Let’s play word association. If I say Belize, you’ll say “scuba diving,” right? No doubt, Belize has a reputation of being a diver’s paradise, but this Central American country is attracting travelers for its incredibly hospitable and laidback vibe.
Far off the beaten path of the dive resorts and tourist playground lies a quaint, low key region, Placencia, that’s known for nothing but pure, old-fashioned relaxation and friendly locals. Texans Brian and Brenda Montgomery fell in love with the area on their first visit to Belize and bought beachfront property to build their retirement home. That’s how welcoming this region feels.
Realizing the potential of the location, they began scooping up adjacent property and built Sirenian Bay Resort and Villas to share this unique part of Belize with other travelers. The resort was slated to open in early 2020, but the pandemic slowed the plans and allowed the owners to really refine the resort’s amenities and offerings to ensure a luxury experience.
The Placencia Peninsula
You can’t get much farther away from the crowded resorts of Belize than this half-mile wide peninsula at the southern tip of Belize. There are no high-rise hotels—our guide said he could count on both hands the number of hotels or resorts in Placencia. The 24-mile long caye has a population of only 5,000, including a few expat neighborhoods, mainly people who came for vacation and fell in love with the area and built their own private retreats.
Driving down the narrow peninsula’s main road, you can often see water on both sides—the palm-tree lined Caribbean beaches to the East and the mangroves along lagoon facing the mainland to the West. Downtown Placencia is a small, old-world fishing village with colorful shops, seafood shacks, and a gelato stand known across the entire country. Locals and tourists can be found slowly strolling the streets and alleyways, reinforcing the region’s reputation for a low-key, laid back vibe.
The Place to Be
The private home the Montgomerys built for themselves in 2016, Manatee Villa, is now Sirenian Bay’s largest villa that sleeps 14 guests with four bedrooms, four bathrooms, and a large gourmet kitchen, all overlooking the Caribbean Ocean. It’s the perfect retreat for family reunions, groups of couples who travel together, or anyone who just wants a little extra space coupled with a whole lot of luxury.
Despite adding more accommodations, the resort retains its intimate, boutique feel with a maximum capacity of only 86 guests spread across 20 acres. There are three additional fully appointed villas, one that sleeps two people and has its own private pool, a three-bedroom villa that sleeps 10, and a loft apartment that sleeps six. Butler service is complimentary for guests of the villas and for those nights you don’t feel like cooking, a private chef is available to treat you to a traditional Mayan meal or a fresh seafood feast in the comfort of your home-away-from-home.
Twelve poolside bungalows feature a variety of configurations that sleep two to six guests. While all of the accommodations are impeccably furnished, the woodwork from local craftsmen is what stands out the most. The hand-carved doors and furniture made from the island’s indigenous woods—Mahogany Santa Maria, poisonwood, and Bocote—are simply stunning and add to the resort’s luxe feel.
Since the area is a bit remote (trust me, that’s a good thing), the owners added on plenty of amenities, so you never feel the need to leave. The resort’s location itself, situated on the narrow peninsula, provides perhaps the best form of entertainment—spectacular morning sunrises over the Caribbean and serene evening sunsets over the lagoon, best seen from the resort’s new rooftop martini bar.
The beachside grill means you never have to leave your chair to grab a quick bite like a burger, grilled chicken, or quesadilla. The resort’s signature restaurant, Inky’s 19th Hole Bar and Grill, serves a range of Belizean specialties and locally sourced dishes, including fresh fruits and vegetables grown onsite at the carefully tended outdoor garden. Guests can also opt for all-inclusive food and beverage plans.
The newest resort feature is a wine bar hidden in a quiet corner of the resort, where guests can drop in for a wine tasting or reserve for private tastings and intimate dinners. There are also several charming cafes in the area if you want to venture off property via golf cart, bike, or hitching a ride with your butler.
The beach is quiet and pristine, perfect for lounging in a chaise or napping in a hammock. But if you feel the need for activity, corn hole and bocce are set up on the beach. In the heat of the day, the pool and swim-up bar offer a nice respite from the beach. Before hitting Inky’s for dinner, guests can play a round at the tropical-themed mini golf course or take a sunset kayak tour through the mangroves. There are also pickleball and tennis courts, as well as a large, fully equipped gym.
To truly enjoy the tranquility of this remote area, head to the resort’s Three60 martini bar with, you guessed it, 360-degree views around the peninsula from the Mayan Mountains across the lagoon to the blue waters of the Caribbean. The bar serves up a creative tropical cocktail menu along with themed dining nights.
For adventurous travelers, Belize really offers the best of both worlds, on the land and the sea. Diving and snorkeling the barrier reef in Belize is an unmatched experience in this part of the world. But head further inland and you’ll find a whole host of adventures from ziplining through the country’s vast rainforest to tubing through the caves of ancient Mayan civilizations.
In keeping with their goal to ensure the highest level of guest service, the Montgomerys bought the local tour company, Captain Jak’s, which offers excursions for both land lovers and water adventurers. The owners of Sirenian Bay have also purchased a five-acre private island off the coast of Placencia that will be developed and used for guest experiences in 2021.
Getting There and Getting Around
There are a number of direct flights into Belize City from major U.S. cities including Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Denver, LA, Miami, Minneapolis, Toronto and New York (some may be on hiatus due to the pandemic). Placencia is roughly a three-hour drive from the airport which gives travelers a chance to see much of the countryside. You can also opt to take a quick 45-minute air shuttle directly to Placencia via Tropic Air.
Belize has taken the pandemic rather serious with tourism being its economic engine. They have followed CDC guidance and created Gold Standard accommodation requirements. Currently, travelers into Belize must show proof of vaccination or submit to an onsite PCR COVID test. To return to the U.S., guests must have proof of a negative COVID test which most hotels, including Sirenian Bay, arrange for on site.