World’s Best Bars: The Copal Tree Lodge Rum Bar in Belize

Photo courtesy of Copal Tree Lodge Rum Bar

There are rum bars and then there are the Rum bar. It’s a simple title for a temple of drinks and yet not as daring as it seems. Housed in the lobby of the Copal Tree Lodge in the heart of Belize’s southern rainforest, this bespoke gem offers a unique cane-sipping experience.

Drinking in the jungle of Punta Gorda – dimmed by the sound of howler monkeys and so many palm fronds ruffling in the breeze – tends to leave a lasting impact on people. Just like the contagious personality of the man who makes these drinks. It just goes by Ducky (you know, like Cher or Madonna), and is just as iconic.

“I’ve worked on the property for 20 years, when it was just a fishing lodge,” Ducky recalls. In 2018, Copal was relaunched as a luxury eco-resort with millions of dollars in low-impact renovations, featuring 16 suites suspended above the edge of a river valley. “I started out as a dishwasher, but cooking wasn’t for me. I started serving food and, well, I’m a cute boy, so I started talking to the guests, and they liked me. Our GM decided I had to make them drinks, so when the bartender left, I took over. I am still here today.

Photo courtesy of Copal Tree Lodge Rum Bar

To aid Ducky in his endeavors, an assortment of world-class ingredients, most of which are sourced locally: passion fruit, ginger, cocoa and citrus, to name a few. The property is also home to its own organic rum distillery, Copalli. The spirits here are made from freshly pressed cane grown on the estate, imbuing them with an immediate terroir that has a slightly herbaceous tropical top note. Ducky incorporates these flavors wonderfully into their eponymous cocktail, which also happens to be the most popular drink on the menu.

“The Ducky Daiquiri is named after the unofficial prime minister of Punta Gorda: me,” explains the ever-humble host. “A lot of daiquiris are made on the rocks, but a friend and I were playing around with the ingredients, and we decided to remove the ice and add a healthy dose of rum. We use seedless limes – the juice is better – and we take our time with the simple syrup, boiling it for about an hour. No rush. Then we make a medium shake and strain it into a glass. It’s a great [cocktail] with fresh ingredients all from the rainforest.

The sense of place is impossible to ignore on either side of the stick. Ducky is inspired by the sugar cane fields he crosses every day to get to and from work. As for its guests, they often arrive at happy hour after a day of hiking in the thickets, kayaking on the Rio Grande (which winds through the verdant valley about 300 feet below), or visiting the adjacent distillery. The sunset sessions at Rum Bar are so transcendent, in fact, that they attract more than just resort guests.

Photo courtesy of Copal Tree Lodge Rum Bar

“We get a lot of locals of all shapes, sizes, and species,” Ducky confirms. “You’re sitting at the bar and the hummingbirds are fighting over their food. We sometimes have a few pythons that visit us, although they are quite shy. Once, a howler monkey literally walked into our bar, all by itself. He just checked things out for about 15 or 20 minutes, admired the view, then continued on his way.

However, each evening you are much more likely to be joined by less hairy locals. The bar has become a reliable hangout for the Punta Gorda community, especially during the 2020 and 2021 COVID shutdowns, when the tourism department promoted a Travel Local program. It’s a bustling hub, with the energy of Ducky and his regulars amplified by the occasional addition of live Belizean music and dancing.

“We may be rural and remote, but we have visitors and guests daily from across the country,” says Copal Tree Lodge General Manager Jim Scott. “Many come to experience our rum and our recipes, then realize they have to bring their friends and family back for dinner.”

The cuisine, like the drinks menu adorning the slate, is designed to bend to the whims of the season. Boasting acres of gardens, stables, chicken coops and orchards, Copal Tree is uniquely equipped to work with all that nature has to offer. As for liquid offerings, other favorites include Ducky’s refreshing Watermelon Smash as well as the lightly spiced Ginger Buck. As the end of summer approaches, the Dragon Fruit Mojito takes center stage.

Photo courtesy of Copal Tree Lodge Rum Bar

It all sounds like some kind of faraway fantasy land, but the resort is surprisingly accessible to those who want to board a small propeller plane to get there. Rooms here start at less than $300 per night, an exceptional value for five-star amenities in a literal rainforest. If you ever make the trip, expect Ducky to greet you with a smile and a chilled elixir.

“It’s all about the mood,” he says. “I just did a mixology class with two couples who didn’t know each other, and at the end of the class, they were four friends. We bring people together one daiquiri at a time.

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Brad Japhe is a freelance journalist with a nasty case of get-ups-and-gos. It is usually found at the intersection of food, alcohol, and travel. Follow him on Instagram.

Corina C. Butler