Enjoy Alaia Belize on the beach, at the pool, or under the sea.
Advertisement

There's something about arriving on a tiny prop plane that's the perfect beginning for a tropical island vacation. A rainbow in the distance during the flight was another good sign for my trip to Belize with a niece I hadn't seen in a while. We landed at the airport in the middle of San Pedro town, and within minutes we were at our hotel, Alaia Belize.

The new resort, a Marriott Autograph Collection property, is on the edge of the bustling town, with modern oceanfront buildings wrapped in glass-framed balconies. Bright green vertical plant walls contrast with the honey-colored wood and white facade. We sipped our welcome cocktails and peeked out at the expansive pool surrounded by lounge chairs, cabanas, and shaded seating areas with a swim-up bar and views of the beach. There's also a rooftop infinity pool cleverly outfitted with round windows on its bottom overlooking the entryway — many Instagram photos predicted.

Oceanview Vista One Bedroom Suite terrace at Alaia Belize
Credit: Courtesy of Alaia Belize
Beachfront 3 Bedroom Villa Terrace Plunge Pool at Alaia Belize
Credit: Courtesy of Alaia Belize

Our room — a spacious two-bedroom suite with a full kitchen, powder room, and a large patio with cushioned sofa, chair, and coffee table — offered views of the pool area and the sea. It was actually a studio and suite together, a feature of the resort that provides flexibility to combine rooms to accommodate families and groups. Oceanfront villas with plunge pools and houses with beachfront porches are other options, all steps from the sandy shore.

Dinner was at Sea Salt where we sat at an outdoor table facing the pool and devoured lobster flatbread, grilled lobster, and traditional Belizean rice and beans with stewed chicken. Breakfast the following morning was also superb, and even better than the food were the servers who remembered our names and looked after us so cheerfully. Guests can also grab a continental breakfast at Alaia Coffee Bar with muffins, pastries, and breads served along with specialty coffees. Casual beachfront restaurant The Deck serves seafood and pizza.

Oceanfront Reef House Two Bedroom Suite View at Alaia Belize
Credit: Courtesy of Alaia Belize

We were anxious to see more of San Pedro, so we hopped on a golf cart, like just about everyone else in town, for a tour and a visit to the Secret Beach. It's really not so secret after all, and even on a cloudy day, the beachfront lounges were filled with folks enjoying cocktails and snacks. On the way back, we stopped at The Truck Stop, a food park set in colorful shipping containers with music, a pool, beer garden, and outdoor games. We couldn't pass by the Belize Chocolate Company without dropping in for some handmade local candies and chocolate-flavored lip gloss for my niece.

Belize, once a British Crown colony known as British Honduras, was renamed in 1973 and gained full independence in 1981. Until recent years known mainly as a haven for expats and divers, Belize is coming into its own as a travel destination for its tropical scenery, warm hospitality, clear seas, and authentic island atmosphere. The Great Blue Hole and Belize Barrier Reef, the second largest coral reef system in the world, are beloved for diving, and on the mainland, the dense rainforest is a destination with its own distinct style.

Roof Top Pool & Lounge at Alaia Belize
Credit: Alejo Espana/Courtesy of Alaia Belize

Naturally, a snorkeling excursion was on our agenda, and the Dive Shop is conveniently located on Alaia's property. Guests can opt for scuba instructions in the nearby pool, but we were happy to explore the reef from the surface with a boat trip to Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley. We boarded with Jessie and Carlos, who provided all the equipment we needed and guided us as we snorkeled in the two areas. They were great fun for our group of four divers and four snorkelers, pointing out turtles, rays, octopus, and many huge sharks (that didn't need pointing out).

Our fellow sea explorers, Katie, Trent, Crystal, and Greg, were delightful couples from Kansas City celebrating a 40th birthday with college friends who were arriving later. When we met up with their group by the pool, we asked why they chose Belize for their get-together. Convenient flights from various cities in the U.S. was a factor, along with the new Marriott property and the snorkeling and diving. Andrea, the guest of honor, mentioned that Belize was a destination they had never visited, another one of the group's criteria.

We heard later about the private boat charter they took to Caye Caulker — an excursion I'll put on the itinerary for my next Belize trip. In addition to swimming with manatees, sharks, and colorful fish, they encountered a seahorse nursery. Ending their day at The Lazy Lizard was another hit.

We also spent our evening in style at the Piano Bar for a demonstration by expert mixologist Subhash. With equipment that resembled a science lab, a selection of house-made elixirs, premium spirits, and individually selected scents for smoking our cocktails, Subhash created exquisite aperitifs. Afterwards, we headed to the Vista Rooftop for sunset and dinner of sushi, chili prawns, and a few other Asian-inspired dishes.

Alaia facade from the beach
Credit: Courtesy of Alaia Belize

Our last day came too quickly — as it always does on vacation — and we had some time to explore San Pedro, starting with coffee and breakfast croissants at The Baker, a friendly spot nextdoor to Alaia, owned by Emily and Ken who moved to Belize from Ireland. Strolling along the street amid rumbling golf carts, bicycles, colorful buildings, shops, fruit stands, ads for local brew Belikin Beer, and the occasional stray dog, we got waves and greetings from just about everyone who passed by. The genuine warmth of Belizeans was noticeable not only at our hotel, but everywhere along the way.

On to the spa for afternoon massages — and COVID tests required for our return to the U.S. The massages were relaxing, soothing our infrequently used swimming muscles. Dinner was casual at local favorite, Elvi's Kitchen, with its sandy floor and delicious food. We also heard good things about seafood restaurants Caramba!, El Fogon, and Robin's Kitchen, a casual thatched-roof spot just steps from Alaia.

Belize has survived economic downtowns, 2016's Hurricane Earl, and COVID shutdowns, returning to welcome visitors with friendly island spirit. New resorts like Alaia Belize, already planning to expand in the near future, will let more visitors enjoy all the country has to offer.