By Eileen Ogintz
CAYO ESPANTO PRIVATE ISLAND, Belize — Am I dreaming? Is this real?
When we arrive at the private island Cayo Espanto, just two and a half miles from the resort town of San Pedro on Ambergris Cay, Belize’s largest island, the smiling staff is lined up to meet us, including the chef, housekeepers and our personal housemen, Kurt Gideon and Jonny Berganza, ready to do all they can to make us have an experience for the memory books. They hand us a cold towel and an Espanto Wave — a green drink a frothy mix of fruits and five kinds of spirits.
A snack (how about a quesadilla followed washed down by a local beer?) is waiting in our villa where they also take our lunch order (fish tacos), as all meals are served privately.
They can take us sailing, set us up to paddle board or go out in a pedal boat, kayak or fish, hopefully bringing back dinner for the chef to prepare for us. Snorkeling in the famous Hol-Chan Marine Reserve is a short boat ride away.
Our fridge is stocked with drinks and if we want a snack, all we need to do is call on the walkie-talkie. We have our own private dock and can step off in the crystal clear waters or soak in our private plunge pool. Did I mention the hammock, or the TWO private docks with chaise lounges (one sometimes occupied by a pelican we nicknamed “Fast Eddy.”)
No wonder couples come to get married and renew their vows. And the staff will try to satisfy even the oddest requests—dinner served in candlelight on the floating dock off shore; even meals served in the ankle-deep water or a marriage at sunrise on a boat at 5:20 a.m.
The island has its own dive shop so you can get PADI certified here or go out on a private dive or snorkel expedition.
When families bring kids during the holidays or school breaks, special activities are arranged, a treasure hunt around the island, a bonfire, movie night on a big inflatable screen and of course whatever is needed for a baby.
This all comes, of course, at a high price—more than $1800 a night for two.
Apparently, offering such a luxurious and unique experience was exactly what Jeff Gram, a wealthy Atlanta real estate developer had in mind when he bought the undeveloped three-acre island in 1993. The resort opened in 1998 and today, many guests return every year, said Erika Saldivar, increasingly arriving via helicopter from the Belize City Airport. (They can also be whisked in a private boat—a little over an hour from Belize City—or from the San Pedro airport after a short flight from Belize City or San Ignacio–if they have opted to spend a few days exploring inland with its Mayan sites and caves.
As I write this, I’m sitting surrounded by decks with a hammock and comfy lounges, a plunge pool. My husband just spotted a Grey Heron wading just beneath our plunge pool.
Talk about getting away from it all! There is no common bar or restaurant; you are served all your meals at your villa unless you ask to watch the chef cook or have booked the entire island as some do for weddings.
(Belize is on the Caribbean Coast south of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and bordering Guatamala on the west and Honduras to the south is less than two hours from Miami, Dallas, Atlanta and Houston, and long has been popular with adventurous travelers — it boasts more Mayan sites than anywhere in Central America, the second largest reef anywhere, some 200 atolls and cays, crystal clear water, caves to explore and more. Belize hasn’t yet attracted hordes of tourists as has Costa Rica–thankfully).
We’re staying in Casa Estrella, a two story, two bedroom villa with balconies upstairs an expansive living area, stocked fridge and of course our housemen to do our bidding. Laundry? No problem. There are alfresco showers, iPod docking station and even DVD movie library as well as satellite TV. (We start watching Casablanca but quickly fall asleep listening to the rain in our oversized oh-so-comfortable bed).
There is Casa Ventanas, an over the water bungalow at the end of a dock; Casa Aurora boasts a private swimming pool; and, while you might have the best of the sunsets at Casa Solano, we also have great sunsets—and sunrises, if we were up that early.
The chef stops by to ask what we’d like for dinner. No need to dress up. My husband chooses lobster ravioli; I have snapper with key lime tarts for desert. Drinks are served by our housemen before dinner, though we can request what we like any time.
“We try to accommodate our guests,” says our houseman Kurt Gideon, adding that they will limit the pour if the guests have over indulged too much as they don’t want anyone falling in the water.
After a lazy morning, we’re enjoying the sunshine, planning to go fishing this afternoon.
Hopefully, we’ll catch dinner!