Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
A tranquil resort with an unpretentious vibe
Guests must travel by boat from San Pedro to Portofino's pier, where they will be greeted by a staff member and have their luggage whisked away. During check-in, they are offered a welcome drink and given a quick overview of the property.
Because of the remote location, many guests spend their time on the property, lounging by the pool or the beach. It's a quiet scene, and most guests tend to sit back and read. People are spread out, so it can often feel like you have the whole resort to yourself. There are Adirondack chairs by the pool and cushioned lounge chairs on the beach. Active travelers can partake of the free kayaks and snorkel gear, or arrange a tour through the dive shop on-site.
Nighttime becomes more lively -- there is an evening boat that takes guests to San Pedro for dinner, but many choose to stay on-site. As the sun sets, the ambiance turns romantic, with candles and soft lighting; even the pool is aglow in light. The restaurant and bar attract a mix of guests, locals, and visitors from nearby resorts. Many of the staff members have been working here for years, and provide good local insight.
Six miles north of San Pedro, and only accessible by boat
Portofino is located on a dirt road six miles north of San Pedro -- the center of activity Ambergris Caye, which is the largest island in Belize. The only mode of transportation to the resort is by boat (the road is not recommended; in fact, the owners have only used it twice). Guests arriving from Belize International Airport will need to make flight arrangements into San Pedro airstrip, where they will be picked up by one of Portofino's boats. This is a free service offered by the resort, and the enjoyable ride is about 15 minutes long. Regular boat trips to and from San Pedro are offered to guests every day. The front desk can also arrange for pick-up by public water taxi for guests that want to head to town at a specific time.
Travelers are mostly drawn to Ambergris Caye for the world-class diving and snorkeling at Belize Barrier Reef, about half a mile off shore. San Pedro is filled with friendly locals and expats, and most of the island's restaurants, nightclubs, and tour operators can be found here.
A variety of authentic room types decorated with local materials
The resort opened in 2001 with 11 rooms, and today there are 16 total, as well as a separate mansion for larger groups. The style is laid-back but elegant.
Accommodations come with dark wood flooring and thatched roofs (admittedly a few harmless geckos do get in, but that's common in Belize). Beds are dressed in white linens (some have mosquito nets) that stand out against bold accent walls and neat light fixtures. Bathrooms are open in design, and have walk-in showers and soft bathrobes. Colorful textiles and furnishings are hand-picked from local artisans in Belize, Mexico and Guatemala. Most of the units have a private porch and hammock.
A white-sand beach with beautiful views and calm waves for sea kayaking
The beach has firmly packed white sand and cushioned lounge chairs, as well as a single hammock suspended between two logs in the shallow water. The beach is raked and cleaned every morning, and guests can order drinks at the Green Parrot Bar and have them delivered to the beach or the pier.
The water is shallow for a number of feet, so kids can wade safely. Seaweed does accumulate in the shallow water (common in Belize), but guests can use the swimming pier to go straight to deeper water. Similar docks with thatched roofs line the beach, providing great photo ops. Toward the end of the pier, it's possible to hear the distinct sound of the surf breaking at the barrier reef nearby.
Sea kayaks are available for free for guests, as is snorkel gear. Guests can walk, jog or bike along the beach path that runs down the island.
A standout swimming pool and Jacuzzi, though lacking lounge chairs
The ocean-view pool and Jacuzzi, which were completed in 2008, are the focal point of the resort. The pool's distinct circular shape resembles the Portofino sunshine logo, and the concrete deck is surrounded by palm trees. Adirondack chairs are situated on the deck and directly in the shallow section of the pool -- but there are no cushioned loungers. A set of stairs leads down from the shallow section, and the pool gets gradually deeper. The deepest point of the pool is 6'8", and it is not a coincidence that Jan, the owner, is 6'7" tall -- it was important to him that he could go completely under water standing straight up.
Kids are welcome at Portofino's, though the resort is more popular with couples
A gourmet menu using fresh ingredients
There is one restaurant on the property, and it offers a decent selection of bar appetizers as well as gourmet lunch and dinner entrees. Average prices for dinner entrees are in the mid-20s, and a vegetarian menu selection is available.
The restaurant menu focuses on Euro-Caribbean fusion cuisine. Here you'll find penne pollo alfredo rubbing shoulders with pineapple picante pork tenderloin.The chef uses fresh meats and produce. Seafood is delivered daily by local fisherman, and daily specials might include red snapper (caught hours earlier), baked in banana leaves.
Meals can be ordered downstairs at the Green Parrot Bar, or upstairs in the restaurant section. At night, the atmosphere is transformed with candles, and outdoor tables have the best view of the rustling palms and sea beyond. The restaurant is well-known on the island, and many locals are regulars as well.
An impressive range of cocktails and healthy smoothies
The Green Parrot Bar (named after the previous property here) offers a wide range of local and imported liquors. There is specialty cocktail menu, but the must-have drink at the resort is the classic margarita -- the long-time bartender and owners are passionate about it. For something lighter, there is Belikin beer, Guinness, and a decent wine list. Non-alcoholic cocktails, soft drinks, and smoothies using local fruits are also offered.
Drinks can be ordered at the bar (indoor and outdoor seating areas) or delivered to the rooms, the beach or the pool.
A fleet of boats, and a helpful staff to assist with tours and transportation
A dive shop on-site, and free use of kayaks and snorkel gear
Honeymoon packages, romantic tours, and rooms with balconies and ocean views
Unique honeymoon packages are offered, and include a romantic room type, as well as extra additions such as a day trip and special candlelight dinner on the pier. (Romantic dining on the beach or pier can be arranged for any guest.)
An evening cruise is also popular with couples. The boat takes guests south towards Hol Chan, just in time for sunset.
A special Honeymoon Suite is available, and all rooms have romantic touches, including bathrobes and open-style bathrooms. Beds are made from local bamboo and are dressed with fine white linens that stand out against bold accent walls (in some rooms, mosquito nets act as canopies). Most units have private patios with hammocks.
Day tours can be arranged with a private guide, or couples can use the free kayaks and snorkel gear.
A pretty beach setting for casual but elegant weddings
The picturesque seaside setting makes this remote resort popular for small destination weddings. Ceremonies can occur anywhere on the property, including the beach, pier, or next to the pool facing the sea. Basic wedding packages are customizable to each couple and start at $1,200, not including service charges or taxes.
The on-site restaurant can handle full sit-down receptions. Alternately, guests can choose to have cocktails at the bar following the ceremony, and then head to a restaurant nearby for dinner. Room rates are not discounted for groups.
The owners are passionate about conservation, and buying local products
Family owned since 2001, with a romantic story attached
It started like this: Sandra and Jan met in Belgium and fell in love. After traveling all over the world in search of a place to build their dream resort, the duo came to Belize and discovered a beautiful area of Ambergris Caye. They purchased the property formerly known as the Green Parrot (the name of the bar honors this past), got married, and opened Portofino with 11 rooms in November 2001. Today, they continue to live on the property with their two children.
In 2006, the owners added the Portofino Mansion, and a few years later the pool and four more suites were added. The couple stays active with local tourism boards.
Guests with special needs are advised to stay elsewhere.
Due to the natural terrain of the resort, and because it is accessible only by boat, Portofino is not equipped with handicap accessible features.
A safe and remote location on the northern end of Ambergris Caye
Portofino is six miles north of San Pedro, and receives very little traffic (though passersby do use the beach bike path in front). There is a full-time security guard roaming the property throughout the night. In case of any emergencies, the staff, management, and owners all live on-site.
Belize is a peaceful and friendly nation with fewer than 400,000 residents. Guests, as anywhere else, should exercise caution, especially at night. No inoculations are required by the Government of Belize, but it's a good idea to check with your local physician for medical advice prior to traveling in the region.
Owners Jan and Sandra opened this romantic hideaway in 2001, and today it has 16 rooms (many cabana-style units with thatched roofs) and one mansion for families and groups. The room decor is a mix of Belizean and Guatemalan textiles and furnishings, and the ambiance is unpretentious (the owners call the vibe "barefoot elegance"). The property is surrounded by palms and located six miles north of San Pedro, so guests will need to take boats to and from town. The pool has ocean views, the restaurant and bar has both indoor and outdoor sections, and beach has firmly packed white sand and a swimming pier. Active types can take advantage of the free kayaks and snorkel gear, or the professional dive shop on-site. Wi-Fi is free.