Belize was on the top of my travel bucket list for a while. I heard so many great things so I finally booked a trip to see the best the country has to offer. I usually squeeze in so many activities on a trip that it’s rarely relaxing, but this trip was different. I spent eight days there and took my time to explore the country, soak in the sun, and relax at its finest resorts. Needless to say, I came back to Los Angeles feeling refreshed and with a beautiful Belizean tan.
I started off my trip inland in the small rustic town of San Ignacio. A lot of travelers don’t visit the mainland, but I would recommend it—you get an entirely different feel of the country. I arrived in Belize City and took a private shuttle (only $45!) to Saint Ignacio, which is two hours away from the airport. There’s a ton to do in Saint Ignacio including visiting the Mayan ruin sites of Xunantunich and Cahal Pech, jungle adventures like zip lining, cave tubing, and visiting the famous ATM Cave. Some of my highlights from Xunantunich and the ATM cave:
October is off-season for Belize, which means tourist attractions were quiet and practically empty. I ventured out to Xunantunich Mayan Ruins an hour before it closed and was the only one on the site. It was a peaceful magical experience; beautiful and serene. The only noises I heard were from the howler monkeys in the surrounding trees. I hiked to the top, parked it, and just spent some time taking in the breathtaking view.
ATM CAVE (Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave)
Visiting the ATM Cave was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. It is a Mayan cave discovered in the 80s and you are only permitted to enter with a certified guide (there are only 20 certified guides in the entire country of Belize). There are no cameras allowed (a few tourists ruined it for the rest of us a while back when they dropped camera equipment on human skeletal bones). The entire ATM Cave experience takes approximately four to five hours and is quite intense. After hiking through the jungle, crossing a few rivers, and finally arriving at the entrance of the cave, the only way to get inside is to swim. After swimming through the mouth of the cave, it’s two hours of climbing, swimming and squeezing through extremely tight crevices to get to the cave’s main chambers. All of the rocks inside the cave are crystalized, making the walls and ceilings sparkle. It is a breathtaking scene. The Mayans used the cave for sacrificial human offerings to the Gods, and as you walk through, you see hundreds of human bones and pottery that were used to fill with food and human blood. One of the things the cave is known for is a perfectly intact human skeleton from thousands of years ago. There are no glass cases to keep the artifacts in the cave preserved, and it is amazing that everything is untouched even until this day.
ISLAND OF CAYE CALKER
After two nights in San Ignacio, I headed to the island of Caye Caulker, which is more of a backpackers island with only small privately owned hotels and hostels. The island is very small and only a few miles long; you can easily walk from one end to another in 20-25 minutes. One night was definitely enough for me to get a good feel of the island, it’s a good place for young travelers on a budget. If you do travel to the island, make sure to check out The Split, a famous bar located on the tip of the island to meet and hang out with young travelers from all over the world. Tip: bring insect repellent, the mosquitos were out in full force.
El SECRETO RESORT AT AMBERGRIS CAYE
From Caye Caulker I headed to Ambergris Caye to stay at the beautiful El Secreto Resort. The resort is located on the north end of the island, approximately 11 miles north and a 25-minute boat ride from San Pedro town, the main port on Ambergris Caye. El Secreto is a secluded beachside resort with 13 luxury villas tucked far away from the rest of the island. Because October is low season for travel in Belize, the resort was quiet—at times it felt as if I was vacationing all by myself. I enjoyed three nights of much needed rest and relaxation in one of the resort’s beautiful lake villas with high ceilings, a spacious bathroom, outdoors shower, and private jacuzzi. The service was great and the resort staff was friendly and accommodating throughout my stay. They were very helpful in coordinating a snorkeling excursion and transportation to and from San Pedro. I spent my days by the beachside pool and bar and relaxed in my beautiful villa. To travel anywhere on the island from the resort you have to go by boat—there is nothing in walking distance. Because El Secreto is secluded, I was able to disconnect from any distractions and really enjoy my time at the resort. It was extremely relaxing and a great escape.
For the ultimate luxury experience, I spent the last two nights of my trip at Cayo Espanto, a five-star, world-class resort nestled on its own small private island off Ambergris Caye. I was picked up by boat from San Pedro Town on Ambergris Caye, and pulled right up to the dock of my own two bedroom villa, Casa Estrella. Upon arrival, I was greeted by the full staff and a signature cocktail, “The Espanto Wave.” From that moment on, I experienced hospitality at its finest and was blown away by the exceptional service and hospitality. There were two house butlers on call, day and night. The two bedroom duplex villa was absolute heaven—each bedroom featured ocean views, there was an open living area with panoramic ocean views, two spacious bathrooms, two private decks, and a heated private plunge pool on top of the water. During the day, our villa was open so I could take in the beautiful views and fresh ocean breeze, and the house butlers closed the walls and doors each night before dinner. The extremely talented and rotating resort chefs, Wilson Vasquez, Ezequiel Witz, Richard Gillett, and Jose Torres presented a menu before every meal and went above and beyond to accommodate anything we asked for. The dishes were so detail-oriented and beautifully crafted. I enjoyed every meal in the comfort of the villa. For my last meal, I had surf and turf, filet mignon and caribbean lobster during a candlelit dinner on the villa’s private beach while listening to a musician play the Spanish guitar under the stars.
The resort also chartered a boat for a private snorkeling excursion at Hol Chan Reserve, a marine reserve located off the coast of Ambergris Caye. I snorkeled and swam with turtles, nurse sharks, stingrays, dolphins, barracudas and beautiful tropical fish. If you don’t want to take an excursion off the island but you want to venture out of your villa during the day, the resort also has a small beach with non-motorized water sports equipment (like kayaks and paddle boards) out into the ocean. To top everything off, I enjoyed a relaxing massage in the villa on my last day, which was one of the best massages I’ve ever had. Cayo Espanto really epitomized five-star excellence and offers an experience of a lifetime.