Discover the finest hotels and journeys in Mexico, Central America, and South America

Cayo Espanto—Ambergris Caye Region, Belize

A private island between Ambergris Caye and the mainland, Belize

Lavish amenities and furnishings, ultra–personalized service, and an impossibly idyllic setting converge at private island Cayo Espanto, which truly deserves its reputation as the apex of Central America's top–tier travel market.

Cayo Espanto
© Cayo Espanto

It starts with a survey. What's your ideal lunch? How do you like your coffee? Have any food allergies? Preferred desserts? Vacation customization doesn't get any better than Cayo Espanto, a four–acre private island resort off the coast of Ambergris Caye, Belize.

Cayo Espanto has only six villas; yet the island's minute size is deceptive because of its ruffled mangrove border and the palm trees dispersed across its center. The only time you'll spy another guest is at the end of your private dock. While Cayo Espanto's setting is sufficiently gorgeous to attract the travel elite, its anonymity is the main reason the island is known as a celebrity magnet: Tiger Woods, Robert De Niro, and Leonardo DiCaprio are just some of Cayo Espanto's repeat visitors.

Cayo Espanto FoodIn particular, Cayo Espanto is famed for its food. No tiny portions here––the resort's gourmet cuisine is concocted at a much larger scale than gourmands might be used to. But even if you have to bookend your vacation with supplementary exercise, Cayo Espanto cuisine is more than worth it. Meals are served in or right outside your villa; or for a dose of romance, in the glow of tiki torches at the end of your dock. Food and beverages are included in the resort's nightly rate, with the exception of wine and champagne.

Besides Cayo Espanto's cuisine and exhaustive personalization, the housemen are another one of the island resort's most noted features. Each villa comes with one, and he's yours to command, accessible at all times via walkie–talkie. With the assistance of other housemen, he serves your meals, brings your drinks, turns down your bed at night and opens your villa's retractable walls to the sunshine every morning. Yet he's only as obtrusive as you want him to be, whether you prefer to be lavished with attention or left mostly to your own devices.

If you're driven inside your Cayo Espanto villa by a sudden shower—because let's face it, this is the tropics—you can find solace in technology. The villas include surround–sound stereos, wireless internet, and large flat–screen TVs with satellite and a host of movies from which you can select. Because the bed boasts $3,000 sheets under a gauzy canopy of necessary mosquito netting, afternoon catnaps are tempting.

Cayo Espanto DockAt Cayo Espanto, the lazy lifestyle is definitely accommodated. Few activities are available on–site: you can circumnavigate the island on kayak, or step into the shallows beyond your dock for a swim. However, because of Cayo Espanto's location on the lagoon side of Ambergris Caye, the water is occasionally plagued by biting sea lice—better to book a snorkeling tour of the nearby Hol Chan reserve to sample Belize's prismatic Caribbean waters. Or enjoy instant refreshment in your compact personal swimming pool, which can be heated to spa temperature during the occasional cool evening.

If you find yourself itching for a little more variety, book a tour. Every possible sea–based and inland Belize excursion is available, from dive trips to Turneffe Atoll and the Blue Hole, to mainland journeys to Maya ruins like Altun Ha and Lamanai.

Web Address: or check online rates here.
Total Number of Rooms: 9 (in 7 villas)
Published rates: Seasonal; $1,395 to $3,195, meals and drinks included (w/out tax). For groups of friends or family with exceptional funds, the entire Cayo Espanto island can be booked for about $16,000 per night.

Review by Kirsten Hubbard, photos by author except where indicated.