Belize, the tiny Central American country, wedged between Guatemala and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, is blessed with virgin beauty. Vast, white-sand beaches host translucent, azure waters bearing the largest barrier reef in the world, after Australia. Two hours inland, dense rainforests and remote rivers shelter endangered species, many indigenous and unique to Belize, and conceal rich, historical Mayan sights. From the astonishing array of marine life to its dazzling display of jungle life, the Caribbean way of life completes the allure.
A plethora of uber-luxury properties is peppered throughout, offering serious R&R in thatched-roof finery. None finer than the two, multiple award-winning, ultra-luxury retreats of Hollywood film director, Francis Ford Coppola: Blancaneaux Lodge and Turtle Inn. Coppola is the Godfather of hoteliers in Belize. With ambitious vision and determination to match, decades ago he converted his private 70—acre home in the forest into an enchanted fairytale retreat, which consistently tops travel polls. He cleverly uses the subtlety and drama of nature to play on surrealism, stimulating the subconscious mind whilst pandering to every conscious desire.
Arrival at Blancaneaux is a fantasy. Nothing short of a film set, the dramatic hideaway is captivating, shrouded by the wonderland of the jungle-clad Cayo district. One ‘Jaguar Juice’ cocktail here is enough to stir wild senses. Twenty luxurious casitas are woven into surrounding tall, elegant, Honduras pine trees of the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve. The sun glimmers through the fine, lush needles in the hillside at dawn and dusk. Below, rainwater glides off granite boulders into swirling cascades of Privassion Creek, collecting in turquoise pools. Thunderous echoes of distant waterfalls and wild animals nibble at the senses. Outdoor and nature-lovers will delight in the rainforest. The soft limestone bed, under the damp exotic canopy of sail-like fronds and huge palms stretching skywards, is punctuated with caves and Cenotes; sunken water caves, which the ancient Mayans believed led to the underworld. Now, they’re whimsical swimming sanctuaries to challenge Enid Blyton’s imagination.
By dusk, I head to my haven, “Waterfall Spa.” The most incredible setting of any spa on the planet, an open-faced treatment room steps directly into a semi-circular, outdoor infinity pool, peering over cascading waterfalls and enveloped by dripping vegetation of tropical jungle. Before my Balinese massage I soak in the hot pool. Mist evaporates off the surface drifting downstream over natural sandy beaches on the banks of the gushing Creek.
After a few days in the rainforest, I leave to uncover a contrasting image of Belize. One hundred thirty miles away on the Caribbean Coast lies Placencia, a narrow, sleepy peninsula lined by idyllic, white sand beaches and azure seas. Understated, yet plush, Coppolla’s second property, Turtle Inn, is a labour of love. This beachside refuge attains luxury whilst embracing Belize nature. Behind an ultra-relaxed façade runs a slick operation, headed up by an unlikely candidate, at least upon initial meeting. Martin Krediet is the Johnny Depp in Coppola’s beach set, appearing in a white linen shirt, trilby hat and shorts. Our informal, friendly greeting in this blissful setting induces relaxation from the moment of arrival. That’s part of the charm of Turtle Inn and Martin assumes his role like a natural.
A handful of spacious, individual thatched cabanas are mere steps from the beach. I particularly delight in my airy private deck for the serene option of in-cottage breakfast. But with so much beauty outside, it’s difficult to find an excuse to stay inside. My preferred spot is the open beach bar for Champagne lunch. Dining on gourmet Red Snapper Burger or Garlic Butter Lobster, sipping Roederer, whilst feeling the powdery sand between my toes and listening to the motion of the sea just a metre away is, quite frankly, my idea of heaven.
Placencia is peaceful and relaxed. But when you’re ready for some action, the Northern Island of Ambergris Caye is the most popular spot in Belize. Famous for San Pedro town, of Madonna’s ‘La Isla Bonita’ fame, here the bars, restaurants, and cafes spill onto the beach. A seriously sexy mode of transport to Ambergris Caye is private helicopter ride with Astrum. My journey takes in glistening exquisite blues, greens, and every shade in between of the 190-mile barrier reef. Rising out of Belize City feels particularly Bond-esque and I can’t hide my excitement as I peer below my feet to glass-bottom views. Speckles of land litter the sea as a thousand dark dots amidst piercing cats eye water. From above, the ocean is translucent. I shriek as we spot a family of sharks and rays over the aptly-titled Shark Ray Alley, a very popular snorkelling diving spot. Gustavo flies low over Hol Chan Marine Reserve as we spot more sea-life, then shows off a 360 panorama right along the barrier reef as far as the eye can trace. A once-in-a-lifetime experience, this is a highlight of my Belize trip.
Arriving at ‘The Phoenix Resort‘, an award-winning oasis of luxury and privacy at the foot of San Pedro’s action, I’m left wanting for nothing in this Conde Nast Johansens recommended property. My sumptuous two-bedroom Caribbean Seafront apartment is loaded with the latest technology, utilities and with the luxury of massive space – 1500 sq ft – this is an ideal spot for the young, sassy, and demanding, with the best Concierge in town. San Pedro is as hedonistic as Belize gets. Even then, the party scene is easy-going and casual with waterfront clubs radiating more of a drop-in duck-out feel.
Luxuriating by the beach on my final evening, watching the sun melt into the sea, I’m startled at Belize. Rainforests to beaches, tiny planes to helicopters, and properties of effortless luxury and Caribbean warmth, this dot on the map nation encompasses everyone’s ideas of dream holiday. It’s a matter of time before Belize features highly on every traveler’s destinations of a lifetime.