Three years in a row, back in the late-00s, I spent my summers working at an archaeological site in Belize. It was sweat-drenching, mosquito-biting work, and all season long I looked forward to our annual escape to the other Belize, the Belize of sandy beaches and coral reefs—our escape to Placencia.
Most people who visit Belize gravitate towards Ambergris Caye, an island 35 miles off the coast of Belize City. But I’ve always preferred Placencia, the 16-mile peninsula that points like a finger down the southern coast. Its beaches are quieter, its vibe more laid-back. Real Belizeans actually live there, not just expats.
Most of the stays in Placencia are small, locally owned hotels and guesthouses. They’re pleasant and affordable but, frankly, not much to write home about. But just before the pandemic shut down the country, a luxurious new retreat moved to town. Two years later, the boutique Sirenian Bay Resort is ready for its long-awaited spotlight.
The bungalows and villas at Sirenian Bay wrap around the pool like an oyster shell around a pearl.(Courtesy of Sirenian Bay Resort)
Sirenian Bay is a collection of tony bungalows and villas hugging the Caribbean coast on the peninsula’s equator. There’s a boutique, private beach club feel to the place (it has space for only 70 to 80 guests), which wraps around an inviting pool like an oyster shell around a pearl, a thatch-roof swim-up tiki bar at one edge.
On its eastern side, the pool deck gives way to manicured sand set with lounge chairs and a gentle, bathtub-warm sea. A stack of kayaks and paddle boards stand at the ready.
Each of the 12 all-inclusive bungalow suites are a little different. Some have lush outdoor showers, some have two bedrooms; one even has a plunge pool on a balcony overlooking the sea. All have A/C, interior and private exterior seating areas, WiFi, and tanks of purified water.
But if you’ve got a squad, Sirenian Bay’s villas are the way to go. Not only do they come with a private butler who can do everything from picking up groceries for your kitchen to bringing you a steady stream of drinks, all three have private plunge pools with views of the Caribbean.
Meals at the casual restaurant-bar Inky’s, the rooftop lounge Three60 Martini Bar, and the Beach Grille are included in your stay, as well as access to an 18-hole mini golf course, a well-stocked fitness center, and tennis and pickleball courts. Unexpectedly (this is a tropical country, after all) there’s a wine cellar and wine tasting room. At the Siren’s Spa, they do massages, waxing, and body treatments like a detoxifying chocolate body scrub and mask.
Fish sere, a coconut broth stew made with root vegetables and shoestring plantains.(Courtesy of Sirenian Bay Resort)
Some of the unique culture and heritage of Belize Sirenian Bay can bring right to the resort. One night, over a meal of local delicacies exquisitely elevated by executive chef Enrique Awe like fish sere, a coconut broth stew made with root vegetables and shoestring plantains, a group of Garinagu (Garifuna) drummers from the nearby Indigenous village of Seine Bight, blows me away with their melody and rhythm. Another night, a local rum distiller gives a master class on the Caribbean spirit at the tiki bar.
But while the pool and the tranquil sea are oh-so-inviting, it’s an understatement to say you’d be missing out if you never left the property. One of the reasons I prefer Placencia over the cayes is its proximity to some of the country’s best inland adventures—and Sirenian Bay’s sister tour operation, Captain Jak’s, can get you there. Less than an hour away from the beach you can swim beneath the Mayan King waterfall, zipline through the rainforest, and tube down a river Jungle Book–style. A 90-minute drive will get you to ancient archaeological sites or one of the region’s small, family- and Indigenous-owned chocolate plantations.
Closer still are the Silk Cayes, a trio of islands surrounded by a coral reef off Placencia’s coast. Snorkeling in their shadow is like peering into an underwater kingdom of astonishing shape and color. Nurse sharks and stingrays glide unhurriedly at the reef’s edge. On the morning I go, a dawn still gray with overnight showers, a loggerhead turtle comes near as she investigates the sandy sea floor in search of snacks. I swim with her for only a few minutes but the experience feels infinite, like time is stretching and bending with the movement of her flippers.
Sirenian Bay is not ostentatious or fussy. The resort (and Placencia as a whole, for that matter) is easygoing and languid. It’s a different kind of luxury—a quiet, leisurely splendor that was honored with both a World Luxury Hotel Award and Conde Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Award in 2021—and that’s the kind of luxury we could all use a little more of.
// All-inclusive rates start around $1,700 for two guests for a four-night minimum stay; Mile 17.5 Placencia Rd., Surfside Community (Placencia), sirenianbay.com.
One of the Silk Cayes, among Placencia's best snorkeling spots.(Courtesy of Sirenian Bay Resort)