Sure, Mexico's Riviera Maya boasts both jungle and sea, but head further south to Belize and you'll find a honeymoon locale that's just as charming and slightly more off the beaten path, with everything from prime diving at the Belize Barrier Reef to wild jungles dotted with over 600 ancient sites. Throw in a few luxe hotels and haute hideaways (hint: Coppolas are involved) and you have the perfect recipe for a romantic Central American getaway. Here’s 10 reasons that’ll have you saying “I do” to a honeymoon in the heartland of the Maya.
There’s a reason Belize has been buzzing lately. This Central American gem is an easy one to reach from most major cities, clocking in at a little over four hours from Chicago, Denver and Los Angeles and just two and a half hours from Houston. Plus, with airlines like Southwest flying directly into Belize City, honeymooners can snag deals on airfare starting at just $300 roundtrip.
In similar style to Venice, travelers can hop from the mainland to Belize’s islands via water taxi, quickly cruising from Belize City to the north islands of Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye, Belize’s largest island and home to the charming cobblestoned town of San Pedro, the very same place Madonna sang about in “La Isla Bonita.”
Most spots in Belize take U.S. dollars, but the currency conversion here is pretty easy. It’s just $2 Belize to $1 USD, so you can stretch your honeymoon budget even further thanks to the favorable exchange rate.
Temperatures in Belize hover around 84 degrees and even in winter months (from November to March) you don’t have to worry about temperatures dipping below 60. Wet season runs from June through December and typically correlates with the Caribbean’s trademark storms, but June and early July are when the country receives the most rainfall. If you want to ensure dryer days, plan your honeymoon between the months of February and May (which just so happen to fall outside hurricane season).
Just 30 minutes from San Pedro you’ll come across Esmeralda Canyon, the perfect dive site if you’re looking to swim with reef and hammerhead sharks. The series of canyons is part of the Belize Great Barrier Reef, the largest and most intact reef system in the Northern Hemisphere. Running 185 miles along Belize’s coastline, the UNESCO World Heritage site is an easy compromise if you were dreaming of diving somewhere like Australia’s Great Barrier Reef but didn’t want to deal with the long-haul flight. Not only is this reef closer, it’s also teeming with over 500 species of fish that you can even spot from the surface while snorkeling in the warm, crystal-clear water.
If there’s one site you can’t miss, it’s the 407-foot-deep Blue Hole, what French ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau dubbed one of the 10 best diving sites in the world. Even if you’re not much of a diver, the visibility here is so good snorkelers can catch sights of sharks and stalactites while swimming in the submarine sinkhole.
While Belize is only as large as the state of Massachusetts, the country is one of the most diverse in terms of landscape and geography. Belize is divided into seven regions with thousands of acres of untouched forest; more than 400 tropical islands; three of the Western Hemisphere’s four coral atolls; and the highest waterfall in Central America. This may be your first test as a newly married couple compromising on the right mix of relaxation and adventure, since your day could easily start a number of ways, from exploring ancient Maya temples to visiting one of the only jaguar reserves in the world.
On Belize’s southeast coast lies some of the more untouched fisherman’s villages like the Placencia Peninsula, home to the smallest street in the world. Locals call this strip “barefoot perfect” since the 16-mile peninsula boasts the only golden-sand beach on mainland Belize. Hole up at the new Naia Resort and Spa, sandwiched between a lagoon and the sea on a 200-acre reserve. While the resort’s 35 beach houses offer direct access to the water, the real beauty here lies a short stroll away at the spa, where individual bungalows hover over the lagoon. Now’s the chance to really unwind with a treatment that weaves in local touches like native botanicals performed in the intimate couple’s suite.
Thanks to the variety of influences hailing from Belize’s blend of cultures, dishes here are a medley of Caribbean, Mexican and Maya cuisine. Must-tries include homemade dukunu, or corn tamales, and cochinita pibil, a traditional slow-roasted pork dish. In villages like Placencia, you’ll find a number of charming eateries that add a modern spin to Belizean staples, such as gastro-bar Rumfish y Vino and 1981, a more upscale spot that adds a gastronomic touch to plates like conch carpaccio and smoked pork sweetcorn crêpes.
When producer Francis Ford Coppola visited Belize in the early 1980s, he discovered the abandoned Blancaneaux Lodge tucked away in the corner of the remote Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve in western Belize’s Cayo District. Now this “rainforest wonderland” serves as a 20-room luxury lodge above the jungle treetops. For newlyweds who want to get off-the-beaten-path but aren’t comfortable roughing it in the woods just yet, these luxurious thatched-roof dwellings are just the right amount of rugged, featuring everything from plunge pools to panoramic waterfall views. Even better, you can count on gourmet fare despite its middle-of-nowhere locale thanks to the family’s private recipes fueling the Italian menu at the onsite Montagna Ristorante.