My first visit to Ambergris Caye, January 21-28, was wonderful. I traveled with my sister (she from Hawaii, I from the Puget Sound area); our husbands don’t share our love of travel so occasionally we go on "sister adventures". We rendezvoused at DFW, then on to BZE.
All areas of concern I raised on this board worked out perfectly: no luggage delays, golf cart rental was a breeze, no trouble finding restrooms, and we found great restaurants and superb ice cream. All transportation segments were smooth and interesting, including the Tropic Air flight (I had the co-pilot’s seat), the boat ride with Roy to Belizean Shores, and the wheelbarrow ride for our luggage to our well-located Unit 11-B. Lagniappe had provisioned our condo, including arranging a centerpiece of fruit on our dining table, a nice touch (thank you Simon!).
Belizean Shores is a beautiful complex, nicely laid out and well maintained, with a gorgeous swimming pool. The units are well designed and furnished, and offer a good level of privacy inside as well as on their spacious lanais. The staff is wonderful, from the “office angels” to the housekeepers and the excursion guys on the pier. Town is just a water taxi ride away, and there are nearby restaurants as well. Great place!
Our first full day was devoted to exploration of the area by golf cart. Such fun! The configuration and surface (?) of the “road” into town meant golf cart driving was an adventure in its own right. The ferry over the cut was very special and I’m glad our visit was when it was so we could experience that. We loved walking the San Pedro streets we’d viewed in photos, and going to places we'd read about. Taste treats included meals at Wild Mango’s and Elvi’s Kitchen, and DandE’s outstanding frozen custard (yum). We admired the beautiful wood carvings at The Little Old Craft Shop; several came home with us. We continued south past the water tower, where a crocodile lazed in the lagoon.
Lunch at Wild Mango's
Parking a golf cart in town seems best described as “creative abandonment”: stop your cart, take the key, lock the padlock, and consider it “parked” so long as it’s in no one’s way.
Many employees of the resorts north of San Pedro, as well as workers on construction projects in that area, come to work by boat or bicycle. Early morning beach walks included exchanging greetings with locals pedaling north on their bikes.
Labor on construction projects was primarily being done by hand, including mixing huge amounts of concrete with a simple mixer, and very simple scaffolding for a very large building. Materials and machines are brought in by barge, generally arriving late evening and leaving early morning, presumably for aesthetic reasons.
Weather was not the norm for January. As well as more wind than usual, there was a 6-8” rainfall on Tuesday January 24. On rainy days, between showers we explored the beaches and gathered shells and coral, and explored more of town. We also had a surprising get-together with acquaintances of my sister whom she’d not seen for over twenty years; they reside part of the year in Canada, where my sister had known them, and are now building a house only a couple miles from Belizean Shores.
Our snorkeling excursion with Alfonso (January 25: Hol Chan, Shark Ray Alley, and Coral Gardens) was very special. I have never before had such a fine snorkeling guide. He is very knowledgeable and shares his knowledge clearly and with vibrant good cheer. Experiencing Shark Ray Alley with Alfonso is a unique experience. Not many sharks that day, but LOTS of rays, also fish.
Alfonso and Angel
Our Lamanai day (Tanisha Tours, Thurs. Jan. 26) was excellent. Early start, long boat ride with Daniel at the helm, around the south end of Ambergris Caye, across Bahia de Chetumal to the mainland, then full speed ahead into what seemed an impenetrable mangrove shoreline -- but of course our leader knew the way into an opening to the Northern River Lagoon. Then up the Northern River to the dock at Bomba for transfer onto a blue bus with a skilled driver for a rough ride on a short stretch of road to Maskall, then a longer stretch on the Old Northern Highway (also rough), then a short bit on the Northern Highway (good road) just past the toll bridge to another dock for transfer into another boat on the New River. This time one of Daniel’s assistants was at the helm so Daniel could point out sights along the river as we continued to Lamanai.
These boat and bus rides were long, but also an integral and fascinating part of the day’s adventure because we stopped often for sightings of birds, reptiles, and plant life, as well as other points of interest such as a large Mennonite farming community. Sightings of our day included roseate spoonbills, frigate birds, osprey, white herons, vermilion flycatchers, storks, toucans, termite nests, a baby crocodile, iguanas, tiny roosting bats (which could have been mistaken for lichen on a tree until they fluttered away), orchids, and bromeliads. The river offers myriad choices of which way to go, but our leaders know the way through this maze.
At Lamanai, first a delicious lunch in a covered picnic area, then a comprehensive tour of the ruins, with excellent detailed information about what we were seeing and the history of Lamanai. There was an opportunity to climb one of the pyramid shaped ruins, rewarded by fine views from the top. The howler monkeys protested our presence in their territory; they are well named.
Then a very FAST return boat trip -- but not quite fast enough to beat the rain which whipped down on us as we drew near to the point for transfer to the bus awaiting us near the toll bridge on the Northern Highway. We were shivering from being rain-soaked in a fast open boat. The bus provided a bit of warm-up, but we were very grateful for slickers once back on Tanisha’s boat awaiting us at Bomba.
Friday afternoon, a snorkel excursion to Mexico Rocks and Tres Cocos with guide Jeffrey of SEArious. Beautiful corals and wondrous sea creatures, including a green spotted eagle ray, a delicate jelly, a spiny lobster hiding beneath a coral, conch, eel, and hundreds of fish of every description. This last day of our vacation and our last snorkel excursion was blessed with a perfect ending: a double rainbow over the prow of our boat as we climbed back aboard for our return to shore.
A beautiful place with beautiful people from a broad spectrum of ethnic backgrounds. Residents were unfailingly cheerful and hospitable. English being spoken everywhere made travel easy for us, as did the ready acceptance of U.S. currency.
We were glad we went when we did, with the hand-pulled ferry still operating and the new bridge not yet finished. After the bridge completion will come changes to the road north of the cut, which will over time alter the flavor of the Ambergris Caye experience.
The unusual weather altered some of our plans. I’d looked forward to kayaking to the reef, but the choppy water and surge changed those plans. We had considered a catamaran sail to Caye Caulker with snorkeling along the way, another plan not appealing due to weather. Also, snorkeling was fairly energetic work due to current and surge, although happily and surprisingly, visibility was nonetheless very good. On the other hand, it was interesting to experience this kind of heavy tropical rain, which truly DRUMMED on our roof two nights, also to see how quickly these torrential rains drained on this sandy island. There were puddles and "mud", but white sand mud is ever so much cleaner than the mud we’re used to, and there was surprisingly little standing water considering the amount of rain that had fallen.
Dining at Caliente Norte
Caliente Norte, which opened in December at The Essene Way property just south of Belizean Shores, is a marvelous restaurant for lunch or dinner. Beautiful setting, exquisite cuisine, fine service, and reasonable prices.
DandE’s frozen custard is heavenly -- opens at 2:00 p.m., closed on Wednesdays.
Although not needed to protect feet from sharp lava (as in Hawaii), surf shoes are useful for walking in off-shore shallows looking for shells.
Unraked piles of sea grass and debris along the shore are rich hunting grounds for shells and coral. (Ignore the debris.)
Health and safety regarding food and water seem assured, although bottled water is good to carry on day trips, also better tasting for drinking, including making coffee or tea.
Money is easier than in any other foreign country I’ve visited. Everyone seems to take U.S. currency at 2:1, and travelers’ checks are readily accepted.
Take a lot of $5 bills for water taxi, tips, and so on.
A good gift is fine chocolates. I took a box of gourmet chocolates, hand made by a chocolatier near my home on Whidbey Island, WA, for our resort’s staff, and it was a big hit.
A hooded windbreaker or lightweight sweatshirt is useful -- not bulky, waterproof is good.
We had not realized that two main streets in San Pedro are one-way, nor that certain others are closed to vehicles at certain times. Our golf cart exploring was done on a Sunday, and perhaps that was a good thing, since either by luck or because it was a light traffic day, we didn’t find ourselves going against the flow or meeting a gendarme.
On departure day at the airport we learned that conch shells may not be packed in carry-on luggage, although they are allowed in your checked bags. We were told they are considered potential weapons.