story and photos by Susanna Starr
If your dream vacation holds visions of palm trees softly swaying on a stretch of pristine, white sand beach on the shores of the Caribbean waters, as does mine, this can very well be the place for you. And, if these dreams include privacy and exquisite tropical gardens as well as outstanding décor and super friendly staff, Chabil Mar Villas could be your destination.
Located on a narrow peninsula in an area previously considered remote, Placencia was a sleepy village with not much emphasis on tourism. It probably was just too hard to get to, so there was little available in terms of accommodations, restaurants, tours and excursions. But all of that has changed over the course of the past fifteen years or so. Dianne Bulman arrived in Placencia ten years ago and with her long history of visiting islands in the Caribbean and developing resorts, found her chance to create her own special vision in an area that held all the requirements. It was just on the brink of outside “discovery” with all the beauty of a tropical island. However, rather than an actual island, this peninsula had two sides, both equally beautiful and unique in its own way.
First Chabil Mar was created, a lovely, intimate cluster of upscale villas surrounded by beautiful beach and incorporating two pools, a dock leading out to the palapa on the water, a perfect place to relax. Each villa is surrounded by lush gardens and the extensive outdoor areas provide special places to appreciate the beauty in luxury and comfort. The newest space is the expanded bar area and behind it a large, low table in a charming tropical palapa (thatched roofed structure) that can accommodate a good sized group. It’s also the area where there are several outdoor state-of-the art stainless steel cooking grills, making it ideal for the guests who bring back their own catch of the day from their fishing excursion arranged by the hotel.
By the time we had gotten our things inside and done the initial unpacking and went outside to sip the remainder of our welcome fruit punches, we already were introduced to several members of the staff whose main job, it seemed, was to provide whatever service was requested by the guest, even some the guest wasn’t aware they might like. One of the gardeners showed us a special fruit as we stopped for a moment to comment on the lush tropical foliage and flowers. His expansive smile attested to the joy he took in maintaining the gardens, a perfect compliment to the creativity of the person who did the flower arrangements inside the villa.
One of the interesting things about this exclusive resort is that are no designated restaurants. When we first checked in, handed our cold tropical punch drinks and escorted to our beautiful villa, we were advised that food could be served in any of the public areas, around the pools, out on the dock or on the beach. Of course some tantalizing dish could also be brought to you either inside your own accommodation or out on your deck. You didn’t even have to call someone, they’d find you! It was definitely a change of pace and the casual approach to dining was to be found throughout the resort. In a word, it’s casually elegant.
We had the unusual situation while there of checking in just before the full moon which just happened to occur on February 14th. Belize loves to celebrate this day of love and in our villa they went “all out” decorating our bed with a mural of fresh flowers spelling “Be My Valentine” around an elaborate heart of bougainvillea, tulipan (hibiscus) and leaves, all lovingly embraced by two towel swans in contrasting blue. It was as much a work of art as all the other beautiful decorations on the walls. That night, under the full moon, we listened to the reggae music being played around the main pool where some guests were dining at romantic, candlelit tables, under the canopy of star studded tropical skies.
On our first day there the very knowledgeable and affable David Kafka, who owns the real estate office of ReMax, drove us around the area across the road that is now being developed as a marina and community of luxurious private houses/condos with a stunning view across the lagoon of the Maya Mountains (read fantastic sunsets). This new development called the Peninsula Club is more than just an adjunct to Chabil Mar. It is the latest project in completing the vision of its dynamic and creative owner, Dianne, and a testimony to the larger picture that she envisions, that of having complete resort facilities including both the hotel on the beach and the alternative destination now being created on the lagoon. In addition to the community of homes, plans include not only an extensive marina but also a mall to provide services sometimes missing in this still developing area.
Both the Peninsula Club and Chabil Mar are privately owned villas but when the owners are not occupying them, they are rented to the lucky guests who can enjoy all the amenities the owners have created. In addition to the superb accommodations, Chabil Mar offers day trips to Mayan ruins and caves, fishing, snorkeling and diving and other interesting places on the mainland. As with any other resort area, there is something for everyone but Chabil Mar stands alone in offering the utmost of taste and elegance and that special feeling of intimacy to provide a very special vacation experience.
It is all ideally situated between the Tropic Air terminal, which services on their route many destinations in Belize as well as Roatan, Honduras and Cancun, Mexico, and the small town of Placencia--a short taxi or bicycle ride away. More flights are scheduled to be added in the near future as this area expands to welcome more tourists looking for a new Caribbean destination to spend their vacation. Because English is the language of the country, it’s an easy choice for people traveling from the United States and Canada but attracts Europeans as well who are looking for unspoiled tropical destinations to discover. Less than half an hour by small plane from Belize City, there are frequent flights both in and out of Placencia, making it very accessible from all major cities.
Getting to Belize:
Stann Creek District, Belize, Central America http://www.stanncreek.com/
Where to stay in luxury:
Susanna Starr is an entrepreneur, photographer, speaker, artist, writer, and traveler and holds a degree in philosophy from Stony Brook State University of New York. Susanna has over twenty years experience in the hospitality business as owner of Rancho Encantado, an eco-resort and spa in Mexico. She has lived in Northern New Mexico for more than thirty five years and has lived in and traveled throughout Latin America. Susanna is the author of the book: Fifty and Beyond: New Beginnings in Health and Well-Being. Her blog is here. Her new book can be seen here.