Destination of the Week
Life Of Belize
The Cayo Espanto experience begins even before you arrive at this private island resort off the coast of Belize. All guests receive a five-page questionnaire before their trip, asking them to describe their ideal breakfast, lunch and dinner; what time they prefer to have cocktails served; and if they prefer to be spoiled with attention, or to have service on request.
This kind of personal service is the hallmark of Cayo Espanto, the creation of Jeff and Susan Gram. The Atlanta-based couple started a series of successful businesses, ranging from selling car accessories to mail-order catalogs and real estate, before opening their resort. When Gram bought the four-acre island off Ambergris Cay in 1997, it was just a lagoon. It took four years to fill the island with sand, plant palm trees and build five A-frame bungalows, each with its own dock and plunge pool.
Cayo Espanto has to be one of the most romantic resorts on the planet. With only five villas, chances are slim you will ever see another guest, especially since thick bushes shield each villa. Staying there feels like having the run of your own private island--albeit with a staff ratio of 2-to-1. When guests arrive via a short boat ride from San Pedro (the biggest city on Ambergris Cay and a short flight from Belize City), the entire staff, including the resident Labrador, Salty, is lined up on the dock to greet them. Drink orders are also radioed in en route.
Every villa comes with a houseman who can be reached via walkie-talkie all day, but it's unlikely guests will have a request. The housemen scramble to anticipate guests' needs, and serve as housekeeper, bartender and waiter. If you mention an interest in kayaking, a kayak will be delivered for the duration of your stay. When returning from a kayak trip, our houseman was waiting with chilled towels and our favorite cocktails (gleaned from our pre-arrival survey). Shortly after we requested to take the island's Hobie Cat for a spin, a cooler was packed with the native Belikin beer, sodas and water, and tethered to the mast.
The villa's folding walls open completely to the ocean. Besides providing lovely views, they also allow guests to telegraph their desires to their houseman. Open them in the morning, and ten minutes later he will arrive with fresh fruit, ready to take breakfast orders. Keep them closed and, well, he can take a hint.
A private plunge pool
The dining options are one of the best aspects of Cayo Espanto, since guests never have to adhere to a schedule or a set menu. All meals are custom prepared. In the evening, chef Simon Capewell will come to each villa to discuss what guests would like for dinner. Meals are served inside the villa, on the private dock or anywhere along the island. During dinner, your houseman will turn down the bed, as well as line your dock with small candles.
In the daytime, it is hard to tear away from the villas, which are decorated in a romantic but rustic style. Beds are swathed in mosquito netting, and each villa also comes with a private plunge pool and outdoor shower. Small perks include a CD player (with a disc library) and a fully stocked refrigerator.
Cayo Espanto can arrange a variety of excursions, from bone fishing to visiting Mayan ruins or the nearby Blue Hole, a collapsed cave. Guests should sign up for a snorkeling trip to the barrier reef--in particular, Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark-Ray Alley. There, guests can swim with nurse sharks, grouper and sting rays, which have a three-foot "wingspan."
Another must-do is signing up for a private picnic. The resort drops off a couple on a deserted cay, which is set up with several types of beach chairs, a customized picnic lunch, an umbrella with a wrought-iron stand and a CD player. The sand is raked pre-arrival, and guests are given a cell phone so they can get picked up at any time.
The primary drawback, and it's a minor one, to staying at Cayo Espanto is that the water is shallow--about knee-deep--so die-hard swimmers will be disappointed they can't swim off from their front door. To get to deeper water, guests can walk or kayak out to a platform (about 300 feet away) and tether the boat. The other drawback is that guests will be so spoiled by the constant attention that they won't want to stay anywhere else.
Villas start at $895 per night during the off-season, which includes all meals and wine; high-season rates start at $1,295. The entire island can be rented for $7,500 per night (up to 14 guests).
For more information, please call (888) 666-4282.
If the doors are open, it must be time for breakfast.
The barrier reef on Ambergris Cay is the largest in the Western Hemisphere and the second-largest in the world, after Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The reef is 1,800 miles long; it runs from the Yucatan Peninsula, continuing south for almost the whole length of the country to the Bay of Honduras.