Slowing down by the sea in Ambergris Caye, Belize

By: Mauri Elbel
July, 2022

Beneath the shade of a thatch-roofed palapa perched over the Caribbean Sea on Ambergris Caye, Belize, I listen to nature’s soft symphony of rustling palms and gentle waves. A cool sea breeze blows through the wooden open-air structure, fanning my husband and me during a blissfully relaxing couple’s massage at Victoria House Resort and Spa

We’ve just checked into this private Caribbean paradise on the shores of Ambergris Caye, the most northern and largest of around 450 cayes (pronounced keys) found off the coast of Belize, which is located on Central America’s northeastern coast just south of Mexico and east of Guatemala. 

With over 36 different treatments, there’s plenty of options for relaxation at Victoria House Resort and Spa, including massages in a palapa perched above the ocean. Photo by Mauri Elbel

As I breathe in the intoxicating combination of essential oils and salty sea air, I can literally feel my tension and stress drift away with the tide. In this moment of much-needed Zen, I’m finding it hard to believe we almost canceled this trip. 

The day before our Belize anniversary vacation we’d been looking forward to for months, I fell hard enough during my morning run to land myself in urgent care. Thankfully, no bones were broken, but a severely sprained left ankle and a sutured-up right knee turned my 7-minute mile pace into a painfully slow hobble that made walking across my house –– not to mention multiple airports –– an excruciating chore.

I had been mentally mapping out our adventures for weeks, which included everything from diving the Belize Barrier Reef (the world’s second largest barrier reef at 185 miles long) to underground cave tubing (Belize is home to the largest cave system in Central America). Both would be difficult, if not impossible, with a boot on one leg and compression bandaging on the other.

But, as my husband eagerly argued, this might just be our one rare chance to relax and recuperate in Caribbean paradise –– the kind of vacation he always dreams about but my jam-packed, see-and-do-everything itineraries never allow us to do. And after the strand of stressful months we’ve had, I couldn’t argue with his logic: Resting up and healing by the sea sounded like the best possible medicine. 

So early on the morning of our 18th anniversary, we sent our kids off to grandparent camp and we headed to the airport, my husband rolling our carry-ons containing nothing but beach attire and books in one hand and lending me his other arm for a make-shift crutch. 

Days are made for relaxing at Victoria House Resort and Spa. Photo by Mauri Elbel

Sometimes life has a way of slowing us down and forcing us to reset, and I couldn’t have dreamed up a more idyllic spot for doing just that than our week spent at Victoria House Resort and Spa. 

RELATED: Dreaming of a Virgin Islands Vacation? Tips for Traveling to St. John 

After landing in Belize City, we joined a dozen other passengers and boarded a Tropic Air flight – a tiny commuter plane that looks and feels more like flying in a minivan than an aircraft. Before taking off, a friendly Tropic Air attendant encouraged us to go sit down, relax and drink a Belikin (the most famous Belizean beer) while he made arrangements for our hotel to pick us up upon arrival. 

A window seat view from Tropic Air’s commuter flight to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, Belize. Photo by Mauri Elbel

After a smooth, scenic and short (less than 15 minutes) flight, we landed in sun-drenched San Pedro, the main settlement on the 25-mile-long and narrow Ambergris Caye, affectionately known to Belizeans as “La Isla Bonita.” Ambergris Caye stretches along Belize Barrier Reef and serves as the country’s diving and snorkeling epicenter where you’ll discover a blend of large-scale tourism and raw island charm. 

Located on the southeastern shore of Ambergris Caye just two miles south of San Pedro, Victoria House Resort and Spa is a long-standing, elegant oceanfront paradise where romantic thatched roof casitas and luxurious villas dot lushly landscaped grounds sitting before a broad sugar-sand, palm-shaded beach studded with plush lounge chairs and hammocks strung between trees. We spent most mornings and evenings on the beautiful beach, reading books, taking naps or sipping rum drinks served oceanside.

Stay in a romantic thatched roof casita with views of the Caribbean sea at Victoria House Resort and Spa. Photo by Mauri Elbel

The resort also boasts two palatial pools, including a more secluded and shaded infinity edge pool set back from the property where we spent most afternoons. The resort has a fitness center, which I never set a sprained foot in, as well as a sprawling 3,500-square-foot full-service spa offering three dozen treatments ranging from massages and acupuncture to pedicures and facials, which I entered on several occasions and was highly impressed by each time.

Writer Mauri Elbel soaks in the scenery from the infinity edge pool at Victoria House Resort and Spa. Photo by Travis Albrecht

Home to the five-star Palmilla Restaurant as well as Admiral Nelson’s Bar, Victoria House Resort and Spa guests never have to leave the property to indulge in chef-driven, locally-sourced, Belizean-inspired breakfasts, lunches and dinners. While I’ll admit I don’t typically like to eat at the same resort day after day, we were blown away at every meal served to us by the friendliest staff, and we never repeated a single dish the entire week. A few favorites included the mouthwatering ceviche yucateco and cassava chips; smoked snapper tamale with caramelized plantain and creamy avocado sauce; and the savory herb/cashew/jalapeno-crusted grouper topped with blackened shrimp and set atop a cauliflower puree. 

The ceviche yucateco appetizer served at Victoria House Resort & Spa blends octopus, shrimp, red onion, tomato, cilantro, roasted habanero sauce, lime and olive oil in one colorfully delicious dish. Photo by Mauri Elbel

RELATED: Traveling to Puerto Rico just got breezier

This was the first trip I can remember taking where I never set an alarm, slipped my feet into running shoes or followed a detailed itinerary, and I have to admit, it was such a reprieve to succumb to island time and heal to the soothing rhythms of the waves. And while we had to pass on the more arduous adventures on offer, we still found a lot of fun in the easily accessible ones. 

An Instagram worthy photo awaiting in San Pedro. Photo by Mauri Elbel

One day we rented a golf cart from the resort –– the primary mode of transportation throughout Ambergris Caye –– and set out to explore the sights and shops of San Pedro. On busy days, an endless parade of golf carts fills the sandy streets of San Pedro, which are lined with colorful wooden houses, fresh fruit stands, oceanside restaurants and shops. We spent the day stopping off and shopping for sweet and scented souvenirs for our kids at popular shops like the Belize Chocolate Company, which makes craft chocolate from Belizean cacao beans grown on small family farms in southern Belize, and Belizean Breezes, a hand-poured soap company boasting creatively named products like fruity-smelling “Monkey Farts” soap bars and bath bombs. Shops and restaurants accept U.S. and Belize dollars, and the typical exchange rate is two Belize dollars for every U.S. dollar. When we were thirsty, we’d drink a cold Belikin beer at an oceanside bar. When we were hungry, we stopped off for seafood snacks washed down with fruity rum drinks at Palapa Bar and Grill, a laid-back over-the-water hangout.

Secret Beach is no secret, but it’s a must-do on Ambergris Caye. Located on the west side of the island, most everything else is on the east side, but it’s worth the long and bumpy golf cart ride. Photo by Mauri Elbel

Another day, we voyaged out to Secret Beach. While there’s nothing at all secret about this beach, it does require a strong will (and stomach) to brave the bumpy, nearly hour-long golf cart ride to get there. On stunning Secret Beach, beachgoers can lounge in a hammock, lay back in a lounge chair or sit around a picnic table in the water as long as they are ordering drinks from the beach bars that own them. We rented our own private oversized inflatable shaded structure ($10 per hour) floating in the crystal-clear water to soak in the bumping beach scene from the sea. Every so often, one of the servers would motion to us asking if we’d like another round of drinks and then wade out into the water to deliver them to us.

A full day of fishing and snorkeling on a private boat can be arranged from Victoria House Resort and Spa. Photo by Mauri Elbel

We spent our last full day on the island my very favorite way: on a boat in the ocean. Victoria House boasts an array of excursions that can all be arranged for you and tailored to your specific desires. We opted for a private full-day snorkeling and beach barbecue adventure and sped off bright and early with two local guides, Francisco Verde (known as Pancho) and his first mate, Sergio. I’m pretty sure we spent more time “fishing” for bait –– medium-sized sardines found swimming in schools along the mangroves of the surrounding cayes –– than it took to actually catch the fish. But once we had a bucketful of bait, we headed to a few of Pancho’s lucky spots. Our hooks were baited, our lines were cast, and we received patient instructions on when to set the hook and reel in the fish. As soon as my line was thrown in, I’d reel in a fish (my husband wasn’t as lucky), but we stopped as soon as we had enough for the four of us to eat lunch, plus a few more for our guides to take home for dinner.  

While my husband and I searched for shells on a deserted beach and sipped sparkling rose in the shade of the sea grapes, Sergio and Pancho were hard at work on the boat preparing a delicious lunch they then swam to the beach. From the fish we caught just moments before, Pancho whipped up some of the best ceviche I’ve ever tasted –– melt-in-your-mouth, mild snapper swimming in a flavorful bath of key limes grown on his trees tossed with onions, peppers and cilantro. Pancho then lit coconut husks over the coals and grilled the rest of the snapper, prepared with grilled peppers and onions and Belizean spices, and served with warm tortillas and potatoes. 

Francisco Verde prepares a ceviche and grilled fish lunch out of the snapper we just caught. Photo by Mauri Elbel

After our delicious sea-to-table feast, we hit up a few snorkeling spots, including the popular Hol Chan Marine Reserve –– a protected 6.5-square-mile diving and snorkeling site which sits at the southern tip of Ambergris Caye and teems with a diverse array of marine life and colorful coral formations flanking the channel walls. We swam above giant sea turtles and sleepy nurse sharks enjoying the lush sea grass beds below, and we spied everything from spotted eagle rays and vibrant parrot fish to barracuda and giant spiny lobster.

Off the southern tip of Ambergris Caye is Belize’s oldest marine reserve, the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Hol Chan is Mayan for “little channel.” Photo by Mauri Elbel

As we headed back to land just before sunset, I was filled with gratitude for a week spent in this beautiful slice of Belizean paradise and so thankful we decided to take this trip. Sure, we were forced to forego some of our pre-planned adventures, but we still had plenty of unforgettable experiences –– and as always, we were heading home with reasons to go back. 

 

If You Go

Getting there:

We flew into Belize City (direct flights are available from Dallas and Houston, but not Austin). From there, we took a 14-minute, 14-passenger Tropic Air flight to San Pedro, the capital of Ambergris Caye, which sits less than 10 minutes from Victoria House Resort and Spa. Rent a golf cart directly from the resort to get around the island.

Stay:

Victoria House Resort and Spa, located on Ambergris Caye, is an award-winning 42-room oceanfront resort with accommodations ranging from romantic thatch roof casitas and luxurious beachfront villas with private pools to plantation-style rooms and ocean-facing villas. It’s also home to a sprawling white sand beach, two sparkling pools, a 5-star restaurant and bar, and a full-service spa.

Do:

With its close proximity to the Belize Barrier Reef, Ambergris Caye is a snorkeling and diving mecca. There’s an onsite excursion and PADI-certified Fantasea Dive Shop at Victoria House. Guests can also enjoy bicycling, swimming, kayaking, paddleboarding and beach games on site. Rent a golf cart to explore sun-drenched San Pedro or make the bumpy trek to Secret Beach ($70 per day and includes gas). Guests can also arrange excursions through the resort which span from snorkeling, diving and fishing trips to exploring ancient Mayan temples, cave tubing and zip-lining through tropical rainforests.

Eat + Drink

There’s an extensive array of delicious, locally sourced menu items served for breakfast, lunch and dinner at Victoria House. Want to venture outside of the resort? Enjoy casual bites and cocktails perched above the ocean at Palapa Bar & Grill, or indulge in Mexican and Caribbean seafood culinary delights at Caramba! Restaurant and Bar –– both restaurants will cook your fresh catch for you. On your way back from Secret Beach, stop in for happy hour bites and drinks at the taco bar while taking a dip in the plunge pool at the adults-only boutique PUR Boutique Cabanas.

Insider tip:

Travelers no longer need to COVID test when entering Belize, as long as they can show proof of vaccination. Vacationing in Belize requires the purchase of Belize Travel Insurance ($18 for a 21-day coverage) https://www.belizetravelinsurance.com/

Follow Austin Travels


Austin Travels is a women-owned, Austin-based travel magazine committed to highlighting destinations in Texas and beyond through the lenses of diverse and talented writers.

Subscribe

@austintravelsmag

Dreaming of Disney World? 10 takeaways for a less daunting, more magical trip

Dreaming of Disney World? 10 takeaways for a less daunting, more magical trip

A rare retreat to mountainside luxury at Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch

A rare retreat to mountainside luxury at Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch

Discovering magical mermaids, memories at Weeki Wachee Springs

Discovering magical mermaids, memories at Weeki Wachee Springs

36 hours of family fun in New Orleans

36 hours of family fun in New Orleans

Recapturing Zen at Kripalu

Recapturing Zen at Kripalu

Soaking in family fun in Seattle

Soaking in family fun in Seattle

Scalloping, saltwater springs and seashell strolls on Florida’s Sports Coast

Scalloping, saltwater springs and seashell strolls on Florida’s Sports Coast

Slowing down by the sea in Ambergris Caye, Belize

Slowing down by the sea in Ambergris Caye, Belize

Frolicking in Finland: Contemporary design and Nordic adventures await

Frolicking in Finland: Contemporary design and Nordic adventures await

At Telluride Bluegrass Festival, a ‘Festivarian’ is born

At Telluride Bluegrass Festival, a ‘Festivarian’ is born

Summer in South Haven, Michigan

Summer in South Haven, Michigan

The Green O: Mother Nature’s Posh Playground

The Green O: Mother Nature’s Posh Playground

Walking in Memphis: History, soul music and good trouble in Tennessee

Walking in Memphis: History, soul music and good trouble in Tennessee

Fishing, golf and more in the Santee region of South Carolina

Fishing, golf and more in the Santee region of South Carolina

Family friendly fun during a quick trip to New York City

Family friendly fun during a quick trip to New York City

A Mother’s Day getaway to charming Charleston

A Mother’s Day getaway to charming Charleston

Playing in Portland, Austin’s Unofficial Sister City

Playing in Portland, Austin’s Unofficial Sister City

Spring and summer stops in Southern Colorado

Spring and summer stops in Southern Colorado

Skiing, snowshoeing and biking in breathtaking Banff

Skiing, snowshoeing and biking in breathtaking Banff

Sweet spots for family fun in Santa Barbara, California

Sweet spots for family fun in Santa Barbara, California

8 Tips for Skiing with Kids

8 Tips for Skiing with Kids

Chilling Out at Beaver Creek Resort

Chilling Out at Beaver Creek Resort

7 magical things to do in Door County, Wisconsin

7 magical things to do in Door County, Wisconsin

Family fun: 5 can’t-miss attractions when visiting St. Louis

Family fun: 5 can’t-miss attractions when visiting St. Louis

Family travel: Calm and cool in Los Angeles

Family travel: Calm and cool in Los Angeles

Mother-daughter getaway: Finding MGK, music and magic in Cleveland

Mother-daughter getaway: Finding MGK, music and magic in Cleveland

COVID Testing and Traveling Abroad: Know Before You Go

COVID Testing and Traveling Abroad: Know Before You Go

A rare glimpse at pearl farming in Tahiti

A rare glimpse at pearl farming in Tahiti

Family travel: Meandering through Montreal

Family travel: Meandering through Montreal

Five reasons Colorado’s Winter Park Resort should be on your family’s ski trip list

Five reasons Colorado’s Winter Park Resort should be on your family’s ski trip list

Squeezing in every snowy moment at Solitude Mountain Resort

Squeezing in every snowy moment at Solitude Mountain Resort

Here’s what’s new at resorts for the 2021-22 ski season

Here’s what’s new at resorts for the 2021-22 ski season

Big Easy delights: Food, fun and family in New Orleans

Big Easy delights: Food, fun and family in New Orleans

Uncovering the magic and mystery of Washington State

Uncovering the magic and mystery of Washington State

Red River is ripe with reasons to visit

Red River is ripe with reasons to visit

Must-Do’s in Denver

Must-Do’s in Denver

Falling for Cape Cod’s off-season charms

Falling for Cape Cod’s off-season charms

Heeding the call of Nashville’s siren song

Heeding the call of Nashville’s siren song

7 ideas for family fun in Panama City Beach, Florida

7 ideas for family fun in Panama City Beach, Florida

Reading Roxane Gay at the Mauna Lani in Hawaii

Reading Roxane Gay at the Mauna Lani in Hawaii

Keeping it cool in Grand Teton and Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Keeping it cool in Grand Teton and Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Summertime in Colorado: 4 spots ripe for family fun

Summertime in Colorado: 4 spots ripe for family fun

Conquering Austria’s Alpine Road

Conquering Austria’s Alpine Road

Fort Collins: Paddling, Hiking and Biking, Oh My

Fort Collins: Paddling, Hiking and Biking, Oh My

A new tour through the past at Oak Alley Plantation

A new tour through the past at Oak Alley Plantation

Explore the gravel roads around Fort Collins on the FoCo Fondo bike ride

Explore the gravel roads around Fort Collins on the FoCo Fondo bike ride

Fully vaccinated? Traveling to Puerto Rico just got breezier

Fully vaccinated? Traveling to Puerto Rico just got breezier

To date a matador: Seduced by Spain

To date a matador: Seduced by Spain

Cabin culture: Escape the crowds at these remote U.S. hideaways

Cabin culture: Escape the crowds at these remote U.S. hideaways

Essay: Can we really leave no trace when we travel?

Essay: Can we really leave no trace when we travel?

Mountain biking mecca Mesa Verde Country is a must-ride

Mountain biking mecca Mesa Verde Country is a must-ride

Bike to Bentonville for 150 miles of trails and much more

Bike to Bentonville for 150 miles of trails and much more

Colorado’s Calling –– Take a summer trip to this cool state now

Colorado’s Calling –– Take a summer trip to this cool state now

Set your sights on Steamboat Springs this summer

Set your sights on Steamboat Springs this summer

A foodie’s guide to eating (and foraging and making chocolate) in Costa Rica

A foodie’s guide to eating (and foraging and making chocolate) in Costa Rica

Discovering hints of home in Red River

Discovering hints of home in Red River

New Mexico road trip: 10 top experiences, from Albuquerque to White Sands

New Mexico road trip: 10 top experiences, from Albuquerque to White Sands

Diving into the history of falconry at The Broadmoor

Diving into the history of falconry at The Broadmoor

5 questions with influencer Jeff Jenkins, who helps ‘chubby people travel the world’

5 questions with influencer Jeff Jenkins, who helps ‘chubby people travel the world’

Finding a ranch to call home in Granby, Colorado

Finding a ranch to call home in Granby, Colorado

Oyster safaris and mystery solving along Sweden’s Bohuslan Coast

Oyster safaris and mystery solving along Sweden’s Bohuslan Coast

Escape to Los Angeles: 5 fun things to do in Southern California

Escape to Los Angeles: 5 fun things to do in Southern California

Adventures Await: Roaming the road in a campervan

Adventures Await: Roaming the road in a campervan

If you’re heading west, 5 reasons to visit the California gem of Terranea

If you’re heading west, 5 reasons to visit the California gem of Terranea

For every season: A house divided over Estes Park, Colorado

For every season: A house divided over Estes Park, Colorado

The soaking life: A baker’s dozen of the best historic spas across the world

The soaking life: A baker’s dozen of the best historic spas across the world

California escape: Peace, harmony and inspiration in Joshua Tree and Palm Springs

California escape: Peace, harmony and inspiration in Joshua Tree and Palm Springs

When the snow melts and winter crowds leave, these Colorado spots are the coolest

When the snow melts and winter crowds leave, these Colorado spots are the coolest

Dreaming of a Virgin Islands Vacation? Tips for traveling to St. John right now

Dreaming of a Virgin Islands Vacation? Tips for traveling to St. John right now

Dreaming of the RV life? Lessons learned from a 10-day national park road trip

Dreaming of the RV life? Lessons learned from a 10-day national park road trip

Colorado Ski Gems

Colorado Ski Gems

Escape crowds and capture memories in snowy Southwest Montana

Escape crowds and capture memories in snowy Southwest Montana

What to know before you book a ski trip during a pandemic

What to know before you book a ski trip during a pandemic