agriculture; directly employing over 50% of the labor force of the country. It makes perfect sense and seems rather fortuitous that the next trend in travel is to combined these two trades.
I can think of some very popular and also lesser-known examples of agritourism in Belize. Chocolate tours are exceedingly popular in all parts of the country even if visitors don’t get a full, firsthand bean-to-bar experience they still garner knowledge of cacao cultivation and chocolate processing. Cultural cooking classes showcasing Garifuna or Mayan dishes prepared in classic ways and using traditional methods and tools are another example. Touring banana farms, Marie Sharps’ hot sauce factory, taking a coffee class, and visiting the Spice Farm- Belize has loads of special agritourism experiences to share.
We recently enjoyed an exceptional agritourism experience in Toledo District at the Copal Tree Lodge. Not only is the lodge situated among 22,000 acres of rainforest preserve but it also includes a 3,000 acres sustainable farm, farm-to-table fine dining, AND Belize’s first and only organic rum distillery. Touring Copalli Rum’s Distillery was a bucket list item for me and I’m so happy we finally did it.
The Distillery Tour is a completely on-site experience at Copal Tree, beginning and ending in the Lodge’s lobby and never traveling very far from it. That’s because the entire operation, from “field to flask” as they like to say, takes place on the property. Your guide will gather you from the lobby and whisk you down to the cane fields in one of the properties super cool jungle limousines.
Down at the farm you learn that though Copalli is relatively young, rum making isn’t new to this area. Sugarcane and, therefore as not to waste the byproducts of production, rum have a history here dating back to the 1800s. A clunky old relic of a cane press still sits, disused, in a courtyard at the farm.
In the field you learn about Copalli’s variety of sugarcane, red and purple, both of which are non-GMO and organically grown. They use biowaste from their own production and chicken poop from the coops nearby. Harvest is by hand and they never use the widely-practices but dirty method of cane fires to clear fields. Snack on samples of freshly cut cane- you can really taste the difference between the two varietals when sampled side-by-side!
Then it’s over to the Distillery. Everything at Copal Tree Lodge is so thoughtful and the Distillery is no exception; they built this place with the environment and sustainability in mind. They’re zero-waste and nearly self-sufficient! When the cane is pressed to extract the sugar, what’s left behind is utilized in one fashion or another. From liquid fertilizer to using the left-behind fibers from the spent stalks as biofuel for their boilers- Copalli has thought of everything! Rainwater catchment and solar energy round out the neutral-impact, zero-waste, estate-sourced concept… are you impressed yet?!
The tour took us to the top of their column stills, and to be honest this is where they lost me in the process because I was too distracted by that view! This might just be the tallest structure in all of Southern Belize and wow what sight!
They also use pot stills and at this point in the tour we each got our first sample of the spirits. Straight from the pot still, yuck! It’s not ready.
I thought this aging warehouse was really neat. The barrel-rested rum sits in these old oak casks and the aging process is accelerated due to Belize’s tropical climate.
Back at the lodge you complete the tour with what else? –a tasting! Yum, now this is rum. Sip and savor delicate notes now that you have a greater appreciation for the making process. What a special spirit!