No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem
Ambergris Caye is Belize’s largest island and by far the most popular destination in the country. Many reasons contribute to make this place so much fun. San Pedro Town has many cool bars, restaurants and shops. It also has a very colorful bunch of characters from locals to gringos. The sea is always beautiful and the sandy beach just begs you to take your shoes off. Most of all it’s the tropical atmoshpere, the combination of coconut trees, cool breezes and cold Belikins (the beer of Belize) that make this place such a paradise.
History & Island Motto
Ambergris Caye is located 35 miles northeast of Belize City and is easily reached by plane or boat. Interestingly, the only thing that makes it an island, separating it from the Yucatan Peninsula, is an ancient canal dug by the Mayas. After being used as a trading hub by the them, it was inhabited by Mestizos fleeing the Caste Wars in Mexico. They established a sustainable fishing community, which today has been replaced with a booming tourism industry. The popularity of this island is not hard to imagine when you can see the world’s second largest barrier reef standing from the shore. In fact, divers had been coming for decades before it was put on the tourism map. Upon arriving, you will quickly learn the meaning of the local motto, “no shoes, no shirt, no problem”. Immersed in the tropical humidity and salt-laden breezes, shoes are usually the first to go, with shorts and shirts replaced by bathing suites and tees soon after.
San Pedro Town
On the southern end of the island is the main town of San Pedro, with a population of 9,000. A significant number of expatriates (mostly American and European), affectionately called “gringos” by locals, add to the colorful mix of characters on the island. Weathered houses and giftshops line the sandy streets, which were recently tiled with cobbled stones. The shore is lined with bars, restaurants and rows of docks that cater to the busy boat traffic. The beaches are narrow and walking into the water will likely put you into a bed of sea grass. However, some resorts have very nice stretches of sand and the Caribbean Sea is as beautiful as ever. To the north and south of town you will find a range of up-scale resorts offering more seclusion (and usually better “beaches”). As the evening approaches, there is no shortage of restaurants to choose from. It also caters to the best nightlife in the country. Fido’s, named “best bar in the Caribbean” by Caribbean Travel & Leisure magazine, should not be missed. The local hospitality and relaxed concept of time make days spent reading a book under a palm tree and evenings enjoying a few Belikins (the beer of Belize) in local bars just as rewarding as an adventure packed vacation.
Many Sites & Activities from the Island
The island provides a range of activities to fill your days. Almost every one visits Hol Chan Marine Reserve, with 75,000 visitors a year. The no-fishing restrictions allow you to see a diversity of marine life, with Shark Ray Alley (within the reserve) named “one of the best animal dives in the Caribbean”. Many other good dive sites dot the local barrier reef as well. Dive trips to Lighthouse Reef Atoll (home of the Blue Hole) and Turneffe Islands Atoll are also available and highly recommended. The many saltwater flats around the island are particularly known for tarpon and bonefish. The reef is great for snapper and barracuda while bigger game fish like marlin and tuna can be caught in the deep sea. The calm waters in front of the island, provided by the protection of the barrier reef, can be enjoyed with jet-skies and windsurfing rigs. It’s also ideal for sailing, where your choices range from an afternoon sunset cruise to chartering a catamaran to explore the country’s entire coastline. Mainland attractions can also be visited with a boat ride towards the coast. Lamanai, one of the largest Mayan ruins in Belize, is particularly recommended.