With the Caribbean Sea on one side and lush rainforest dotted with ancient Mayan ruins on the other, Belize offers the best of both of these diverse worlds in one easy-to-explore package. Throw in laid-back resorts and an English-speaking population, and you’ve got paradise.
It’s all about the water on Ambergris Caye, which sits just off the northern coast of the country. Snorkel at Hol Chan Marine Reserve, where a chink in the miles-long reef (part of the second largest in the world) means you’ll be surrounded by sea turtles, giant grouper, bright green moray eels and, occasionally, manatees. Afterwards, head to the town of San Pedro, a lively village with a pretty town square and an abundance of galleries, flip-flop friendly restaurants and waterfront bars.
Just a few sandy steps from the sea, this elegant boutique resort gets everything right — from the overwater treatment rooms at the serene spa to grilled lobster on a breezy veranda. Accommodations in the 42-room property vary from suites and villas outfitted with full kitchens to thatched-roof casitas and traditional hotel rooms. The resort’s location, just a 10-minute bike ride from restaurants and shops in San Pedro, is a bonus, too.
Mahogany Bay Resort & Beach Club, Curio – A Collection by Hilton
Luxury meets eco-consciousness at Mahogany Bay, where each of the 205 rooms has been appointed with custom furnishings hand crafted in Belize from locally-sourced (and sustainably harvested) wood. Beyond a stunning pool, gym, restaurant and several bars, amenities include an adjacent “townlet” where you can grab a bite (breakfast burritos, empanadas and specialty sushi), register for a fly-fishing expedition or try aerial yoga. Speedboats zoom to the private-island beach club every 15 minutes or so; get there early so you can grab one of the popular over-water daybeds.
Located about 70 miles southwest of Belize City, San Ignacio is a great jumping off point for adventure activities like cave tubing, ziplining, hiking, kayaking and horseback riding. The culturally curious will have plenty to do as well: Belize’s more than thousand-year-old Mayan ruins weren’t discovered until the early 1900s. Today, you can climb majestic pyramids and ruins that were once reserved for royalty, wander through ancient structures and ponder the mystery of the Mayans’ abrupt disappearance from the world.
The name means “heavenly place” in Mayan. It’s an apt description of this 15-suite, two-villa resort, which maintains a 1,000-bottle wine cellar, two-acre organic garden and a spa offering Mayan-inspired treatments. Activities and packages, which were curated by the resort’s owner, a Mayan preservationist, include specialty experiences at ancient Mayan sites that include private yoga sessions, horseback rides and helicopter tours. Staff members keep things interesting, too, conjuring up riverfront picnics and dinners in the wine cellar.
Situated on its own 400-acre jungly wonderland filled with exotic wildlife, a rushing river and green mountain slopes, Chaa Creek brings fun adventures like horseback riding, nighttime animal safaris, canoeing and mountain biking right to your doorstep. Check out Chaa Creek’s Open Hearth program, which introduces guests to Belizean cooking techniques and an on-site natural history museum. Lodging options are as varied as the activities and range from stunning glass-walled villas complete with butler service to neat, electricity-free cottages for guests looking to unplug.
Thanks to its proximity to both the jungle and the beach, the 16-mile-long Placencia Peninsula is perfect for beach lovers who want to venture inland to destinations such as the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, a waterfall-strewn park that’s best-known as the world’s only jaguar preserve. The tiny village of Placencia is filled with colorful murals; shops selling art and handicrafts; bars and restaurants and the famous Tutti Frutti Gelateria, which is owned by an Italian couple and serves, many say, the best gelato outside of Italy.
Belize Ocean Club
Sunset lovers adore the Belize Ocean Club, which, situated on a particularly slender portion of the Placencia Peninsula, gives guests an ideal spot to view the sun’s nightly show. Some of the resort’s 60 suites check in at more than 1,000 square feet and feature full kitchens, private balconies and access to free bikes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. The resort offers a number of unique excursions, too, such as a visit to a nearby chocolate factory and a fishing expedition that ends with the resort’s chef transforming your catch into dinner.
Member Savings: AAA Members receive varied exclusive benefits at these accommodations with Travel Impressions, a AAA Preferred Travel Partner. Call 800-398-0379 and book your Belize getaway today!
(Go Magazine January/February 2019)