GETTING TO SAN PEDRO
Getting to San Pedro is easy as lime pie, but it does require at least one stop along the way. There is no international air service direct to San Pedro’s little 3,000 foot airstrip. Continental, American and TACA fly nonstop into the International Airport at Ladyville just north of Belize City from three U.S. gateways: Continental and TACA from Houston, and American (sometimes on a codeshare with TACA) from Dallas-Fort Worth and Miami. Occasionally there are charter flights to Belize from large U.S. and Canadian cities. Belize’s International Airport also has nonstop service from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, Flores, Guatemala, and San Salvador, El Salvador. AeroCaribe’s service from Cancun was discontinued in 2001.
From Belize City, you can either fly or take a boat to San Pedro. By air, it’s a 20-minute flight; the boat trip takes about 75 minutes. Two Belize airlines, Maya Island Air and Tropic Air, each have about one flight per hour every day to San Pedro, starting at around 7:30 a.m. and ending at 5:30 p.m. In peak visitor season, sometimes additional flights are added to accommodate demand. Flights originate from both the International Airport in Ladyville about 9 miles north of Belize City, where your TACA, Continental or American flight arrives, and Municipal Airport, a small airstrip in Belize City. In many cases the same Maya Island and Tropic flight picks up passengers at both airports, making the short hop between the two in a few minutes.
Should you fly to San Pedro from International or Municipal? Depends on whether you’d rather save time or money. It’s easier just to fly into International and walk over to the domestic terminal and catch your connecting puddle jumper. But you’ll save money, especially if traveling in a party of several people, by flying from Municipal. Adult and child one-way fares on both Maya Island and Tropic are approximately US$47 from International; from Municipal, adult one-way is US$26 and children under 12 are US$18. Round-trip fares are twice one-way. Rarely are there any bargain fares or discounts for advance booking.
Transferring between the airports requires a 20-minute taxi ride. A taxi from International to Municipal is US$17.50 for up to five passengers. A tip isn’t necessary unless the driver carries a lot of your luggage, in which case add a couple of bucks. Taxis -- they have green license tags -- are plentiful and await passengers just outside the main lobby.
A party of four will pay almost US$400 round-trip to San Pedro via International, and less than US$250 round-trip from Municipal, even including the taxi transfers. If the party has children under 12, the savings will be even greater.
Do you need to make reservations for Maya Island or Tropic flights in advance? Off-season, it’s not really necessary, though having a reservation won’t hurt. In-season, a reservation might save a wait, though more often than not flights are boarded on a first-come, first-served basis, regardless of reservation status. Most hotels on Ambergris Caye will arrange for your air travel to the island at the time you make your hotel reservations, and there’s usually no extra cost to you. The hotel gets a small commission from the airline.
You also can book direct with the airlines by telephone or over the Internet. Here’s contact information:
Maya Island Air: 800-521-1247 or 501-26-2435l fax 501-26-2192; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com; schedules and fares at //www.ambergriscaye.com/islandair/ or www.mayaairways.com
Tropic Air: 800-422-3435 or 501-2-62012; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; schedules and fares at //www.ambergriscaye.com/tropicair/ or www.tropicair.com.
Another option is to take a water taxi or ferry from Belize City to San Pedro. The trip, mostly on fast open boats with twin outboard engine seating 20 or 25 people takes about 75 minutes. On a sunny, calm day, it’s a great introduction to Belize; on a rainy, windy day the trip can be wet and rough.
Several fast boats ferry passengers back and forth between Belize City and San Pedro, including Thunderbolt, Andrea and Triple J. Probably the most accessible boats are those in the Caye Caulker Water Taxi Association. These leave from the Marine Terminal near the Swing Bridge in Belize City. The Marine Terminal has a waiting area and two small museums to visit while you wait. Boats to San Pedro leave at 9 a.m., noon and 3 p.m., with a brief stop at Caye Caulker. Fares are US$12.50 one-way to Ambergris Caye. You disembark at Sharks pier in the middle of town. Fares just to Caye Caulker are US$7.50, and boats depart at 9, 10:30, noon, 1:30, 3 and 5. Children 5 to 10 go at half price; under 5 free. You can make reservations, but service is more likely to be first-come, first-served. A cab to down Belize City from the International Airport is about 20 minutes and US$17.50 for up to five people.
Coming from Mexico or Northern Belize: The cheapest way to get to Belize is usually not to fly to Belize but to fly to Cancun (or sometimes Cozumel/Playa del Carmen) and then bus from there. There are many charter flights into Cancun from the U.S., Canada and even Europe, often at fares that are one-third to one-half what they are into Belize. From Cancun or Playa del Carmen, you can take a bus to Chetumal (four and a half to six hours and US$15 or less for a nice, comfortable reserved seat, with air conditioning and videos).
There is no scheduled air or boat service from Mexico to San Pedro. It is possible to hire a small boat in the village of Xcalak or elsewhere to take you to San Pedro, where there is an immigration and customs agent for those arriving by water. One operator in Xcalak which can handle travel between San Pedro and Xcalak is XTC Dive center (www.xcalak.com.mx
Most travelers, however, will come through the border at Chetumal and Corozal. To get to San Pedro, you have three options:
1) Transfer to a Novelo’s or other bus in Chetumal, cross the border - the bus waits as you go through both Mexican and Belizean customs and immigration - then go to Corozal town and continue down the Northern Highway (around US$5 and three hours) to Belize City, and from there take a water taxi (see above) to San Pedro.
2) You now have the option to take a ferry from Corozal directly to San Pedro. Currently two boats make this one-and-a-half-hour trip daily (frequency and times may vary seasonally). The new Thunderbolt departs Corozal from the pier near Reunion Park at 3 p.m. and returns from San Pedro from the Thunderbolt dock at 7 a.m. Fare is US$20 one-way, US$40 round-trip. Thunderbolt has three 250 horsepower outboards, a canopy cover with sliding windows, and bus-style seats. The Lady Lowe departs from the Corozal Bay Inn/Tony’s pier in Corozal at 6 a.m., arriving at the Texaco dock on the back side of Ambergris Caye. It returns from San Pedro at 4 p.m. Fare is or US$17.50 one-way, US$32.50 round trip. The open boat, with two 200-horse outboard motors carries up to 40 passengers. Some hotels in Corozal and San Pedro sell tickets, or you can purchase them at the departure piers.
3) Take a taxi to the Coro airstrip and fly to San Pedro, a trip that takes about 25 minutes. Tropic Air has three nonstop flights a day to San Pedro, currently at 7:30, 10:30 and 3:30, for US$35 one-way. Maya Island Air also has three flights a day, currently at 7:45, 12:30 and 4:45, for US$41 one-way, children US$29.