Ambergris With Children
Our family of four – mid-40s parents, a 14-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy – spent nine days on Ambergris Caye in mid-April. Following are a few of our observations.
The much-dreaded 14-seat Tropic Air flight from Belize City to San Pedro was spectacular. We had the sensation of floating; it was not frightening at all.
Because we were staying at the SunBreeze Hotel, we were able to simply pick up our luggage and walk to the hotel, since it is located right next to the airstrip. Our travel agent (Barb’s Belize) told us it would be a two-minute walk to the hotel. She lied! It was only about 30 seconds! Incidentally, we never heard any airplane noise at our hotel.
Our room (114) was perfect. Spacious and clean, it had a separate alcove with a single bed – a perfect place for our daughter. The air conditioning, which we needed only a few times, worked well, and we appreciated the small refrigerator in the room (it became "The Leftover Café," the repository for all the food we couldn’t eat at restaurants that we took "home"). The hotel pool was great and had a nice view of the crystal clear water, but what I liked best about the SunBreeze was its location, just slightly south of the center of San Pedro, and within walking distance of everything in town.
In general, order the fish…unless you live in a coastal city, you will never, ever have fish this fresh (and, it’s not farmed, so it has wonderful flavor). When you tire of fish, get the chicken. Almost everything is accompanied by rice and beans, and while somewhat monotonous, the food is well seasoned and well prepared. I was surprised at the lack of tropical fruits (compared to our experience last year in Costa Rica). But as a baker, I was especially pleased with the delicious and wide variety of homemade baked goods.
Breakfast at Caruso’s (attached to our hotel) was a bit pricey, but the location overlooking the water was superb. We ate there some mornings when we were feeling a bit flush; other mornings, we had cinnamon buns and banana bread from Ruby’s. We also had the same full breakfasts (eggs, bacon, rice and beans, fried jacks, etc.) for half the price of Caruso’s at the restaurant just south of the SunBreeze, opposite the airstrip. (I can’t recall the name of the restaurant.) While the food itself was comparable, the atmosphere at Caruso’s was far superior.
We enjoyed the beach barbecue at Ramon’s (right next door, practically) our first night, although at $55 US, we didn’t feel it was a great value. But we had been traveling since 5 a.m. that morning, and wanted something nourishing and simple. We were asleep by 8 p.m.! Elvi’s restaurant was excellent. (Arrive early for the best service). We also ate tacos at a small stand on Pescador Drive, run by native women who didn’t seem to speak any English, and featured fresh made tortillas and really tasty food. Some natives helped us order, and stuck around to talk as we ate. Did I mention how friendly everyone is?
We also ate at Fidos…friendly service, and good food, and we really liked the pizza at Caruso’s. One night, while searching for a place to eat, we bumped into the Holiday Hotel beach barbecue…great food (I recommend the snapper) and music, and as we ate, a full moon rose above the water. It was $30 US for the four of us.
By far, our most delicious meal was the lunch we had at Capricorn, (worth the trip to the north end of the island) everything is fabulous….food and setting.
We took our first snorkel trip -- to Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley -- with the SunBreeze Hotel dive shop, Aqua Dives. The boat’s motor died about half way there, and our boat was towed to Hol Can by a park ranger. We were the only ones on the boat, so we basically had a private guide to explore Hol Chan’s aquarium-like conditions. Fabulous. Our guide arranged for us to join another guide for the Shark Ray Alley stop. L’ll Alphonse fed chum to the sharks and rays, and held them (and even wore the rays as hats), much to the delight of all. (However, I question the wisdom/ramifications of this behavior.)
We took two major day trips – one to watch the manatees, with stops at Goff’s Caye (a small, beautiful island inhabited only by hordes of tourists who drop by for beach barbecues and snokeling, but worth it, nonetheless), and Caye Cauker – and the other to Lamanai. Am I the only one astonished at the astronomical cost of these trips? The first, however, was worth it. I don’t think I’d repeat the Lamanai trip. Also, on all these trips, the price is the same – whether you are the only family in a small boat or one of 35 in a larger boat. We also had a bad experience on our Lamanai trip, which we booked with SeaDuced. At their direction, we left our bags near our lunch spot, with the assurance that they would be safe. Our bag (containing my daughter’s walkman, our binoculars, etc.) was missing, and while we were eventually reimbursed $100 by SeaDuced, the amount we asked for, it was like pulling teeth.
One day, when we inquired about taking a water taxi to the north part of the island, a man in the shop at Fido’s dock offered us a deal by which for one price we would get round-trip water taxi fare, lunch at Journey’s End resort and full use of the resorts pool and water sports equipment. We had nothing better to do, so off we went. The highlight for my son was snorkeling with Steve, who fed spotted eagle rays (they are huge!) as they gathered round him near Mexico Rocks.
One afternoon, we crashed the pool at Ramon’s, but we were caught and asked to leave. That pool is great, and there were lots of kids swimming that day, which was the big attraction for our kids.
Careful of the muddy roads. Our golf cart got hopelessly stuck on our way north to Capricorn’s. Luckily, some helpful Belizeans managed to free us, but not before my daughter received numerous mosquito bites.
Honest to God, we spotted two Australians driving a golf cart on Barrier Reef Drive – stark naked! It appeared as if they one too many Belikans….
Pack lots of sunscreen. And then, pack some more.
No kidding, you never really need shoes!
We found the service in restaurants to be really good (contrary to what I had heard).
Try the chicken drop at the Spinthrift. We did, but after waiting 15 minutes for the drop, we gave up and left.
Whenever presented with the opportunity, eat a coconut tart.
If you must, check in at the internet café…My daughter LIVED there, spending time each day emailing and instant messaging her friends. The people who run it are very nice; near the end of our trip they were greeting our daughter by name.
Check out Chocolate’s gift shop in Caye Cauker for fab jewelry. (And I don’t even like jewelry much.)
If possible, bring masks for kids. Our son was super disappointed to discover that when our Amigos Del Mar tour boat anchored at Hol Chan, his equipment wasn’t on board. We had gone to the dive shop early in the day to rent his equipment (he is especially small) and they assured us that they would put it on the boat before picking us up. They didn’t, but they did refund our money without a fuss.
I must recommend the masseuse at the SunBreeze, Ann Plowman. Very relaxing. And I thought I was already relaxed!
Finally, the best of Belize are the people of Belize, warm, friendly and very welcoming. Lacking was that tourist-native animosity that exists in so many other places.