Rested, well fed and eager to explore San Pedro I rolled out of bed and just barely remembered to throw on my swimming trunks before stumbling out into the open 2nd story porch area that led to my room. With sleep still heavy in my eyes I wandered over to the railing and looked out – taking in the beauty of the ocean, the long docks with their splintered, old gray boards and the plethora of sailing and motorized boats that sat along the coast.
As I stood watching the water, a group approached the tour operator’s booth at the bottom of the dock immediately in front of my hotel. As tidbits of the conversation drifted up to me, I realized it must be just shy of 9 o’clock. Curious, I kicked on my flip-flops and made my way down to the booth. Asked a few lazy questions and then had to make an immediate decision as the woman informed me that the last boat for the morning trips was just pushing off. I opted to wait until the afternoon and waved the boat along, eager to compare pricing and ask around for tips on which trip to take.
Eager to explore I set off down the beach. Heading in the direction that led me away from town. The plethora of docks and boats stretched into the distance and remained largely the same. However, the buildings along my right hand side – nestled just off the beach – quickly changed from wooden buildings to lush resorts decorated with vibrant tropical plants and palm trees sandwiched into every spare inch.
Eventually tiring of the beach I cut inland to the main road that runs parallel to the beach. From there I made my way around the small, local, airport which serves Mayan and Tropic Airlines. Beyond the airport I quickly found myself on hardened sand streets populated largely by golf carts. The homes were a mishmash of building materials, thrown together into colorful and often teetering structures built on tall stilts. As I wandered the small streets I quickly became familiar with the multitude of roaming rasta-men.
Their approach varied, but the general gist was always the same. Money. From pleas and sob stories about how they just got out of jail and were no longer selling drugs (which inevitably was followed up by an offer to purchase drugs when I refused them money), to seemingly inquiries to help me find whatever I was looking for (the helpful good Samaritan who inevitably would end up asking for a tip) and the more blatant who skipped a story all together and just offered drugs under their breath. Though unfortunate and at times slightly uncomfortable I quickly learned what to expect and how best (and safely) to send them along their way lamenting the lack of a handout or sale.
The truly unfortunate thing is that unlike the rastamen most Belizeans are incredibly helpful. I say unfortunate because the rastamen make it difficult to differentiate between who’s sincere and who’s just looking for a few extra dollars – leaving tourists uncomfortable and often resulting in a much more defensive response to the local’s innate charity and helpfulness than is deserved. Most of the Belizeans I met were truly the embodiment of what I’ve always pictured the people of the Caribbean as. They are eager to help, eager to lend the minute or two it takes to walk you down the street to whatever you’re looking for and happy to talk and share stories with perfect strangers. So, travel tip: If you find yourself in Belize – make the effort to give them the chance. At times it means you’ll have to give an uncomfortable no…but most of the time it’s well worth the added risk!
As I continued to explore I stumbled upon a booming taco stand. The place had a number of golf carts parked in front and a disorganized group of people standing at the window jostling for position. The place was one of the busiest restaurants I’d seen in the whole city and looked to be the preferred lunch place for the local community. As I stepped up and ordered 5 tacos I quickly learned why.
The lady looked at me quizzically, frowned and asked in a slightly rushed but patient voice, “You know that the tacos are 3 for $1 BSD ($.50 USD), right?” – I chuckled slightly embarrassed and ordered 12 with a drink. As I watched them being prepared I realized that they were slightly smaller than normal street tacos and made of stewed chicken with coleslaw wrapped in a normal sized corn tortilla. They were delicious – and after another plate of 6 I knew I’d found what would become my favorite hole in the wall in San Pedro.
Eager for a nap I made my way back to the hotel, settled in for a quick snooze and then made my way down to the dock at 2PM to book my snorkeling trip. The cost was $35 which included fins, mask and guide. More on that to come soon! Stay tuned!
WHERE is it located?
Ambergris Caye is the largest of several hundred cayes (islands) in Belize. Located 35 miles north east of Belize City, the narrow strip of paradise is 25 miles long, a little over a mile wide, and was once part of the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula.
San Pedro town is the heart of Ambergris Caye, offering visitors a wide range of restaurants, bars, tour companies, souvenir shops, banks and grocery stores. Since the airstrip is also located in town, almost everything is within a short walking distance. It’s easy to stroll around town on foot or you can rent a bike or a golf-cart (highly recommended).
Ambergris Caye is conveniently located to Caye Caulker, the “other” popular caye in Belize (don’t forget to check out our photo collection from Caye Caulker).
WHY should you visit?
Most people chose to visit Ambergris Caye for its white sandy beaches and the Belize Barrier Reef that runs along its coast. The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest reef in the world, but unlike its famous counterpart, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, it’s only a quarter mile from the shores of Ambergris Caye, which makes it an ideal place for adventure seekers that enjoy snorkeling and scuba diving.
Belize has quickly become one of the world’s top scuba diving and snorkeling destinations. The most popular snorkeling locations from Ambergris Caye are Mexico Rocks, Shark Ray Alley and Hol Chan Marine Reserve. While the most popular scuba diving spots are Hol Chan Cut, Tackle Box Can and The Blue Hole.
WHEN should you visit?
Ambergris Caye is a year round destination. Some visitors prefer the peak season from November to May, when it’s winter in the Northern Hemisphere, but this is typically driven by people that want to escape the northern cold and snow. This period is considered the dry season in Belize, meaning bright blue, sunny skies can be expected.
From June to October, prices are significantly lower and crowds are considerably less because this is the rainy season. However, showers tend to be sporadic and short, which is not likely to ruin your vacation plans. We visited in May and had sunshine 95% of the time. It’s a good time to visit because its considered to be the shoulder season, which gave us moderate prices and great weather.
If you visit during the late summer months, be on the lookout for hurricanes and strong tropical storms. Though rare and unlikely, hurricanes can be quite destructive and are serious business in the Caribbean – keep your eye on the weather forecast.
WHAT to see and do?
Aside from its endless outdoor activities and water sports, Ambergris Caye has beautiful beaches and a laid back Caribbean atmosphere. No shirts, no shoes, no problem!
Ambergris Caye is the most developed island in Belize Barrier Reef. It has a number of upscale hotels, like the luxurious Victoria House, and its known for its beach parties and tropical night life. It’s an ideal location for travelers that want to spend the day on the water and the evening dancing and drinking fruity cocktails.
The town of San Pedro is also a great place to relax and enjoy a beer at a beach side bar. Renting a bike or golf cart is a popular way to explore the island and check out the mixture of Mexican, Caribbean and English colonial architecture.
Other Things to do in Ambergris Caye
- Take the 30 minute water taxi or ferry to the nearby island of Caye Caulker, a smaller, laid-back version of Ambergris Caye but with no cars or large resorts. While there, make sure you grab a drink at the popular Lazy Lizard at the Split<
- Take a tour to the interior of Belize. Many in-land tours are available to historical Mayan archaeological sites, cave exploring, tubing and horse-back riding through the jungle
- Take a sightseeing, sunset or moonlight boat cruise around the island
- Go fishing for tropical fish, including snapper, grouper, marlin, tarpon, and the list goes on. There are a variety of tours and companies to choose from, catering to all itineraries and preferences
HOW to get there?
The best way to travel around Belize is by boat, plane and/or bus. Ambergris Caye is easily reached by a 1.5 hour boat from Belize City or 2-hour boat from Chetumal, Mexico (here is a photo of the boat we took from San Pedro to Chetumal).
Most people arrive at Phillip Goldson International, located 30-minutes outside of Belize City, and transfer to their desired location using a local airline like Maya Island Air or Tropic Air. The planes are small but very convenient and relatively inexpensive.
It’s possible, and sometimes cheaper, to fly into Cancun International in Mexico and take the luxury ADO bus to Chetumal (5-6 hour trip), where you can catch the boat San Pedro (check the boat/water taxi schedule ahead of time because there are only a few trips per day). The tourist buses are very nice with air conditioning, entertainment systems and large comfortable chairs.
There are also frequent buses that run direct trips from Cancun to Belize City (8-10 hours).
TRAVEL TIPS for Belize
- There is a Departure Tax when leaving Belize
-US $35.00 when departing the International Airport (US cash only)
-US $18.75 or BZ $37.50 when departing by land (to Mexico or Guatemala)
-US $3.75 or BZ $7.50 when departing by Sea to an International destination
- Although it’s a Central American country, English is widely spoken and used on signage
- The Belizean dollar is pegged at 2-to-1 to the US dollar (10 Belize dollars = 5 US dollars). We made the mistake of exchanging currency ahead of time (in the US), where the rate was wildly inaccurate. Locals in Belize automatically assume 2-to-1, so don’t worry about doing exchange rate math and don’t let taxis charge you anything other than 2-to-1.
The “Caye Mart” of San Pedro
Local transportation in San Pedro
Typical dock on Ambergris Caye – look at how clear that water is!
City traffic in the streets of San Pedro
Taquitos and Belikin Beer on the beach
Police car in San Pedro
The main reason you should visit Ambergris Caye!
This is the postcard perfect beach at Victoria House