Travel guide: Ambergis Caye, Belize
Belize is one of those luscious countries with plentiful types of terrain, from beach to mountains to farmlands. On the northern district, a few miles south of Mexico, you’ll find the dazzling Ambergris Caye. Besides the gorgeous beaches and pleasant people, Ambergris Caye is an underwater wonderland. The world’s second largest reef is located a short boat’s ride away, with rainbow parrot fish, stingrays, dolphins, and everything else you can imagine. Including sharks!
The main town on the island, San Pedro, is surprisingly well stocked. There are stores for pet grooming, books, salons, and a host of restaurants. I was absolutely smitten with colorful architecture! Plenty of buildings, especially downtown, are a mix of tangerine, coral pink, and deep blue.
Give me the details:
Ambergris Caye has two seasons—wet and dry. During the wet season of June-December, expect daily rain, but enough sunshine to participate in all the aquatic activities. Many tour companies and hotels offer discounts during the wet season due to low tourist numbers. The popular dry season, February-May, provides a cool, dry breeze and crowds.
Getting there is fairly simple. Fly into Belize City on nearly any major international airline. Be sure to stock up on duty-free alcohol before heading to AmerbergrisCaye. There are two transportation options, flying and the water taxi. My recommendation is taking the phenomenal fifteen-minute flight into San Pedro Airport strictly for the views. You can catch flights nearly every hour between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m., from the same airport you arrive in. Besides some of the bluest and clearest water in the world, you’re able to see sharks swimming below. If you’re sweet, and ask first, they might let you ride in co-pilot. Definitely the best views! Tickets run about $70-$100 one-way. The second option is to take a water taxi. For either $10 one-way or $17.50 for a return ticket, you can get to Ambergris Caye in about an hour and a half, not including the time it takes to get to the water taxi terminal. Leaving the airport, hail an official taxi, and take the 25-minute ride to the water taxi terminal. The ride should be about $25.
Expect to spend 99% of your time in a swimsuit. Maybe you’ve heard of the Great Blue Hole? You know, the massive underwater sinkhole that ends about 400 feet into the earth. It’s absolutely insane, and I had the chance to scuba dive in it! There’s also Shark Ray Alley for snorkeling and free diving. Besides being a natural treasure, Belize is super easy to deal with for first time visitors.
Belize is the only country in Central America with English as the national language. This makes doing business and making plans a breeze. However, the majority of Belizeans speak Spanish in the home and personal affairs. If you know even a phrase or two, I highly recommend trying to communicate in the Belizean language of choice. Creole is also spoken, but Spanish might be a little easier to pick up with a translator.
Additionally, U.S. currency is accepted pretty much everywhere. There is a fixed rate of 2:1 for U.S. to Belizean dollar,which is pretty much the easiest conversion rate I’ve ever had to do!
True to a mermaid’s paradise, Ambergris Caye had amazing food. We’re talking fresh conch ceviche with genuine limeade. Lobster caught 30 feet away from the restaurant. The most appetizing vegetarian refried beans and juicy chicken burrito for $2.50.Full fruit smoothies. Delectable electable shrimp tostadas for $3 USD. We were in heaven.
Ambergris Caye is very thin and only gets about a mile wide. From the northernmost point to the very southernmost tip is 25 miles. The main roads are paved, including all of downtown San Pedro. However, if there’s a good chance you might be staying in an Airbnb, I have to mention the side roads get gnarly. The majority of streets are sign-less with numerous rocky potholes.
Walking, taxi, golf cart, and biking are all viable options. After a few days of walking, I broke down and rented a golf-cart. Total game changer! Bikes are reliable on the main roads, which are far and few in between. The golf carts are gassed up with off-roading wheels, and account for about 95% of all vehicles you see on the road. Instead of using blinkers, drivers are expected to use hand signals to help out the other drivers. The only issue with the golf carts was the illusive speed bumps. Every few hundred feet, sometimes less, sometimes more, there are unmarked bumps or dips in the road. Cabbies and policemen were the only people driving true automobiles.
Ambergris Caye has weather typical of the Caribbean —toasty, moist, with a bit of afternoon rain showers. As mentioned above, Ambergris Caye has a wet (June-December) and a dry season (February-May). I would not recommend taking a very short trip (less than three days) during the wet season. Give yourself enough time to have all the nautical adventures you came for. We can’t really blame a snorkeling tour for canceling when it’s pouring out. Sandals, yoga pants, and a t-shirt are perfectly appropriate attire. A floppy sun hat is ideal, but sunscreen is a necessity.
Must do activities:
Ambergris Caye is SERIOUSLY an aquatic paradise. Spending time in, on, and around the ocean is a necessity.
- Take a catamaran to Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Swimming with sharks + unlimited liquor + breezy catamaran ride + unBelizable (I had to!) local food made by the captain? Oh yeah, it’s even better than it sounds! First, the boat takes you to the second largest reef in the world. You get to swim with turtles, stingrays, and a host of other gulf fish. Next up, sharks. After a shorter ride, the boat pulls up to a swarm of sharks. But don’t worry, they’re nurse sharks. They don’t have proper teeth or chomps! Very safe. To chill out from the exhilarating experience, enjoy tropical drinks on the way to your final destination.The boat takes you over to the popular Caye Caulker. The crew gives you an hour or two to explore, but be sure to make it to the Lazy Lizard for dancing, conch, and coconut rum. Don’t be late, they might leave you!
- Visit the Great Blue Hole. If you have the time to get certified, scuba diving the massive caverns is highly recommended. The trip includes two dives in addition to the blue hole, where you’ll swim with huge black-tip reef sharks. My lovely trip was led by Amigos Del Mar, an amazing locally-owned dive shop. If scuba isn’t an option, you can always take the Tropic Air flight over the Great Blue Hole, which is an hour and costs about $200. The views are absolutely breathtaking.
- Free dive for lobster. It’s illegal to take lobster while scuba diving, but grabbing them while free diving is fair game. Take one of the many fishing boats to one of the locally known hot spots. If you can’t stand the idea of actually diving for lobster, you can at least enjoy eating it! Grilled, blackened, in a burrito, however you want it.
The bad stuff:
- Mosquitos. Although Zika has not been contracted on the island, there is still a slim chance of other illnesses like dengue fever. Not worth it. Mosquitos will congregate where it is easiest, so avoid ground level accommodation without a breeze. Arm yourself with coils, a mosquito net, and heavy-duty bug spray.
- Sun poisoning. Let’s not ignore the power of the sun. It’s truly not to be messed with. Be sure to reapply sunscreen constantly on any boats and any time after getting out of the water. This will allow you to come home with a lovely tan instead of peeling burns.
- Liquor prices. For being away from the mainland, Ambergris Caye is affordable, and pretty well stocked. The exception is liquor. Highly recommend grabbing what you need duty-free from the airport in Belize City.
Guest author: Lauren from A Tipsy Gypsy Life
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