This outpost on Ambergris Caye offers barefoot access to the Belize Barrier Reef via beachside hotels, where the spa menus are as superlative as the marine life.
Belize’s biggest island, Ambergris Caye, juts out from Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula like a thumb – fringed with narrow coconut palm beaches, lapped by gentle turquoise waves, and protected from the open Atlantic by extensive coral reefs. San Pedro village sits in the island’s far south. Here, bicycles and golf carts are the only traffic on sandy streets, and the island boasts the country’s broadest choice of beach and spa hotels.
San Pedro’s grand old dame is still hard to beat – occupying an enviable position on the beach at its broadest point, with a pool perfectly positioned for sunrise, and a slew of comfortable rooms (some with private plunge pools) and suites in lush hardwood. The resort’s restaurant is the best in San Pedro, and the spa sits on a pier, offering massages and body scrubs to the soothing sound of the waves.
With no guests under 16, Matachica caters principally for courting couples. The intimate, palm-thatch cabañas (set in shady flower-filled gardens on the waterfront) are elegantly appointed – with big beds, crafty wicker furniture, raw-wood tables and folk art on the whitewashed walls. Guests spend time diving, snorkeling and relaxing by the pool (to the sound of the ocean and piped music) and in the spa which offers a range of food-themed body scrubs (banana, papaya, coffee-grounds), and aromatherapy oil massages by the sea.
Bright white wooden rooms (with mahogany floors and vast sundecks), luxuriant tropical foliage, intimate low-key lighting and an al fresco restaurant serving sizzling seafood… San Pedro’s Hilton may be a big, brand-name hotel, but it still manages to feel Belizean. The beach is a walk away but the hotel has one of San Pedro’s biggest pools, a breezy all-white spa pavilion and sunlounger-lined decks, dotting Ambergris Caye’s ankle-shallow lagoon.
Courtesy of Pelican Reef Villas Resort / Expedia.com
Even families won’t feel crowded in the two- or three-bedroom villas at Pelican Reef. The resort’s infinity pool melts into the ocean horizon and while the hotel has no standalone spa, massages are available on the beach for an al fresco wellness experience that’s more in keeping with back-to-nature Belize. Snorkeling, sailing and scuba diving excursions also help your shoulders unfurl.
At Cayo Espanto, you get a villa on a football-field-sized caye, shared with a few other guests. Stays are undoubtedly luxurious: huge rooms open entirely to the ocean views, a butler meets all your needs and the restaurant delights in over-water dining. But still the massage menu is extensive: manicures, pedicures, facials, scrubs, aromatherapy, hot stones, reflexology and more. The best are the Mayan coffee scrubs and cocoa wraps, and coconut and ginger polishes.
The Phoenix is beautiful to look out from: with wonderful ocean views from the wrap-around balconies that front the vast and well-equipped suites. While there’s no beach out front, there are plenty of tours on offer and the spacious, well-run Sol spa has air-cooled treatments rooms for therapeutic, long-stroke massages, Maya-inspired treatments and modish lime-margarita scrubs. Yogis will love the free weekly stretching sessions, too.
The low-rise, luxurious whitewashed houses at Las Terrazas look like sugar cubes scattered along the beach. Each is a home in its own right – with full kitchens, large dining and bedrooms fronted with wall-to-ceiling glass. The best face the ocean – and the rising sun, which spills warm light into the interiors each morning. The resort’s serenity spa offers al fresco massages under the palms – best booked before siesta hour for the ultimate afternoon nap.
Set under the palms right on the beach, with a pool next to the ocean and good-value rates, there’s plenty to like about Bella Vista. The rooms to book are the wooden casitas: set in a sandy tropical garden, they’re simple (with small bedrooms and living rooms, furnished with bamboo side-tables and gray sofas and lounge chairs), but with their relaxing verandas and shutter-board sides, all they lack to be genuinely Belizean is a granny knitting in a rocking chair. Massages are available beachside or in the rooms.
These condo-style houses clustered in a palm grove by the beach have plenty of space for up to six guests. Each comes with a kitchen, one or two bathrooms, and duplex sundecks with Adirondack chairs. There’s an onsite tour operator and the spa – set in a palapa on the beach – has a menu of treatments, such as herb-infused body wraps, soothing aloe-based treatments and seaweed scrubs.
Ramon’s rustic, thatched-roof cabañas (each with tiled floors, cream walls, modest furnishings and a small patio) and his larger, more plushily appointed suites, sit in a jungly garden, fluttering with hummingbirds. It’s a great location – next to the beach and close to San Pedro’s bars and restaurants – yet secluded enough for intimacy. The in-house agency has some of the best dive excursions in San Pedro and the spa sits right on the sand beside the Caribbean Sea in an open-sided palm-thatched palapa.
The best reason to stay at the Sunbreeze are the concessions you get at the in-house dive shop, Hugh Parkey’s – one of Belize’s best. When you’re not out exploring the barrier reef, snaking down Shark Alley or heading off for night dives, you’ll be pleased to discover the hotel also sits right on the beach (with plenty of sun-lounging space and a palm-shaded pool), a short walk from San Pedro’s bar life, and has Delmey’s spa for excellent massages and scrubs.