Cayo Espanto is one of those fantasy vacation spots, the kind that one might think exists only in daydreams. But this private island actually is the stuff of dreams, with powdery sand and private beaches lapped by the clear Caribbean waters, doting service, and plenty to do—or not. Cayo Espanto, one of Belize's hundreds of cays (off-shore islands), sits three miles off the coast of another Belizean island, San Pedro, and can boast what few other properties can: a location right along the second-largest barrier reef in the world. Each of the seven villas occupies its own private slice of the cay, and an excess of amenities is included: airport pick-up service, boat transfers to and from the island, personal butler service, three customized meals per day, snacks and drinks, and all non-motorized activities, including the use of kayaks and a sailboat. Villas are painted in tropical hues and are exceedingly comfortable, with windows that open right up to ocean views. Some have private infinity-edge plunge pools.
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It doesn't get much more laid-back than Cayo Espanto, where there are no cars and the only residents of the four-acre island are guests in the seven villas and the staff there to serve them. Visitors come here to do some serious relaxing, though popular aquatic activities are available, including diving, snorkeling, and fly-fishing. Villa-style accommodations are sheltered from one another, so it's nearly possible to spend an entire visit here without seeing other guests. If the isolation feels a bit too extreme, guests can hop on the daily transfer to and from the larger island of San Pedro, where restaurants and shops serve a population of full-time residents.
Need to Know
Rooms: 7 beach villas; from $1,495. Check-in: 3 p.m.; check-out: noon. Dining options: Guests who might worry about getting bored with the cuisine at the island's one restaurant needn't be concerned. Chef Patrick Haughton customizes guests' menus daily based on dietary needs and the preferences he collects from them before arrival. To the greatest extent possible, Haughton uses locally grown and sourced goods; fresh-caught fish and seafood figure prominently in his repertoire. Spa and gym details: Cayo Espanto offers spa services in guests' individual villas or in a private outdoor space around the villa. Massages, facials, scrubs, manicures and pedicures, and aromatherapy are among the services offered. While there is no gym, guests are invited to use the island's sea kayaks or sailboat, which are included in the room rate, and fitness equipment can be provided upon request.
Who’s it best for: Travelers who fantasize about having their own private island. Our favorite rooms: Casa Ventanas is the island's only over-water bungalow. That would be fabulous enough, but paired with the wraparound porch and private dock, this option ensures that sea lovers will have a close-up aquatic show, which might include barracuda and parrotfish. Push the boat out: With advance notice, staff can set up special experiences and excursions, including snorkeling, diving, and fly-fishing trips, or a private beach picnic.