Turtle Inn

The Godfather's eco-resort

Mr. Francis sat here: Turtle Inn    

I SIT AT THE DESK OF TURTLE INN'S VILLA ONE, staring through wooden shutters at the Caribbean, hoping for some Maya magic. Turtle Inn is owned by Francis Ford Coppola, and he was here, on the southern coast of Belize, working at this very desk, only a few weeks ago. I'm a huge fan of Mr. Francis (as he's called by the people who work here). I love the Godfather trilogy, but what I really love is Villa One's outdoor garden shower, designed by the auteur himself, surrounded by a high wall built by Maya stonemasons and illuminated with Balinese lanterns. I also love the Italian-for-the-tropics cuisine—white pizza topped with garlic and arugula grown from Sicilian seeds in Turtle Inn's garden, soup made from local lobster—served in the snazzy open-air restaurant. A few nights at the inn, I thought, and maybe I'd absorb some of the creative mojo.

The Good Life // The 18 bungalows, all steps from the beach, are built in the style of traditional Balinese thatched huts, with large screened decks, ample living spaces, and ornate carved doors imported from Bali. The lovely Belizean wait staff (one soft-spoken boy responds to requests with "Don't worry; I gotcha") wear white linen shirts and sarongs. Marie Sharp's Belizean Heat Habanero Pepper Sauce is on every table, the perfect addition to the spaghetti carbonara. All proof that here at the Turtle Inn, the weird fusion of Balinese- Belizean-Coppola culture actually works. Jaw Dropper // The inn is located near the end of Placencia Peninsula—a 16-mile noodle of land with the Placencia Lagoon on one side and the sea on the other. At the Turtle Inn dive shop, on the lagoon, an American crocodile named Jeff has taken up residency near the boat dock. He's not housebroken, but he'll pose for pictures.

Sports on-Site // The thatch-roofed bar is about 20 yards from every bungalow, on the ocean's edge, which allows for a pleasant daily routine: Snorkel a bit, collapse on your chaise, order Turtle Juice (a house specialty made with coconut rum), kayak a mile or so up to Rum Point and back, collapse on your chaise, snorkel, Turtle Juice, rinse, repeat. Some of Belize's finest beaches—narrow, sandy, palm-fringed—grace the peninsula. When you feel in need of an outing, beach-cruiser bikes are available for riding into the tiny Creole village of Placencia, a mile down the road. Or, from the inn's dive shop, head out to Belize's barrier reef—prime location for diving or saltwater fly-fishing. The rub is that it's an hourlong speedboat ride on sometimes choppy waters. But once out there, it's not unusual to see spotted rays or even nurse sharks cruising along a 2,000-foot wall, or for anglers to hook bonefish, tarpon, or snook.

Beyond the Sand // Turtle Inn is a great base for venturing into the jungle. The front desk can arrange day trips to Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary (the world's first jaguar reserve) and a number of large Maya ruins. Monkey River is 45 minutes to the south by boat, through mangrove estuaries that are home to manatees. While cruising upriver, you'll encounter tiger herons, gargantuan butterflies, six-foot iguanas, and howler monkeys.

The Fine Print // American Airlines (800-433-7300, www.aa.com) flies to Belize City for about $500 round-trip from both Miami and Dallas. From there, it's a 35-minute flight on Maya Island Air ($140 round-trip; 800-225-6732, www.mayaairways.com) to the Placencia airstrip. From January 4 to April 30 (excluding the week of Easter), seafront cottages at Turtle Inn (800-746-3743, www.turtleinn.com) are $300 per night, double occupancy, including Continental breakfast and use of bikes and sea kayaks (from $200 per night in low season).

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