Planning a trip to the Caribbean?
Belize has everything: great beaches, an abundance of watersports activities, crowd-pleasing land excursions, and rich cultural and culinary traditions.
Posted 10 months ago in Entertainment, updated 10 months ago.
For all of Belize’s cultural diversity—the country’s melting pot heritage is equal parts Mayan, Creole, Mestizo, Spanish, Lebanese, Chinese, British, Indian, and Mennonite—its tourism scene is surprisingly one-note. Nearly three-quarters of its 1.4 million annual visitors arrive by cruise ship, docking for just enough time to see the Altun Ha Mayan ruins, ride some zip lines, or go tubing through its famed Crystal Cave. And while a small clutch of luxury hotels exists—led by the pioneering, culinary-focused Copal Tree Lodge and the Coppola family’s private island retreat, Turtle Inn—Belize has suffered from a backpacker reputation that undermines its true Caribbean charms.
That’s changing. “When I started coming here 15 years ago, it was Birkenstocks and REI bags on the TropicAir flights,” says Beth Clifford, founder of the three-month-old Mahogany Bay Resort & Beach Club, referring to the 14-seat Cessna flights that are ubiquitous in Belize. “I just got off a TropicAir plane today and counted no fewer than three Louis Vuitton bags,” she adds. “The profile has changed entirely.”
Mahogany Bay is the first in a long string of luxury openings coming to Belize. It opened in December on the southeastern tip of Ambergris Caye, with a 70-acre beach club and exploration center for fly-fishing, spelunking, and scuba diving. Joining it soon are a farm-to-table project with solar-powered beachfront cottages, a Dream Hotels Group property adjacent to a jaguar preserve, and Leonardo DiCaprio’s wellness-focused eco-resort, Blackadore Caye.
All that growth shows no signs of stopping. By the time Four Seasons Caye Chapel opens in 2021 with 30 to 40 overwater bungalows on a private island, the country will be competing with the world’s hottest honeymoon destinations.
Four Seasons is leveraging an unheralded aspect of Belize’s topography: Off the country’s coast are 450 atolls that form a low-lying archipelago, similar to the Maldives or the South Pacific. This archipelago, however, is a five-hour flight from New York, a six-hour flight from Los Angeles, and an hour and a half from Miami. For Americans and South Americans, it’s a new destination next door.