With the wind in your sails you can go anywhere. That’s how it felt as I hauled the tiller toward me, turned the boat into the fresh northerly breeze, watched the air fill the canvas and pulled the rigging taut. The sibilant sound of the water sluicing along the hull signaled our increasing speed. Dollops of spray flicked back in our faces. The breeze, its intensity doubled by our forward progress, salted our tongues.
Cayo Espanto slowly shrank behind us, and we set off on a lifetime-memory version of a lunch date. Ahead lay a deserted tropical beach lined with ivory sand, storm-borne shells and breeze-blown palms. We’d have the beach all to ourselves, as long as we’d like, while the light lasted. Behind was our secluded villa, with the bedroom facing the beach, the outdoor shower in the garden. The villa was ours for just a week, but oh what a week it was.
“How far should we go?” I asked my first mate and boon companion.
Leslie trained an eye on the horizon. “How far is Tahiti?”
Well, quite far, actually—we were in Belize, at the Caribbean’s western verge, savoring the fourth day of a week on a private island resort and sailing, as it happens, the opposite direction from Tahiti.
Our destination was a small deserted cove that the resort staff had said would be about an hour away. Go past the first two bays, round a small point, then another, then pull into the next bay.
Cayo Espanto is one among several dozen such resorts worldwide in which guests enjoy lavish attention, unimpinged privacy, gloriously deluxe surroundings and sensational food.
They are almost all not only exclusive but expensive—I dare not say what we paid for our week at Cayo because, frankly, it takes my breath away. Not that I have any buyer’s remorse: It was our honeymoon and, in the words of a long-ago ad for over-the-top TVs, darn well worth it.
The day we sailed to our private beach for lunch we set out on the resort’s Hobie Cat clad in swimsuits and T-shirts, taking along two towels and an icebox with our lunch inside. Not just any lunch, mind you: no tuna sandwiches here.
Once we rounded that last point an hour later and coasted into our deserted sand strand, and baked a while in the sun, and sluiced spray and sand off with a splash in the bay, we lifted the lid on the icebox to find a fresh salad. Not just any salad, mind you: a Caesar, with fresh shrimp. Also a pasta-seafood salad, a fresh fruit platter and two pieces of chocolate-almond flourless torte.
“We’re wondering if the food is living up to your expectations,” the resort chef had asked that morning on her daily visit to discuss our menu. That’s when I’d asked for the chocolate torte in the lunchbox — it had been our dessert the night before, and was indisputably the best chocolate dish either Leslie or I ever had.
Lunchtime dessert on our deserted beach done, we sunbathed again, swam again, then hopped back on the boat to sail off. With time seeming as expansive as the 50-mile (80 km) shallow sound we were sailing, we headed off on a lark to a distant island, Cay Guano, to discover that it was inhabited by huge flocks of birds, hence the name. Rose specks proved to be roseate spoonbills, flamingo-like rarities.
Sailing back, running before the broad northern breeze, we developed an urge to drop the sail and swim right in the middle of nowhere. Islands before and behind us were just distant blots on the horizon; the water was the color of old turquoise, clear enough to see the waving ribbons of eelgrass below. I reckoned we were in five feet (1.5 m) of water and made a shallow dive.
Surprise: It was 10 feet (3 m) deep, so clear the depth was deceptive. Swimming in the middle of nowhere is enthralling enough that we stopped twice more on the way back, returning to Cayo Espanto in the very late afternoon as the shadows from the palms by our villa were lengthening to the shore. Obed, our personal houseman, greeted us with a tray of iced drinks and asked when we’d like dinner.
Dinner was served on a linen-draped, candlelit table by our plunge pool; luminarias glowed along our private dock. That night it was almond-crusted grouper, one of the finest eating fish in the Caribbean, and bitter lime sorbet. Another night we had lobster, the clawless Caribbean species that needs no butter to be wickedly rich. After dinner we strolled out to lie beneath the indigo sky to trace the Milky Way and watch for falling stars.
It’d be nice to say we used every opportunity to get out and about, but the truth is that leisure and luxury enveloped us for days. We had kayaked out to the resort’s swimming dock 100 yards (91 m) offshore, moored there because the water was too shallow near shore. We walked around the five-acre (2 hectares) island once, marveling at the zen-like landscape artistry of the white sand, raked every morning by the resort staff.
Another day we hopped on a resort boat and headed to Belize’s famed barrier reef just a half-hour ride away. Second-longest in the world, the reef is a marvel for snorkelers; here we saw moray eels, manta rays, innumerable colorful reef fish and corals — even a dangerous bull shark that sent us, and our guide, back into the boat in a hurry.
Mostly we read and napped and talked. We could have watched movies, but didn’t. The CD player sat silent. The music of the breeze in the palms and the drama of the light on the waves proved more than ample. The blue-trim, 1,200-square-foot (111 km²) villa was open to the air on three sides; lattice doors were closed at night and pulled back each morning once we were out and about.
The 25-foot (7.6 m) peaked ceiling held the heat of the sun at bay, and the palms around the villa, one of just five villas on the island, assured us privacy. The king-size bed was surely big enough for King Henry, and the feather top felt like a cloud. Insects dared not visit, and any that tried were sent packing by the chrysanthemum mist sprayed around the island twice weekly.
If we needed anything, we’d call Obed on the walkie-talkie, an indulgence that led us to drink three times as many virgin piña coladas as we could have imagined. “However you wish, so shall you have,” he’d explained when we arrived.
It’s trite but true to say that our week at Cayo Espanto is imprinted in our memories. No particular events stand out, except for the reef trip, and the day we sailed 15 miles (24 km) on the Hobie Cat to have lunch on a deserted beach. Though the sailing excursion took only hours, in my memory its span is infinite. We sailed away from our private tropical retreat into a limitless warm sea, and returned lighter in every way. In the end we had to return from the island to the city of modern life, but it stays with us like an old song.
If You Go
Cayo Espanto is a half-hour ride by private boat from San Pedro, the main town on Ambergris Caye, which is itself reachable via a 10-minute flight from Belize City. The island is privately owned by the resort, which features five luxurious, 5-star villas. The maximum number of guests on the island is 14.
Belize, one of the Caribbean’s most welcoming visitor destinations, is two hours by air from Dallas, Atlanta or Miami. Dozens of resorts along its coast range from economical beach motels to dive centers to luxury retreats.
Belize Tourism Board