Ambergris Caye Belize is a long, narrow strip of an island, about 20 miles east of Belize’s mainland and practically touching the Yucatan Peninsula directly north. Anchored by the town of San Pedro to the southern end of the island, it’s the most visited of the cayes (islands). It’s an idyllic, relaxed barefoot tropical place, bordered just ¼ mile offshore by the hemisphere’s largest barrier reef, which makes it a world class diving, fishing and other watersports destination.
Things to Know
San Pedro is basically 3 streets wide: Front Street (Barrier Reef Drive) just off the water, is the most touristy, and also where you will find the main banks and services; Middle Street (Pescador Drive) has lots of shops and restaurants, and Back Street (Almond Street) has a variety of “local” shopping, grocery stores and snack shacks.
Dining. There are tons of dining options across the island, at all price points. Most feature traditional Belizean meals such as stewed fish or chicken, rice and beans, and french fries. Kids will appreciate that burgers, quesadillas and burritos are readily accessible. Common seafood is grouper, snapper and lobster, frequently cooked ”tourguide style:” wrapped in tinfoil and baked with green and red peppers, onions, lime, some mayo and garlic. It’s simple but delicious! Ceviche is also a fabulous choice – you are practically guaranteed to be eating a fish that was swimming just earlier that morning.
Restaurants to check out:
- Aji Tapa Bar and Grill
- Ay Caramba
- Blue Water Grill
- El Fogon
Lodging. Small, privately owned hotels dot the island, as do much larger resorts. Decide on your required amenities and you will surely find someplace within your range.
- Blue Wave Villa – a small, family-owned beachfront resort. It’s very affordable with limited amenities. The owners will make every effort to help you coordinate island adventures, and provide dining suggestions and other ideas. Amenities include free use of kayaks and water sports gear.
- Ak’Bol – a busy yoga retreat, with a wide variety of room types, from unique beachfront villas to dorm-style beds, for guests at all budget levels. Amenities include a pool, on-site restaurant and bar, and yoga.
- Las Terrazas – a luxury island retreat with great amenities, including fine and casual dining, multiple bars, a spa and wellness center, and full excursions.
Activities for the whole (older*) family
- Snorkeling and Diving
- Catamaran trip
- Fishing – deep sea and fly
- Inland tours – cave tubing, Belize Zoo, Mayan Ruins
* infants are too young for just about any of these. If you’re traveling with an infant, you may be more on the beach-and-pool rotation – which isn’t half bad!
Know Before You Go
Currency: Belize is a former British colony. visitors from all nations require a valid passport, and some countries require a visa. The official language is English, and the currency is pegged to the US dollar: $1USD = $2Belize. US bills are widely accepted, but coins are not. You can avoid ATM and foreign transaction fees by bringing in lots of US cash. You will usually get Belizean cash as change. Credit and debit cards are widely accepted but they often incur fees – check with your bank.
Entry Form: If you are flying in, flight attendants will give you an entry form as you land at the main airport. Fill out the top and bottom portions, and hold on to the bottom slip – that’s your exit form. DO NOT lose this form as you need it to exit the country.
Exit Tax: There is an Environmental Conservation Tax that is assessed of all travelers upon their departure from any border, whether by land, sea or air. At time of writing it was $45USD per person, payable by cash only (some airline tickets include this tax – check your documents carefully). Make sure you have enough cash to cover your exit fee! If you are exiting by land, via Guatemala or Mexico, it is slightly less, but still assessed.
Weather: The weather can make or break your trip. Hurricane season is summer through fall, and has variable weather. While Belize rarely gets hit by significant storms, the spin off weather might affect you – and your dives! However, unless it’s a hurricane, a storm usually lasts only a couple hours, and the skies and waters clear right back up again.
Bugs: The bugs can be vicious! We wanted to stay away from DEET, so I armed us with a combination of citronella oil and citronella bands, which worked remarkably well. There’s a horrible tiny bug that lives along the shore called a “no-see-um,” which is as advertised – you won’t know you were a host until your legs are red welts. Protect yourself by rubbing baby oil on your feet, ankles and calves – the no-see-ums can’t penetrate the slick layer.
Packing: Groceries and everyday goods can be terribly expensive on the islands – everything comes in by barge, and selection isn’t as robust as you may be used to. Consider bringing enough diapers, wipes, formula, sunblock and other specialty items to last your entire trip, rather than trying to find specialty goods in the local shops. This is especially true if you have any skin sensitivities, DEET concerns, or culinary allergies.
Transportation: Getting around on the island is easy. You can rent a golf cart, hire a taxi, rent a bike, or take the water taxi. Coordinate with your hotel to decide what might be the best option for you – elements like distance from town and your overall pace and plans all factor in.
photography by tylermallory.com