Placencia Peninsula Belize
I never dreamed I would see a manatee, much less swim with one, and then it just happened. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon as we sailed through crystalline blue waters around the picturesque Placencia peninsula in southern Belize.
This sparkling gem on the Caribbean Sea offers both adventure and a taste of luxury.
The entire peninsula is studded with sandy beaches and stretches for 16 miles. To the east, lies the sparkling Caribbean. Facing west, the Placencia Lagoon is a complex ecosystem boasting lush mangrove forests and vast wetlands.
We were headed back to a private marina on the lagoon side of the peninsula when we decided to take a quick swim. I jokingly informed our captain that I needed to see a manatee to complete my day. We anchored another 50 feet away and dove with abandon into the refreshing waters.
To my surprise and utter delight, a friend who had swum out ahead started shrieking, “manatee, manatee!” And sure enough, there he or she was floating peacefully just below the surface, as curious about us as we were of it.
In addition to a varied population of bird species, dolphins, rays and saltwater crocodiles, the Placencia Lagoon is a major breeding area for marine turtles and the now rare and endangered manatee. Seeing this gentle and magnificent creature was beyond thrilling and most certainly the highlight of our day.
It was as if we had called it into existence. As we turned to swim away, the inquisitive manatee floated up to the surface and we could see its huge gray head gazing our way as if to bid us farewell.
In colonial days, Placencia was first and foremost a fishing village. The Spanish named it Punta Placencia or Point Pleasant in English. Because of its natural beauty and ideal proximity to pristine beaches, caves, jungle and the world’s second-largest barrier reef, Placencia today has evolved into a first-class destination offering travelers luxurious amenities while retaining its traditional appeal.
The last seven years have seen enormous growth in tourism bringing with it a boom in the development of luxury resorts and residences, particularly in the northern part of the peninsula near Seine Bight, a largely Garifuna village. And with a growing number of visitors preferring to stay in a private villa as opposed to a hotel, the demand for such residences has become increasingly popular.
Drawing on inspiration from the country’s many unique offerings and diversity, Itz’ana Resort & Residences is a distinctive example of one of the area’s most recent boutique luxury development projects. “We have spent four years working on every single detail of this resort,” said Colin Hannan, one of the developers, “which is what will make it impactful for our guests.
From an investment standpoint, this is so critical,” he emphasized. “This investment of time and energy will allow us to create a thriving resort, which in turn benefits our vibrant and passionate community of homeowners.
“The name Itz’ana was inspired by Itzamná, the Mayan god of day and of night,” explained Hannan. “With our first resort, Ka’ana, located in the lush jungles of Belize, we wanted to celebrate the contrast of adventure by day and luxury by night. With Itz’ana, we brought this contrast to the beach, and we chose Placencia, as it represents a center point of the contrasting Caribbean with Central America.
We love this juxtaposition … being able to offer both beach and lagoon, luxury and adventure. The Mayan god of day and of night seemed like a perfect fit, so we adapted the name slightly to fit cohesively with Ka’ana, because we see the two resorts as very close twins.”
Itz’ana offers buyers the opportunity to choose between beach- or lagoon-front living with all 66 luxury boutique cottages and villas located directly on the waterfront. I was fortunate to view the resort development both on land and from the sea.
As we sailed back around the peninsula, I could easily imagine myself docking at one of the resort’s 18 slips in the central marina of a lagoon-front villa and then lingering blissfully on my private sundeck enjoying a Belizean rum cocktail.
The first phase of the Itz’ana resort project, which includes the hotel building (20 units consisting of 16 rooms, two suites and two penthouses) as well as the Great House, is scheduled for completion in late spring. Fourteen villas on the beach front and all lagoon villas will be completed throughout the year.
“Central to our decision to invest in our developments in Belize, was our love of the diversity of the country itself,” said Hannan. “We wanted to pay homage to this with the Great House, which is really the heart and soul of the entire project.
So while architecturally, we took inspiration from the British Colonial houses scattered throughout the country, on the interior we got to improvise and play with multi-dimensional design concepts.
“We want the Great House to feel like it’s been a part of Belize’s history, almost like an old estate home that has been brought back to life. It doesn’t reveal itself to you immediately, just like the country of Belize: You have to search a little bit, and the more you do, the more rewarded you become.”
Hannan went on to explain that this design concept led project developers to the creation of areas in the Great House such as the Rum Room, which is accessed through a secret passageway and holds rums from every Caribbean and Latin American rum-producing nation. “The Great House is full of heart. It’s sophisticated, yet welcoming, and we cannot wait to introduce it to the world,” said Hannan.
REVUE article text and photos by Kerstin Sabene