On such a wintery day, I can’t help but daydream about my recent whirlwind trip to Ambergris Caye, a small island off the northeastern coast of Belize—a place so consistently warm that residents easily (and even somewhat wistfully) recall in detail the one day of the year they wore a sweater. I was there to check out a hotel for T+L’s “40 Secret Beach Hideaways” (March 2010), and expected to spend most of my time stretched out on a white sand beach, piña colada in hand. The island, after all, is only 25 miles long and one mile wide. And while I did my fair share of reclining, I was surprised—and thrilled—to discover how many activities are available to the traveler. Here’s my short list for how to best explore the island and its surroundings.
STAY The six thatched-roof casitas at the beachfront Xanadu Island Resort consist of 19 one-, two-, and three-bedroom suites, each appointed with plush sofas, full kitchens, and private balconies that look out on the Caribbean Sea. The small staff is both friendly and attentive. (San Pedro; 011-501/226-2814; $190)
EAT Be sure to try the excellent huevos rancheros at Estel’s, an easy to miss, white-and-aqua breakfast spot with wooden tables, a chalkboard menu, and a sand floor that spills onto the beach. (501/226-2019; breakfast for two $20)
DO Arrange a three-hour snorkeling excursion with local guide Alfonse Graniel to Hol Chan—teeming with rainbow parrot fish, loggerhead turtles, and octopus, it’s the second largest barrier reef in the world. (San Pedro; 501/226-2814; from $25)
DO On the mainland, check out Mayan ruins (the largest pyramid at Xunantunich or “Stone Woman” rises 130 feet above the plaza, pictured above) and then go cave tubing on a half- or full-day excursion with Ed’s Eco Tours. Along the way, the very knowledgeable Edward Allen points out rare bird (Jabiru stork) and plant species. (Belize City; 501/601-1982; from $150)
EAT There are several good dinner options in the main town of San Pedro, which has just three colorful main streets (aptly named Front, Middle, and Back), but I especially enjoyed the atmosphere at the open-air Hidden Treasure restaurant, set about five minutes south of town. With a bamboo fence, a dark wood walkway lined with torches, and a traditional menu (I had the seafoord ceviche, Butterfly lobster, and coconut pie), it’s the perfect ending to a full day. Just don’t forget bug spray! (501/226-4111; dinner for two $60).
Bree Sposato is an assistant editor at Travel + Leisure.
Read T+L’s Guide to Belize Hotels for more Belize lodging ideas.