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Where to Stay in Belize

Abbey Alexander, Writer

Belize Itz'ana Beach

We know you’re a baller, but even you’ve noticed that going anywhere nowadays is not for the faint of heart. Like when did the entry-level price of rooms top $2,500 just to get the view of the building next door? The answer is now when travel hits a new level of expensive almost everywhere. But is there a place that brings luxury back to basics? There are a few, and one of them is Belize, whose DNA is made up of quiet luxury, and the luxury of experience. We’re talking Mayan temples, zip-lining through jungles, and communing with local villagers and women entrepreneurs. That’s before you hit the beaches, and the water, where there’s a reason Belize is a diver’s paradise. And there are some luxurious, including those on the experiential spectrum, of luxurious places to stay. This is a look at Belize, a country that just may make your list this next year.

The Lay of the Land (And Ocean)

Belize has over 240 miles of coastline and has the second largest Barrier Reef in the world, behind Australia. If you have any interest in snorkeling, diving, Mayan temples, culture, and/or nature, Belize is your spot. There are no Michelin-starred restaurants, Cartier shops, or over-the-top luxury hotels in Belize. That’s actually the beauty of Belize, that higher-end brands have not descended upon the country. Belize is where you come for low-key luxury and the luxury of experiences. It’s one of the most authentic and unspoiled parts of the Caribbean that still provides good value. For families who are into nature and outdoor activities along with some culture and adventure, Belize is for you.

Where to Stay in Belize

The hotels in Belize are either on the mainland or one of the 400 cayes, which are groups of islands in the Caribbean. You get to the cayes by airplane, which is much less adventurous than it sounds. The planes in Belize are more like the experience in the Maldives where you’re not on rickety puddle jumpers. The air transport logistics in Belize run like clockwork, where there are flights among the islands almost every daylight hour. It’s like a bus in the air, so even if you stay in the cayes, it’s easy to get to the mainland for the zip lining, Mayan temples, and rainforest/jungle adventures.

Depending on your preference, you could also have a top experience on the mainland of Belize and never hit up the islands. Or you could stay at a hotel like Alaia in the cayes and take the 15-minute plane ride to the mainland to explore. Where to stay in Belize really depends on what you’re trying to achieve.

Alaia

Alaia is where to stay in Belize when you want a full-scale, international resort, as it’s part of the Autograph Collection at Marriott. Rooms in the main hotel are chic and modern, as it’s a relatively new building. The Reef rooms are older, but they have been updated and are a good choice for families. The 2 bedrooms will not break the bank, and there are full kitchens and nice-sized living rooms. There is also a large gym, full-service spa, and multiple bars on the property. The hotel is a quick golf cart or a 5-minute van ride into the town of San Pedro on Isle.

The beach isn’t anything to write home about at Alaia, but most people spend their day in one of the three pools on the property. For daytime excursions, there are beach clubs off-property where you can post up for the day. You can either rent one of the golf carts to take the 30+ minute ride, or you can get a ride from the resort for a 15-minute ride. Unlike Placencia, there aren’t longer stretches of beach on Ambergris Caye, but the point of Belize is to get out on the water and explore the reef.

Cayo Espanto Island Resort

If you are a honeymooner or want total utter privacy and chill, Cayo Espanto is where to stay in Belize. Like Alaia, it’s on Ambergris Caye, but they take it the next step as it’s its own private island a short boat ride from the mainland. The open-air rooms over the water have a chic Robinson Crusoe feel to them. Once again it’s not the Four Seasons but Cayo Espanto has an undeniable romantic charm. The hotel is one of the more premium places to stay, but even during the holiday season you generally won’t top $2k.

The Coppola Hotels

Francis Ford Coppola is one of the original celebrities to venture into the hotel business. His road from Oscar-winning director to hotelier however was not originally intentional. Instead, his hotels started out as private family homes which inspired writing retreats. Eventually, it made sense to develop Blancaneaux into a hotel, and the other properties followed suit. Of the hotels where to stay in Belize on our list, these are the most rustic luxury of the bunch. This means that a number of them have open-air tents with mosquito nets and no air conditioning. Coppola’s resorts epitomize the ethos of Belize; unspoiled, down-to-earth, and as close to nature as you can get.

Blancaneaux Lodge

Blancaneaux is located in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve of Belize, and there are times you feel like the last person on earth during your stay. The resort was once Coppola’s private retreat, and its 20 villas and cabanas overlook a creek with waterfalls. This is not a beach property, but rather a jungle experience. For horseback riders, they have a large stable with instructors who can take you out to explore. The food is good at Blancaneaux, which is a necessity because there aren’t really other places to eat in the area. Breakfasts are a highlight of the Blancaneaux experience. Lunch and dinners focus on local cuisine, and of course, they serve Coppola wines.

Rooms are open-air huts, so you hear the rushing water from the creek below. Before you think you’re sleeping fully in the wild, you do have mosquito nets that line the space between the roof and walls. You can also request mosquito nets over your bed. There really is something to hearing all the sounds of the water and wildlife from the jungle to put you into a deep sleep.

Turtle Inn

Turtle Inn is the Coppola beachfront property set on the Caribbean Sea near the fishing village of Placencia. The 25 individual thatched cottages are Balinese-inspired huts. There are also individual villas, some with and without air conditioning. In the theme of the Coppola properties, it’s all about the rustic luxury at Turtle Inn. You’re here for the water, and all of the activities like diving, snorkeling, and taking in what may be the best beaches in Belize. In an ode to the Coppola heritage, Mare Restaurant serves Italian cuisine.  The beachfront Gauguin Grill for a more casual fare that’s seafood-focused.

Itz’ana Resort & Residences

Itz’ana is the sister hotel to Ka’ana and its beachfront version. Located in the Placencia Peninsula, Itz’ana is also located on the mainland of Belize, in what many argue are the best beaches in the country. So activities at Itz’ana are focused on water, from paddle boarding to diving, snorkeling, and exploring the Barrier Reef. The benefit of the location is that it’s well-positioned for land-based exploration.  Nearby is the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary as well as the Mayan ruins.

Itz’ana is where to stay in Belize if you’re looking for a new hotel with modern luxury.  Rooms include beachfront lofts and lagoon-side villas, for those traveling with family and entourage. The style at Itz’ana is contemporary and serene and focused on clean lines and design. The food is also a draw. The resort’s signature restaurant is known for its farm-to-table and sea-to-table theme.

The spa is also notable. It’s inspired by the healing traditions of Belize and has a comprehensive program of treatments. Additionally, the yoga pavilion and infinity pool make this the retreat for those who want to stay in more tranquil luxury in Belize.


Ka’ana Resort

If you’re looking for a more contemporary, simple aesthetic and hotel with creature comforts without breaking the bank, Ka’ana is where to stay in the Belizean rainforest. Ka’ana Resort is in the Cayo District, near the town of San Ignacio, and gives off eco-vibes. It’s not the Four Seasons but it’s one of the more updated higher-end hotels. In fact, Ka’ana was a pioneer in many ways when they first opened, and paved the way for higher-end boutique hotels in Belize.

On property, La Ceiba Restaurant serves up Belizean and international cuisine. The ingredients are locally sourced, often from the resort’s own organic garden.

Las Terrazas

Las Terrazas is where to stay in Belize on Ambergris Caye if you’re looking for a modern hotel that is more boutique than Alaia. The service is personalized and there’s more of a Belizean vibe in the decor of the hotel. This is also where to stay if you want to have a kitchenette in your room, and residences run from 1,000 to 3,100 square feet for larger groups. A highlight of the hotel is the 70-foot pool that is the center of the hotel.

The Beach House

There are very few private villas that we would recommend in Belize, but the Beach house is one of them. We got clued into the Beach House by our partner Landed, the only team we’ll book Central and South American with. They have exclusive rights to rent the Beach House, which is the home of a designer who has worked for Gucci. In other words, this may just be the nicest place to stay in the entire country.

The Beach House has 4,000+ square feet and as its name implies, sits right on its own private beach near Placencia. The design is modern, with an open-plan living room, dining room, and kitchen.  The living room’s east side has floor-to-ceiling glass, with panoramic views of the Caribbean Sea.

The state-of-the-art kitchen, imported from Italy, and gives you an idea of the detail put into the design. There’s also a 50-foot mosaic infinity pool, a walled private garden, and a roof deck. Plan to get some QT with beach views, as the backyard has an outdoor dining area with a barbecue kitchen. Of course, this means that you have your own staff, including daily housekeeping and a chef who has serious skills in the kitchen.

Highlights

Once you figure out where to stay in Belize, then it’s time to really experience the country. The following are the highlights of any trip to Belize. One size does not fit all, but there is something for everyone.

1. Tikal

Tikal is actually in Guatemala but can be done as a day trip from your hotel on the mainland. Perhaps the most visually stunning of all Maya sites, Tikal’s five monolithic temples are iconic.  Temple IV reaches a height of almost 230 feet). Today the site is recognized as one of the archeological wonders of the Americas. Its unspoiled jungle setting within the Tikal National Park makes it the place for birders, nature lovers, and amateur archaeologists.

2. Caracol

Situated high on the Vaca Plateau deep in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve, Caracol is the most extensive Mayan site in Belize.  The site of Caracol covers over 80 square miles with 30,000 structures and at its peak supported a population in excess of 150,000. Situated at 1600 feet above sea level (one of the highest located sites of the southern uplands region) with no natural water body close by it remains a mystery why such a huge population center like Caracol evolved where it is. The drive to the site in the early morning occasionally allows guests to glimpse tapir, jaguar, or ocelot as they break their forest cover to cross the road.

In addition to Caracol, there are two additional notable Mayan temple sites:

  • Xunantunich: Featuring the impressive El Castillo pyramid.
  • Lamanai: Located on the New River Lagoon, Lamanai boasts a rich history and some of the most impressive ruins.

3. The Great Blue Hole

Part of the Lighthouse Reef System, the Great Blue Hole is a massive marine sinkhole that is popular among scuba divers. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Belize’s most iconic landmarks.

4. Belize Barrier Reef

The second largest coral reef system in the world, it’s home to a plethora of marine life and offers exceptional snorkeling and diving opportunities.

5. Caye Caulker

A relaxed, car-free island known for its laid-back vibe, clear waters, and water activities like snorkeling, diving, and windsurfing.

6. Ambergris Caye

The largest island in Belize, it’s a popular destination with beautiful beaches, a vibrant town in San Pedro, and close proximity to the Belize Barrier Reef.

7. Placencia Peninsula

A beach resort area known for its palm-lined beaches, it’s a great place to relax or embark on water-based adventures.

8. Barton Creek Cave

Accessible by canoe, this cave is filled with stalactites and remnants of ancient Mayan ceremonies.

9. Rio Frio Cave

Located in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, it’s one of Belize’s largest and most impressive caves.

10. Hopkins Village

A place to immerse in Garifuna culture, with drumming lessons, traditional foods, and dance shows.

11. Toledo District

Referred to as the ‘forgotten district’, you go to Toledo to take in a blend of cultures, including Maya, East Indian, and Garifuna. This is a less-touristy region offering unique experiences, from traditional Mayan chocolate-making to cacao farm tours.

Notable Restaurants

Ambergris Caye is the largest island in the country, which is why it is where to stay in Belize for those who want to be closer to the nightlife. This is not to say that there are shopping malls or even car traffic, as most people rent golf carts to get around. The main town of San Pedro is compact and with small gift shops that aren’t notable, but the restaurant scene is worth it to explore. The restaurants in San Pedro are some of the best eats in Belize.

Carumba Restaurant + Bar
Elvi’s Kitchen
Maxie’s Restaurant + Lounge
The Deck at Alaia

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