SO CLOSE, YET SO FAR: The country of Belize lies on the eastern coastline of Central America, below Mexico and next door to Guatemala. It is a small, stable country covered with exotic rain forests and some of the longest white sand beaches in the world. Getting to Belize from Dallas is easier and faster than traveling to most any other major Caribbean destination. On the mainland, there is plenty to experience and explore in this ecotourism-friendly country—Mayan ruins, the Jaguar Preserve, countless birding expeditions, and world-class scuba diving and snorkeling. But with little effort—a 20-minute plane ride to Ambergris Caye and a 3-mile boat ride—you can bask in beauty and end-of-the-world-style luxury within five hours of leaving your front door in Dallas.

FANTASY ISLAND: If you are looking for the ultimate in private accommodations, look no further than Cayo Espanto. It’s a small, privately owned island populated with four lavish villas and one over-the-water bungalow, and a staff is dedicated to the whim of every guest. Once you arrive, you will find no office for check-in, no gift shop, no common-use buildings. You are led from the main dock to your open-air villa by a staff member and, most likely, the island’s semi-official concierge, Salty, a yellow Lab. There you are introduced to your personal butler, who hands you a walkie-talkie that enables you to communicate your every wish—large or small.

belizekayak Kayak to your villa. photography by R.P. Washburne

LIFE OF LUXURY: You could spend a week listening to the breeze rustling the palm trees without encountering another human being; the resort holds a maximum of 16 guests at a time. Each morning the chef meets with you and customizes the meals that will be delivered to your room. The smallest villa, Casa Brisa, is 1,200 square feet. The largest, Casa Estrella, is an exquisite two-story, two-bedroom building with a pair of private docks. The upstairs bedroom has two balconies that offer a 360-degree view of the Caribbean Sea. All villas open to the water (either curtains or folding wooden walls close at night) and include a dock, cold plunge pool, satellite TV, CD and DVD library, alfresco showers, and Yves Delormes sheets. Iced towels are delivered when you sunbathe.

ROOM SERVICE: Since there is no common dining room, all meals are taken in your villa. In the morning, just pick up your radio and, within minutes, your meal will be set up on the dining table on your veranda. Prefer something a little more dramatic? The staff will set up a candlelit table for two on the end of your dock. Looking for the ultimate place to propose or to dine in the sexiest setting imaginable? The staff will prepare a table surrounded by tiki torches at the remote western end of the island. Your meal will be served course-by-course as the sun drops in the distance. Turn down the torches and enjoy dessert and cognac under a twinkling blanket of stars.

belizesorbet Mango sorbet on tropical fruit. photography by R.P. Washburne

FINE FOOD: Despite the remoteness of the location, the food is as fine as any restaurant in Dallas. Chef Patrick Houghton’s European-style cuisine is accented with the local flavors of Belize. The menu is a seafood lover’s paradise—for lunch, there is Cayo’s Caribbean salad of spicy jerked lobster, papaya, and watermelon tossed with pineapple vinaigrette. Dinner might be fresh-caught snapper with Cuban-style vegetable relish served with fried plantains.

GET GOING: The barrier reef off the coast is the second largest in the world and Cayo Espanto is only a 20-minute boat ride away. Dive master German Alamilla or Anastacio Badillo will lead you on a private dive or snorkeling expedition to Shark-Ray Alley, Hol Chan, or the famous Blue Hole. (Mid-afternoon, he’ll pull up to a secret beach while the staff prepares a Belizian-style lobster barbecue.) Like to fish? You’ve found angler’s heaven. You can fly-fish just outside your villa or hire a boat with an expert guide. The immediate area offers flat fishing (bonefish and tarpon), reef fishing (snapper and grouper), and the deep sea offers the chance to reel in kingfish, tuna, and wahoo. Your butler will arrange full- or half-day trips to the mainland, where you can visit the Xunantunich Mayan Ruins on the western border, tour the Altun Ha River (lined with several species of tropical birds, iguanas, and crocodiles), or go cave tubing down the Haulover River through the sacred Sibun Caves. If you want to stay a little closer to your villa, Cayo Espanto offers paddleboats, snorkel and fishing gear, and sea kayaks.

FAST FACTS

HOW TO GET THERE
American Airlines and Continental Airlines both offer service to Belize City. Once you clear customs you will be greeted by Cayo Espanto staff, who will direct you to the Maya Island Air ticket counter to check in for your flight to San Pedro ($120 round-trip) in Ambergris Caye. There, you may choose from a scheduled flight or a private charter. Cayo Espanto can arrange a helicopter to land directly on the property for approximately $1,140 (U.S.) one-way or $2,280, plus tax, round-trip for four.

WHAT IT COSTS
2008 rates, including three gourmet meals daily plus snacks and liquor, start at $1,695 per villa, per night. For the ultimate in privacy, full island rentals for a maximum of 16 are available from $12,000 per night.