Belize’s Caribbean coast offers accommodations for all budgets. On our visit to Caye Caulker–and later, the better-known Ambergris–Shon and I stayed in two spots, Yuma’s House (above; left) and El Secreto Resort (above; right), that cater and cater well to travelers at opposite ends of the spending spectrum.
In Caye Caulker, we slept in cheap hostels, our preferred choice being the above-mentioned Yuma’s House. It was simple but clean and comfortable—a colorful wood house with first- and second-floor rooms facing a sandy yard, the police station next door, and the lightly lapping waves of the Caribbean.
Its real selling point, though, was the turbo-jet fan in our small room that kept temperatures cool, mosquitoes at bay, and outside noise near non-existent. Yuma’s had the added benefit of being located near the ferry docks for Ambergris Caye and Belize City, too, which meant we didn’t have to lug our bulky backpacks far upon arriving on Caye Caulker by boat.
After a handful of days of sting rays, sharks, and lobster we said ciao to Caye Caulker and headed to Ambergris Caye, Belize’s largest isle, dubbed “la isla bonita” (the beautiful island). We spent three days on Ambergris, and indeed it was a beaut, but what made our visit truly memorable (apart from a life-changing lobster burrito that I’ll get to in another post) was where we had the opportunity to bed down while there—El Secreto Resort.
Surrounded by little more than the Caribbean Sea and a scrub- and palm-filled coastal forest, the approximately one-year-old El Secreto is located on Ambergris’s remote northern end and has luxury down pat. Granted, I’m easily pleased. The boutique resort is accessed only by boat, and when Mario, our super-friendly speedboat driver came to pick us up in San Pedro (Ambergris’s one and only town) in a spiffy little number replete with ice-cold Belikins, I was pretty much smitten with the property then and there.
We arrived at the resort after an exhilarating 30-minute ride up Ambergris’s coast and disembarked, windswept and salty, at the end of a long wood pier. Welcome cocktails greeted us as we checked in under a giant palapa, rumored to be the largest in Belize.
The sandy, palm-studded, and lightly landscaped property comprises 13 thatched-roof villas, each with its own plunge pool, outdoor shower, and über-chic interiors: Think beautiful tropical woods; crazy-comfy, king-size beds; cavernous bathrooms; plenty of marble; and state-of-the-art technology. An iPhone allowed us to program the temperature, TV, music, and lighting in our villa with a few quick taps. (This may not sound novel to visitors from places like the States, but for someone like me, coming from Guatemala with a flip-phone à la 1996, it seemed like magic. Again, easily pleased.)
Villas sit on the beach, in a tropical garden area (which is where ours was), and around a small, salt-water lake. We spent much of our time in the plush, air-conditioned confines of our abode (the ginormous bed was surprisingly unromantic, as after having shared a pint-size mattress in Guatemala for two years, Shon and I became equally territorial about our respective halves of the bed–“Put a single toe on my side, and I WILL break it!”) and by the resort’s pool, too, which boasted quintessential Caribbean views and over-water hammocks for lounging. (There is a beach, but sea grass–which cannot be removed per Belizean law–sways just under the water’s surface, making wading in a bit slimy.) A small poolside bar provided a good stream of good cocktails, with the coconut mojito taking the prize.
The resort offered complimentary sea kayaks, a hobby cat, and beach cruisers, and one evening we set out to explore the area north of El Secreto with the latter. I’m agile on my feet but rather bad on a bike and wasn’t too excited about the prospect of wheeling through soft sand and dried sea grass. It wasn’t easy. This section of Ambergris is quite remote, and there were few well-worn paths to follow. Nevertheless, it was an entirely worthwhile adventure for the beautiful photo ops and a handful of stingray sightings.
The fact that El Secreto is so far removed from the San Pedro area is both a blessing and a curse. Travelers craving quiet and calm will revel in the property’s remote location. Those wanting to see more of Ambergris and who prefer easy access to an assortment of restaurants, bars, and shopping options may feel stuck. We lucked out and were able to head to and from San Pedro each day with staff and guests who were either arriving or departing. (If no boat is leaving, you have to pay for a private ride.)
With regards to food options, guests are a bit limited, too, as there is only one on-site eatery. We ate there our first night (a fine but pricey meal); the subsequent two days, we enjoyed late lunches in San Pedro and then cocktails and Belikins at El Secreto for dinner. Not a bad thing in the least.
Although firmly planted at opposite ends of the price scale, El Secreto and Yuma’s House are great picks for travelers looking to either save or splurge on two of Belize’s most popular islands.