The Honeymooner's Guide to Belize
The tiny Central American country of Belize is one of those unsung honeymoon destinations that offers a little bit of everything: jungle, beach, culture, adventure, diving, fishing, and more. Once you're there, it's hard not to get swept up in the country's natural beauty. Rainforests filled with broadleaf canopies provide shelter for exotic birds—and jaguars. Ancient Mayan ruins and deep underwater caves remain hidden among lush inland landscapes. And just off the coast is the Belize Barrier Reef, the largest system of its kind in the northern hemisphere (second only in size to Australia's Great Barrier Reef). This aquatic paradise is teeming with fish, colorful corals, and incredible dive sites like the Blue Hole, a naturally forming giant sinkhole once explored by Jacques Cousteau.
With average temperatures at a perfectly subtropical 80 degrees Fahrenheit, there's never a bad time to visit. Though there are two distinct seasons: The dry season, which runs from December to May, and the green or rainy season, from June to November. Whenever you decide to go, getting to Belize from the U.S. will be easy: There are round-trip nonstop flights from Atlanta, Houston, and Miami into the capital, Belize City. From there, it will be a quick drive, boat ride, or puddle-jumper flight to your chosen destination. Most travelers combine jungle and beach experiences, spending three nights in the Cayo or Toledo District with three nights on the white sands of Ambergris Caye or the Placencia Peninsula.
With so many secluded jungle lodges and bungalow-style beach resorts to choose from, It will be hard narrowing down to just one or two, but don't stress—a honeymoon-worthy experience is guaranteed no matter where you go.
The Cayo District
With its jungle flora and fauna, waterfalls, rivers, naturally forming pools, and giant cave systems, the central Cayo District is Belize's premier destination for eco-adventures. The region is also home to ancient Mayan ruins: Cahal Pech, El Pilar, Xunantunich, and Caracol, the country's most significant archaeological site. It's an easy first stop after landing in Belize City; most lodges provide ground transportation directly from the international airport.
GAÏA Riverlodge is an exclusive 14-room hideout in Belize's verdant Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. You'll have spectacular jungle views from the hilltop location above the Five Sisters waterfalls, which flow continuously from the Privassion River. That chirping you hear? That's just some of the 450 species of exotic birds floating among the jungle treetops. Another great option is Blancaneaux Lodge, one of two lodges originally founded by legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. When Coppola bought the property in the 1980s, it was totally abandoned; now, it's a 20-room thatched-roof escape with its own organic garden.
Most of your dining will take place at the lodge (there aren't tons of restaurants the middle of the jungle, after all!), but if you want a taste of the local culture, arrange a day trip to the nearest town, San Ignacio. After a one-hour drive, you'll pull onto Burns Avenue, the main thoroughfare. Take a leisurely walk around town before settling into a table at Guava Limb, a tiny restaurant in two-story, turquoise building with a cute outdoor garden. Organic ingredients for eclectic international dishes, like Indonesian stir-fried vegetables, Thai satay chicken lettuce wraps, and mango-flavored grilled pork chop, are sourced from the restaurant's own 32-acre farm in the Macal River valley.
Adventures abound in Cayo: You can zip-line through the jungle, swim in towering waterfalls, canoe through darkened river systems (Barton Creek Cave), and go cave-repelling in crazy black holes like Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave. Make time for a day trip to majestic Caracol, the largest Mayan archaeological site in Belize, located deep in the Chiquibul Forest. Your hotel can also arrange horseback-riding excursions and guided hikes in national parks, such as Mayflower Bocawina National Park, Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, Shipstern Nature Reserve, and Río Bravo.
Just 25 miles long and less than five miles wide, this tiny island packs a lot of appeal into a small amount of space. Nearly every tourist to Belize makes a stop on its crown jewel caye, covered in miles of beaches and a tangled web of inland mangroves. Access is easy: Either take a water taxi or a quick commuter flight into the town of San Pedro.
Ambergris Caye is filled with adorable eco-retreats, but couples who want an upscale yet laid-back experience seek out Matachica. Each of the 31 colorful, thatched-roofed bungalows has a unique design, with hand-picked artwork and furniture. It will be hard to leave the resort's chill vibes, but it's worth it when you book a private sandbar for the day. Expect to live out your castaway fantasies when you're dropped on a secluded spit of sand for an afternoon, blissfully surrounded by turquoise waters and Belizean blue skies. (Pack your strongest SPF; you're right near the equator.)If you prefer a more amenity-packed ambiance, try the new Mahogany Bay Resort & Beach Club. With 205 cottages and villas spread across 60 acres of tropical foliage, plus a marina, activity concierge, shops, and some 10 restaurants/bars, Mahogany Bay is like its own mini village (in fact, they have their own so-called "townlet"). Couples have access to an Insta-worthy, 15,000 square-foot pool at the resort's Bay Club and also a private white-sand beach at the Beach Club, just a short boat ride from the on-site marina. No matter where you choose to while away the day, don't miss sunset craft cocktails at the mixology bar, Stirred.
Head into the town of San Pedro for freshly caught snapper and Peruvian ceviche at Wild Mango's or spicy shrimp and twice-baked potatoes at Black Orchid Restaurant. After lunch, walk off your meal on a lap around the cute fishing village. Be sure to stop by Belizian Arts, an intimate gallery selling colorful paintings, textiles, and sculptures by Belizean and Caribbean artists.
The Belize Barrier Reef is just a few hundred yards from Ambergris Caye's eastern shore. Access to dive sites is extremely easy—depending on your departure point, the boat ride could take as few as 10 minutes. Couples would be remiss not to explore world-famous underwater sites including Turneffe, the Blue Hole, Shark Ray Alley, and Hol Chan Marine Reserve.
The charming Creole fishing village of Placencia is set on the tip of a narrow, 26-mile-long sandy peninsula. Home to just a few eco-chic resorts, Placencia is a low-key hideout fronting the Caribbean Sea and the Belize Barrier Reef to the East.
Coppola Hideaway's Turtle Inn (sister to Blancaneaux Lodge) is a luxury beachfront resort with 25 individual, thatched cottages, decorated with handcrafted Balinese furnishings and naturally cooled by the ever-present sea breezes. Also in Placencia is the new Itz'ana Resort and Residences, with custom interiors by famed New York City-based designer Samuel Amoia. Each space has a fun tropical-chic aesthetic and gorgeous Caribbean Sea views. If you book a One Bedroom Solar Cottage, your two-story room will even float on top of the water. Lounge by the negative-edge pool, dine at the reef-to-table restaurant Limilia, or book an adventure in town or the jungle.
Set aside at least one day for a trip into the charming fishing village of Placencia. There, you can listen to live music and sip Belikin, the local beer, at Yoli's Bar and Grill (523-3183) or dine on Yucatan-spiced chicken or slow-cooked pork tacos at Rumfish y Vino.
Ride bikes into Placencia to check out local artisan shops, arrange a tour a local banana farm, or just hang on-property. Couples staying at Turtle Inn can book an hour-long wine tasting at the resort's new "wine aquarium," a wall-to-wall glass-encased wine cellar holding more than 1,200 bottles from Coppola wineries in Napa and Sonoma, along with vintages from Chile, Argentina, Italy, and France.
Toledo District, in the Deep South of Belize, is home to the country's most extensive rainforest, where wildlife, including jaguars, margays, tapirs, and tropical birds, live beneath a canopy of trees. It's also one of the best places to experience Belize's rich Mayan heritage: Maya people have lived here for centuries, and dozens of extant Mopan and Ket'chi villages provide a window into contemporary Maya culture.
Set on a high hill above the Rio Grande River, Copal Tree Lodge is an exclusive hideout nestled among flora and fauna. From the screened-in porch of your spacious canopy or jungle suite, you'll have sweeping rainforest views, with the Gulf of Honduras in the distance (and likely Howler monkeys for neighbors). Everywhere you turn, you're surrounded by nature—whether you hang by the infinity pool, take a tram car down to the river, or explore the Laughing Falcon Reserve, a 12,000-acre private nature reserve, on a safari-like Jeep adventure.
Toledo isn't as established a tourist destination as other parts of Belize, so most of your dining will take place at the resort. But that's a good thing: Copal Tree produces more than 70 percent of its food on-site, so culinary experiences abound. Guests can tour the extensive organic gardens that grow everything from sugar cane to cacao and coffee beans, tended to by local people (who even occasionally forage the rainforest for wild foods such as heart of cohune palm). You can also check out the Cocktail Garden—where the limes, coconuts, exotic fruits, and fresh herbs, were cultivated for those mojitos and you drank last night at Rum Bar—or sign up for a chocolate course to learn the organic "bean to bar" process.
Southern Belize is a world-renowned permit fishing territory, routinely sought out by advanced anglers. But beginners will also love spending a day fishing the flats, casting for tarpon and snook among rivers and mangroves, or heading out to the white-sand beaches of the Sapodilla Cayes looking for bonefish. But note that since the majority of fishing takes place in protected marine reserves and national parks, you'll have to catch and release.