Eating at Cayo Espanto, Belize’s Unique Personal Island
Belize doesn’t have a Michelin Guide, nor has it been included in the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list (hint hint “secret reviewers”), but we do have a few higher-end dining options in the country that shouldn’t be missed. One of the best will be a little difficult to dine at — unless you’re booking a villa there. Those looking for one of the most exclusive luxury retreats in Belize will want to take note of Cayo Espanto. This private island is only a seven-minute boat ride from the popular tourist destination of Ambergris Caye, the island I’m lucky enough to call home for half the year.
Aerial view of Casa Olita at Cayo Espanto at dusk with Ambergris Caye off in the distance.
While on assignment for a travel publication recently, I had the opportunity to spend two nights at Cayo Espanto. I can say I was sufficiently blown away by both the quality of the cuisine and the world-class service Cayo Espanto’s staff provides on this tiny island in the Caribbean. From the special, hand-crafted welcome drink waiting for you as you step off the boat to a spectacular dessert bonfire on the beach, I’d be lying if I said this experience didn’t rival some of my favorite meals at the world’s top restaurants.
Cayo Espanto is truly a private island. You won’t even see other boats passing by very often, especially if you stay on the back side of the island, like at Casa Olita, where I was. You aren’t likely to see the other guests either, unless they happen to be kayaking around the island or getting some sun on their adjacent private dock. With only seven villas, one of which is an over-the-water bungalow, Cayo Espanto focuses all their efforts on seamless behind-the-scenes operations and as much pampering as your heart desires. It’s no surprise then that celebrities like Robert De Niro, Brad Pitt, Tiger Woods, Penelope Cruz, and Leonardo Di Caprio are all rumored to have stayed there.
I could get used to this view every day
Breakfast on Your Private Deck
Mornings started with our delightful “housemen” (aka butlers) providing 7 am coffee while we perused the day’s breakfast options. First up was a plate of local fresh fruit to munch on as we slowly let the caffeine do its magic. The menu changes regularly, and guests can order anything off the daily selections. Super hungry and want to order pancakes and an omelet? Go for it. You’re on vacation, so why not? Only want to try a half of an Eggs Benedict so you can try something else too? No problem. And, I recommend only doing half of any breakfast item if you are a light eater, as Cayo Espanto doesn’t skimp on the portions.
Breakfast: Half orders of Eggs Benedict, Huevos Rancheros, Banana Pancakes, and French Toast.
Breakfast Burrito at Cayo Espanto with flour tortilla (Belize has the best handmade flour tortillas!)
Lunch and Welcome Snacks
On the first day, we arrived at Cayo Espanto around 3 pm. Almost immediately, they had our table set up with a welcome snack of quesadillas for us while we settled in and finished our welcome drink, their signature Cayo Espanto Wave. For lunch the next day, we had a pretty hearty meal, ideal for those travelers coming back from diving, snorkeling, or a fishing trip.
Cayo Espanto Wave and welcome quesadilla
Cayo’s Fish Tacos with fresh fish and lime cabbage slaw (some of the best fish tacos I’ve had anywhere)
Cayo’s Club Sandwich with grilled chicken, bacon, provolone cheese, avocado, vine ripened tomato, red onion, and freshly made potato chips.
Service is 5-star all around, and with a staff ratio that’s basically 2-to-1, you’ll want for nothing while you’re on Cayo Espanto. Each villa is equipped with a two-way radio so you can call your housemen anytime you want or need something. Hungry for a mid-afternoon snack or need another margarita? Coming right up! And, I do highly recommend trying some of their cocktails. Fresh fruit margaritas were among our favorites, especially pineapple and mango. Perfect for the late afternoon as you relax in your private plunge pool.
Dinner at Cayo Espanto
Not surprisingly, dinner is where Cayo Espanto’s service and cuisine really shine. When you book your stay, you’ll receive a detailed e-mail questionnaire to fill out where you can tell them your ideal dining style, thoughts on your dream dinner, allergies, etc. Depending on how many nights you are staying, you will dine in different spots each night. The first night they set up dinner on our private dock, and it was beautiful to look back and see the soft glow or our villa as they did turn down service. On the second night, we dined along our little stretch of private beach.
The process to set up each meal is fascinating in itself, as your housemen effortlessly create this romantic setting under the stars in a matter of minutes. They truly go all out, decorating with landscape lighting that leads you right to the table, combined with a variety of tiki torches, candles, and special artistic designs in the sand.
The first night we were treated to a bit of a unique experience. Chef Patrick created a special tasting menu so we could sample a wider variety of his 5-star cuisine. Our courses differed, so there were even more dishes to sample. What a rough job!
Stone Crab Cake Appetizer: crab cake served with claw, micro basil, watermelon, and citrus Burre Blanc sauce.
Citrus Cheesecake: Cointreau Scented Cheesecake with Citrus Salad, and Grand Marnier Frozen Yogurt.
Don’t worry though; the standard dinner menu already consists of a starter, soup, main course, and dessert, so you still have plenty of opportunities to enjoy a multi-course dinner. And, if you’re celebrating a special occasion, be sure to let them know ahead of time, as they have a variety of special touches that can be arranged. Options include the special chef’s tasting menu and/or a decadent dessert bonfire with chocolate fondue and a subsequent wish balloon release.
Caribbean Lobster with Shellfish Risotto, Asparagus, Summer Squash and Citrus Nage
A little peek at what the dessert bonfire is like at Cayo Espanto – impressed the the chocolate fondue set up on top of the trip of chocolate desserts!
Details on Cayo Espanto
Cayo Espanto only has seven villas, and each one offers a little different view of paradise. Rates start around $1,600 US a night, and go up to around $3,000 US. This rate includes three meals a day, snacks, and beer, cocktails, water, and soft drinks. Wine and Champagne are not included, but they are available to purchase by the bottle. Because sourcing wine is not as easy in Belize as some other countries, double-check with Cayo Espanto ahead of time if there is a particular wine you want with dinner. If they cannot get it, you can always bring one or two bottles in with you. Any more than that and you’re looking at paying duties on arrival in the country.
Casa Olita is off by itself on Cayo Espanto so you really do feel completely secluded.
Getting to Cayo Espanto is relatively easy. You’ll fly into BZE, Belize’s only international airport. From there, you can fly to Ambergris Caye on one of Belize’s national carriers. Cayo Espanto will arrange a taxi to pick you up at the San Pedro airstrip and take you to their nearby boat dock where a private boat whisks you over the island. Or, for the one-of-a-kind luxury entrance, book a private flight on Astrum Helicopters straight from the mainland to Cayo Espanto.