For many years Belize has been a favorite destination of mine with its mountains and forests, and archeological sites of the ancient Maya. But some of the country includes Caribbean islands, such as Ambergris Caye, while the area of Placencia, a peninsula at the extreme end of Belize, feels like an island. Not yet “touristy”, both areas retain the authentic feeling of the indigenous people of the Caribbean islands with their lilting speech, their sparkling smiles, their upbeat music and their relaxed approach to life.

As life seems to have become more accelerated for many of us, the allure of a “time-out” becomes greater. We look for a tropical vacation on an easily accessible island in the romantic Caribbean where we conjure up pictures in our minds of barefoot informality, exotic drinks under the stars (and the sun), fresh seafood and coconut and….no agenda.

Massage on Beach - Victoria House © Susanna Starr

Massage on Beach – Victoria House © Susanna Starr

It’s easy enough to make these fantasies come true on Ambergris Caye and Placencia. Here you’ll encounter people in shorts riding bicycles to the small towns, folks sipping tropical drinks on the beachfront or around the pool, trips out to the reefs for snorkeling, scuba diving and swimming, not to mention the easy availability of fishing expeditions or enjoying the fun of other water sports. Ecology and respect for the environment is emphasized.

If you envision a vacation when most of your wardrobe consists of sandals, shorts, and bathing suits, with a couple of shirts or skirts for the evening, you’ll find yourself right at home. It’s the kind of packing that is light enough to allow you just one check-on piece of luggage or, if you’ve learned to be modest in your choices of clothing, sometimes a carry-on will be enough.

Victoria House © Susanna Starr

I’ve visited Victoria House a number of times over the years when I’ve been fortunate enough to spend some time on Ambergris Caye. Each time I’m there, I’m struck with the same feeling. The staff genuinely seem to enjoy what they’re doing and pay attention to each and every guest. Immediately upon arrival, you’re handed a cool drink and a gracious welcome as you’re shown to your room. Since I’ve been there on various occasions, I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying a number of accommodations, all of which have been delightful. The décor is different with each and each is equally noticeable in the attention to details. During the day, any kind of water sport or ocean excursion can be arranged, or you can just relax around one of the pools or on the lounges on the beach. It doesn’t take more than a quick ride in one of their electric carts to get into San Pedro town in the center of the island. There you have many choices of great restaurants featuring fresh seafood in a relaxed and informal environment.

Waterfront - Ambergris Caye © Susanna Starr

Waterfront – Ambergris Caye © Susanna Starr

Back at Victoria House, a little more relaxing or maybe a nap in a hammock before getting ready for dinner, either indoors in air-conditioned comfort or outdoor dining under the stars. From the bathing suits, shorts or sundresses that you might have worn for breakfast, you’ll now be able to shift gears to evening attire which may or may not include shoes. The food, breakfast, lunch and dinner, is superb and beautifully presented. The volcanic chocolate cake for dessert is an experience not soon to be forgotten.

Chocolate © Susanna Starr

Volcanic Chocolate Cake © Susanna Starr

Janet Wollam and Brent Kirkman have been managing Victoria House for decades and oversee their superlative staff as well as every detail, from hand-made furniture of Belizean hardwoods to original local artwork. Bath amenities are luxurious. I also love to browse their gift shop and still treasure the beautiful, hand-carved tray of local hardwood that sits on our dining table, a small piece of sculptural beauty that reminds me always of one of my most favorite hotels.

Getting to Ambergris Caye is just a short flight from Belize City which has flights going out to the island on a regular basis. We’ve used Tropic Air but there are other regional airlines available as well. From there you can return to Belize City and then take another short flight to Placencia. Or you can reverse it by flying from Belize City first to Placencia and back to catch a flight to Ambergris Caye. Either way works well.

Tropic Air © Susanna Starr

Tropic Air © Susanna Starr

When you get off the small plane in Placencia, you’ll find yourself close to the center of town and it’s just a “stone’s throw” away to another very special place, the small boutique resort of Chabil Mar Villas. If you’ve ever fantasized about a very private, small and intimate resort where your every need has been anticipated, you’ll find that at Chabil Mar. Here, too, the accommodations have been furnished with the same beautiful tropical hardwoods and the vibrant art of Belize. From the time you’ve checked in and been welcomed with a cool drink and escorted through the paths leading to your particular accommodation, you’ll be entranced by the lush landscaping.

Chabil Mar © Susanna Starr

Chabil Mar
© Susanna Starr

Greeting at Chabil Mar © Susanna Starr

Greeting at Chabil Mar © Susanna Starr

Getting settled in our spacious and gracious suite of bedroom, living room and fully equipped kitchen, we walked outside to our deck with its ocean view. It was a few minutes to take in all the beauty and serenity before one of the staff arrived, as if by magic, to take our lunch order. Chabil Mar does not have a formal restaurant. Instead, a staff member will deliver your enticing meals to the place of your choice. It can be on your own private deck or it can be at one of the tables scattered around the pool or lounges on the beach. It can be at the outdoor, thatched-roofed bar or state-of-the-art outdoor cooking area (especially nice if you’ve arranged to grill your own catch of the day).

Lunch at Chabil Mar © Susanna Starr

Lunch at Chabil Mar © Susanna Starr

This is a special destination reflecting the ambiance that has carefully been created by Diane Bulman who has had many years of experience in resort management on Caribbean islands and has built the kind of resort based on fulfilling the expectations of the traveler who appreciates the feeling of quiet serenity in an informally, elegant beach setting. The gardens are lush, the flowers abundant, the food enticing, and the accommodations elegant.

Now, Diane has embarked upon another venture, the Peninsula Club with a new marina, which will be a boat owner’s destination and a visiting guest’s chance to see Placencia from a different perspective. Built just across the road, a grand vision is now unfolding that will include a full marina with slips to accommodate a number of boats, some permanently and others for shorter visits. There will be new, luxurious housing built as well as restaurants and other small boutique shops.

Whether you’re the owner of a luxury yacht looking for a new, laid-back destination in the Caribbean, or someone looking for just a week’s stay where you can relax in privacy and informal luxury, Chabil Mar is probably what you’re looking for.

Placencia Town © Susanna Starr

Placencia Town © Susanna Starr

Placencia is still relatively unknown to tourism. Back in the old days, the way of getting there from Belize City was by land on a long, dusty and difficult road, the Hummingbird Highway. Now, with Tropic Air and other small airlines, getting there is no longer a challenge. Once you’re there, you’ll be able to unpack your shorts, bathing suits and sandals, ride into town on your bicycle and wander around for a while before returning to Chabil Mar and the arduous decisions of what to eat, or drink or whether or not to lie out on your lounge and read or go into the ocean for a dip in the warm waters of the Caribbean. But, wait…..maybe you’d like to just swing in your hammock and fall asleep to sound of the swaying palm fronds so that you’ll be all refreshed for the night’s activities. Here in Chabil Mar, that’s mostly dining out under the stars or taking a moonlit stroll along the beach.

Susanna "Chilling" at Chabil Mar © Susanna Starr

Susanna “Chilling” at Chabil Mar © Susanna Starr

Our Dinner on the Beach © Susanna Starr

Our Dinner on the Beach © Susanna Starr

Not interested in high-rise hotels or jumping nightlife, but a lover of peace and quiet on tropical Caribbean beaches that provide the kind of luxury that emphasizes the enjoyment of the natural environment? Both Ambergris Caye and Placencia in beautiful Belize will welcome you to share in all of this and more.