Far from town and prices reflect that -- for food, tours, and transport
Beach poorly maintained and often littered with trash and sea grass
Air-conditioning doesn’t always work
Mosquitos and sand flies can be bad
El Secreto Hotel is a secluded four-pearl boutique hotel on the northern shores of Belize’s Ambergris Key. Its eight rustic-chic villas with lake, ocean, or garden views have vaulted thatched ceilings, air-conditioning, private whirlpools, and outdoor showers. The hotel’s posh infinity pool is done with marble accents and built-in lounge chairs, all with views overlook the sea. The restaurant, El Secreto, serves an international and Belizean menu that -- despite its expensive prices -- gets mixed reviews, and the hotel's beach is frequently littered with debris. Freebies include kayaks, Hobie Cat sailboats, stand-up paddle boards, and Wi-Fi. For a romantic getaway, El Secreto ticks most of the boxes, but those wanting more action closer to town it’s worth considering the condos at Captain Morgan’s Retreat.
Oceanfront tropical refuge with lots of romance but an underwhelming beach
A stay at El Secreto feels like being lost on a deserted island, albeit one with a posh oceanfront hotel and a soothing (for some) spa soundtrack. On a good day, the hotel grounds resemble a tropical Zen garden: raked sand, manicured hedges, and a blend of desert plants and rustling palm trees. On a bad day, swarms of mosquitos and sand flies prowl the resort, while trash and seaweed litter the beach. Thatch-roofed villas are set throughout the grounds and the combined open-air lobby, restaurant, and bar overlook the infinity pool and beach. Continuing the tranquil vibe, the hotel’s lobby includes a front desk that's surrounded by a shallow pool of polished river rocks and faux lotus flowers. The social vibe is low-key here, not surprising given the hotel's size and distance from civilization. Sun Bar has a South Pacific vibe, with its sandy floor, wicker couches, and sun-bleached dugout canoe decorated with conch shells that complement the wood-topped tile bar and hammocks. The hotel’s atmosphere is quiet and romantic, and guests are usually honeymooners or couples celebrating an anniversary, most of whom are from North America or Europe.
Secluded oceanfront location, far from San Pedro Town but close to reef diving
Located along Ambergris Caye’s deserted beach and mangrove-lined northern coastline, El Secreto is one of the island’s most remote resorts. It’s a good half-hour ferry ride (or wallet-busting water taxi) to to San Pedro town, the island’s commercial and transit hub that's full of restaurants, bars, and shops. A bumpy dirt road traces the shoreline and it takes an hour-and-a half to reach town by car. However, during our early 2016 visit a paved road was under construction that should cut the drive time considerably. A barrier reef that's great for snorkeling and diving traces the island's shore and is a ten-minute boat ride from the hotel. The nearest restaurant from the hotel (actually a tiki bar that serves drinks, ceviche, and tacos) is a 20-minute beach walk away. Getting to El Secreto from the airport in San Pedro Town requires a three-minute taxi (or walk) to the jetty, followed by a thirty-minute water shuttle. Alternatively, many island visitors take the hour-and-half ferry from Belize City to San Pedro to catch the half-hour shuttle to the hotel.
Rustic-chic villas with towering thatched ceilings, flat-screen TVs, and indoor and outdoor showers
The villas at El Secreto have ocean, lake, or garden views and blend polished and rustic Caribbean accents throughout. Expect to see locally-made hardwood furniture, airy granite bathrooms, and private outdoor whirlpools. Each villa’s color palette ranges from cayenne to brown to tan, and all incorporate Papeto --Mayan-patterned fabrics -- and Mexican beaded wall art. Villas have vaulted thatched ceilings that come with a caveat: Bats and lizards do call the roofs home, and have been known to sully the king beds' 400-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets.
All villas have a tech-forward smart-control system that manages the audio, LED lighting, air-conditioning, and even the door locks from an application on the room’s 42-inch flat-screen TV (that also has DirecTV satellite channels). Melitta Coffee makers, iPod docks, safes, and minibars stocked with beer, water, soda and snacks are standard. Irons and ironing boards are available upon request. Although slow, free Wi-Fi is available in all rooms.
Bathrooms are large and airy with marble countertops, rainfall showers, a soaking bathtub, and tropical accents like a bamboo ladder drying rack and an additional open-air shower. Malin + Goetz rum bar soap, moisturizer, body wash, cilantro conditioner, and peppermint shampoo are standard in all rooms, as are hairdryers, robes, and slippers.
Zen-like infinity pool with ocean views, palm-lined beach, and free water-sports equipment rentals
For a four-pearl hotel, the amenities at El Secreto are pretty limited. Its best feature is the ocean-view infinity pool with built-in loungers and a wood-deck surrounded by rattan lounge chairs with plush tan cushions. There’s also a small whirlpool next to the pool. The hotel has a wide, palm-fringed beach with cushioned lounge chairs, a swing, and a hammock, but it isn’t well maintained and sadly the sand is often covered with sea grass (and even trash). Free kayaks, paddle boards, a Hobie Cat sail boat, and snorkeling equipment are available, but it's hands off of the Jet Ski, as it’s the hotel owner’s private toy. Bicycles are also available for free. The hotel’s spa offers massages from its perch in the Ikal (Mayan for “spirit”) Spa Tower overlooking the lake, and massages are also available beachside and in guest rooms.
The oceanfront El Secreto Restaurant serves up expensive international and Belizean cuisine that -- despite its great views and a harem-like seating area with plush cushions -- gets mixed reviews. Next door, the sandy-floored Sun Bar has good happy hour specials and pool views. The hotel offers overpriced tours, diving, and excursions, but you’ll save a ton of money arranging them from a reputable operator in San Pedro Town. Round trip airport transfers are free for guests staying longer than three days -- a big plus. There are also free daily shuttles to San Pedro town, but keep in mind that the schedule is inconsistent and changes daily. All water is drinkable at the hotel and Wi-Fi is free, but slow.