Adjacent to oft over-touristed Mexico is Belize, its lesser-known though no less interesting neighbor. I recently returned from my first, but certainly not last jaunt to Belize. Instead of hitting its miles of beaches or diving its exceptional barrier reef, I headed for the relative quiet of the Cayo district's verdant mountains. Although the heat on the coast was stifling, in the mountains, the air was fresh, the stillness occasionally broken by the chattering of parrots or the distant sound of howler monkeys.

I stayed at the newly opened Ka'ana Boutique Resort & Spa (tel. 501/824-3350; Set amid bucolic grounds on the outskirts of San Ignacio, 70 miles from the international airport in Belize City, the resort offered an easily accessible Maya Mountain getaway. Easy enough, in my case, to visit over a long weekend and still feel completely unrushed. Arriving at Ka'ana, guests are greeted with outstanding rum punches (the secret, I'm told is the locally made 1 Barrel rum) and escorted to their rooms in one of the 15 unassuming cottages. Inside, comfy beds, LCD TV (with satellite channels) and elegant furniture crafted by local craftsmen from local hardwoods filled my spacious room. I was smitten, however, with the prospect of curling up with a book on my inviting veranda ... something I did regrettably little given the many excursions the resort had arranged for me based on my interests.

The resort's location in the Maya Mountains makes it an ideal choice for adventurous travelers of every stripe. In my short visit, I managed to visit the awesome Maya ruins at Caracol, explore the gaping mouth of the Río Frío Cave, frolic in the natural waterslides and swimming pools in the Río On, and float down the aptly named Caves Branch River by inner tube and through a mile-long section of cave with only the light from my head lamp and the current to guide my way through shadowy caverns formerly used by the Maya for human sacrifices to appease the gods of the underworld.

Thankfully, I made it out, living another day to explore the more heavenly world along a rainforest river by canoe, watching the forest for signs of toucans, iguanas, monkeys, tapirs and elusive jaguars that call Belize home. The saving grace of my stay -- and probably the reason that I was able to do so much -- was that at the end of the day, I could bask in the resort's pool, icy glass of rum punch in hand anticipating dinner followed shortly thereafter by collapse into my comfy foam mattress. In the unlikely event that I woke up sore, I was comforted by the fact that the in house spa offers a range of treatments and massages for the activity weary.

Meals were prepared by chef, and I daresay national treasure, Manolo Castillo. He memorably combined European classics with Belizean ingredients and served brilliantly updated traditional Maya dishes. My palate was surprised numerous times during my stay, from the spicy Azteca soup with homemade tortilla bits to savory tequila shrimp. Unlike many rural resorts, Ka'ana had a respectable wine list. Each night I made a habit of sharing a bottle of Bordeaux with my tablemates as the night sounds of the forest drifted into our conversations.

Rates at the Ka'ana Resort & Spa currently range from $195 for a Queen Villa and $240 for an Executive Suite in the low season to $210 for a Queen Villa to $275 for Executive Suite in the high season. The September 22, 2007 Grand Opening brings a tempting Grand Opening Package that offers guests a savings of nearly 40 per cent and includes accommodations for two, airport transfer upon arrival, Ka'ana signature welcome drink, daily breakfast, romantic candlelight dinner, bottle of wine and a tour of the Xunantunich Mayan Ruins. The package starts at $833 per room for a four-night stay and is valid until October 31, 2007. The resort can also arrange tours to Mayan sites including Caracol and Tikal, Guatemala. The more adventurous can explore neighboring Chechem Hah or Barton Creek Caves or go canoeing, kayaking, or tubing on one of the nearby rivers.

Note: This trip was sponsored by the Ka'ana Boutique Resort & Spa.

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