• Damien Martin

Destination spotlight: Belize


Belize might not be a large country, even by Central American standards, but there are so many layers it’s worth a deep dive — and not just into the Great Blue Hole, which none other than Jacques Cousteau declared one of the best SCUBA sites in the world.


The Maya thrived here, and there are temples and other archaeological sites throughout the country proclaiming their majesty through the ages. When Europeans arrived, the Spanish first then the English lay claim to the territory. As a result Belize's culture lines up with the rest of Central America, but with English as an official language.


Rivers crisscrossing through the country serve as highways and conduits for kayaking and canoeing. Underground and even underwater, extensive cave systems facilitate endless exploration. There’s even a small mountain range good for hiking and watching a few of Belize’s 500-plus bird species. Offshore, there’s 185 miles of barrier reef supplying outstanding diving and snorkeling.


Of the five Virtuoso properties in the country, none has more than 34 rooms. They’re intimate windows into the ecological wonders that make Belize a slice of paradise linking the Caribbean and Latin America.


COVID entry protocols

Belize is now accepting proof of full immunization at least two weeks before arrival. Otherwise, visitors must show proof of a negative PCR test taken within 96 hours of departure to Belize, or a negative rapid test taken within 48 hours of departure. Without proof, visitors will take a test at the airport on arrival, waiting there for results and paying $50 for the test. Visitors must also download and complete the Belize Health App within 72 hours of arrival.


Where to stay

Royal Belize

On a private 7.5-acre island nine miles off the coast in the South Water Caye Marine Reserve World Heritage site, Royal Belize is the only luxury island in Belize rented exclusively to one guest party at a time. Holding as many as 16 guests in five luxury villas and a bunkhouse, the hotel is all-inclusive and fully staffed with a private chef and concierge. Every day is a celebration at Royal Belize, complete with a sunset Champagne toast. Any adventure is possible, from helicopter rides to snorkeling the largest living barrier reef, to zipping around on Jet Skis. Discover pure luxury in a barefoot-casual atmosphere.


Blancaneaux Lodge

Francis Ford Coppola's secluded mountain retreat, Blancaneaux Lodge is every bit as dramatic and inspiring as one might hope. Guests choose from an array of luxuriant accommodations, including the owner's villa, with its open-air living area, and the peaceful riverfront cabanas, with their decks overlooking the waterfalls of Privassion Creek. Active types enjoy riding horseback to hidden falls, hiking, exploring caves, and “discovering” hidden Mayan cities. Of course, there are myriad spa treatments, a swimming pool, a hot tub, and two gourmet restaurants (Montagna and Guatemaltecqua) to boot.


Cayo Espanto

Just a two-hour flight from Miami, Atlanta, Charlotte, or Houston, a private island paradise awaits. Cayo Espanto is home to seven intimate villas, all overlooking the Caribbean – pampering guests with a private plunge pool, an exceptional private chef, and a personal houseman. If you can tear yourself away from these sybaritic accommodations, take advantage of the sea kayaks and sailboats, full-service spa, world-class fly-fishing for tarpon and bonefish, tours of Mayan ruins, jungle trips, and stellar snorkeling along the world's second-longest barrier reef. Full island rental is available for the most decadent vacations.


Las Terrazas Resort & Residences

The only Virtuoso property on Belize’s largest island, Las Terrazas is one of the Caribbean’s best-kept secrets. Some of the region’s finest snorkeling and diving lie off the resort’s white sands, including Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley – and an on-site, five-star PADI dive center lets you take full advantage. The look is comfortably chic; the ambience, discreet and low key. Choose from a variety of layouts with the 37 roomy, residence-style accommodations, each featuring a full-size kitchen and free Wi-Fi. The colorful, inviting O restaurant serves up the freshest of food in Ambergris Caye's premier dining experience.


Turtle Inn

Francis Ford Coppola has lovingly overseen every detail of Turtle Inn’s creation, using materials available in Belize’s tropical region. Today, it’s a hideaway praised for its rustic elegance and every imaginable indulgence. The seafront villas are prized features, with their screened porches, spacious living rooms, and private walled gardens. When you’re not “on siesta,” consider becoming a certified diver, swimming in either of the two infinity-edge pools, snorkeling, kayaking, or indulging in your choice of three restaurants. Excursions are available to the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, the world’s only jaguar preserve.

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