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Ambergris Caye (San Pedro), Belize Travel Guide
 
Last Updated: Mar-06-2015, Hits: 9,856, Rating: 5, Reviews: 1, Votes: 1 Bookmark and Share
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Ambergris Caye (San Pedro), Belize Travel Guide Restaurants (66)
Hotels and Lodging (63)
Bars and Nightlife (30)
Attractions (31)
Services (24)
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Location: Mexico & Central America
Geography: Island, Beach
Vacation Type: Romantic, Relaxation, Adventure
Popularity: Off-the-Beaten Path, Moderate Tourism
Costs: Budget, Moderate, Expensive
Attractions: Nightlife, Food Destination, Scenery, Ecotourism, Fishing, Scuba & Snorkeling, Spa & Wellness

Facts and Stats:
Population: 13,381
Country Dialing Code: 501
Languages: English, Spanish, Kriol
Electricity: 110V
Currency: Belizean Dollar
Time Zone: GMT -6
Current Time:

Introduction:
The island of Ambergris Caye in Belize is an excellent off-the-beaten-path destination for those wanting to experience the great things Central America has to offer in a relatively safe environment. The funky town of San Pedro, the expansive jungle on the mainland, the amazing reef, warm people, and delicious food make this an ideal destination for the more adventurous types.

Geography:
Belize lies on the southeastern shore of the Yucatan peninsula, sharing a border with Mexico and Guatemala. Belize is about 176 miles long, and covers 8,867 square miles. 226 of those square miles are offshore islands called "Cayes" (pronounced "keys"). Belize lies along the second largest barrier reef in the world, and the largest reef in the Northern Hemisphere. The barrier reef provides excellent snorkeling and diving and the islands provide beautiful white sand beaches. There is a lot of turtle grass in Belizean waters that echoes an amazing shade of green in the water, however, it can be a bit of a nuisance underfoot if you like wading or swimming from the shore.

Mainland Belize is home to rainforests, rivers, waterfalls, labyrinth-like limestone caves, and Mayan ruins which are accessible via tours from Ambergris.

Ambergris Caye is about 25 miles long and around a mile wide. San Pedro is the only town on the island and is the location of the majority of the population of the island. The aforementioned barrier reef is a mere 1/2 mile from the shore on the Caribbean (eastern) side of the island. On the west lies the San Pedro Lagoon which is connected to the Caribean Sea by a small saltwater river running east to west about two miles from the center of San Pedro town. This river is known as "The Cut".

Brief History:
The Mopan Maya were the original inhabitants of Belize. Mayan civilization spanned the entire area from around 1500 BC until 900 AD. Unlike the remainder of Central America, Belize was not colonized by Spain. Spain had attempted to claim sovereignty over Belize many times, but repeatedly were beat by native Belizeans and Great Britain, whom also wanted to lay claim on the land. The last attack from Spain was September 10th, 1798, known as The Battle of St. George's Caye. The British and Belizeans claimed victory over the Spaniards and Great Britain established Belize as a British Colony.

British colonists had been settled before the definitive battle - English and Scottish Buccaneers known as Baymen had settled on the coast of Belize in 1638. They found the coast of Belize a perfect place to hide and attack Spanish Fleets. Because of their pirating success, the Baymen settled on the coastline and began logging.

Later, they brought Africans from Jamaica to work as slaves cutting timber as well. To this day, Belize remains a part of the British Commonwealth, although technically, Belize became independent on September 21, 1981.

EcoTourism:
Belize is the most sparsely populated nation in Central America, with over 66% of its territory forest covered which makes it an ideal place for ecotourism. Not only is it biologically diverse and species rich, it is also largely non-commercialized. 42% of Belize is considered a green zone (government protected), and ecotourism is the number one source of revenue for Belize. That's a good thing, since it promotes sustainability and resists commercial development, although this is changing in recent years. Financial distribution remains very local as opposed to dollars going to big cruise lines and non Belizean companies.

The mainland jungles are inhabited by over 540 identified species of birds. Hikes and tours within wildlife reserves such as the 98,000 acre Cockscomb basin reserve are stunning. There are caves, waterfalls, rock slides all located within in the jungled rainforest, as well as orchids, jaguars, toucans, howler monkeys and more. Rainforest hikes, river cruises, zip lining, cave tubing and spelunking are also beautiful and memorable adventures.

But forget the land for a moment. Belize is a world class diving destination because it has the 2nd largest coral reef in the world right in its backyard. Most people interested in diving or snorkeling will stay on one of Belize's cayes such as Ambergris Caye or Caye Caulker. Once you are there, there are numerous places to rent equipment and plenty of tour operators that will take you to specific sites to dive or snorkel. Of course, you can certainly bring your own gear as well. The most famous dive spot is the Great Blue Hole located off Ambergis Caye inside the Lighthouse reef. The hole is 410 ft deep and 1000 ft across. It was made famous by Jacques Cousteau's coverage in 1971, and it is quite the natural wonder.

Whale Sharks migrate past Belize April through June. They are best seen from Placencia or Hopkins because they congregate in an area known as Gladden Spit. They are occasionally seen near Ambergris. Within those months, you are most likely to encounter one several days before or after a full moon. (Snappers spawn around the moon schedule, and this is whale shark food). There are plenty of dive shops that orchestrate the trips and know the restrictions, regulations and optimal times. Whale sharks are giant graceful creatures to dive or snorkel with, and an experience of a lifetime.

People/Culture:
Belizeans are quite a melting pot. They are a combination of Maya, Mestizo, Creole, Garifuana, Mennonites, East Indian and many more. Each culture has maintained their unique ethnic identity while merging harmoniously into a national Belizean identity as well. Although English is the official language, you will most definitely hear Kriol (Belizean Creole) and possibly Garifuana and Spanish. Kriol is unofficially the language spoken by Belizeans. Kriol began as a form of pidgin between English and several other languages. Since the inception of Kriol to communicate between different languages, it has evolved into its own. Belizeans have a reputation for being very friendly and hospitable people, and courtesy is important. It is also a laid back place, not unlike most tropical destinations. The pace is a little slower and casual is a lifestyle, not a Friday to dress down. Try it, you will probably like it!

If all of the ecotourism doesn't keep you busy enough, Belize is home to some very impressive Mayan ruins on the mainland and a tour from Ambergris is definitely worth it. Recommended ruins include Althun Ha, Caracol, Xunantunich, and La Milpa. But you don't have to leave Ambergris to see ruins. The ruins at Marco Gonzales are located about two miles south of the town of San Pedro. It covers an area of about 355 meters by 155 meters and has at least 53 buildings with a central plaza and several small courtyard groupings.

Food:
Belizean cuisine combines different cultures like Mestizo, Creole, Garifuna, Mayan and more to blend a type of food that is spicy, delicious and diverse. A classic Belizean staple is stewed chicken with white rice and red kidney beans.

Since Belize is located on the Caribbean, seafood is commonly enjoyed. Conch, shrimp, snapper, grouper, lobster are popular here. Because of the recent explosion in the invasive, non-native lionfish population across the Caribbean, the lionfish is now showing up on menus around the region. There are a number of places in San Pedro serving the fish, and it is reported to be delicious and similar to Grouper. Have some and help preserve the local species and reefs.

There are a few grocery stores on the island and the largest is Island Supermarket in the southern part of town. This store is the closest thing you will find to a U.S. style supermarket. There are several other grocery stores and grocery provisioning services available. See the "Services" section of this guide for more information.

Most of the water on Ambergris Caye is chlorinated and safe to drink. Ice at hotels and restaurants is made from purified water and is fine too. Some hotels and rental houses get their water from wells or cisterns. While it is PROBABLY safe to drink, it can taste funky and you are probably better off buying bottled water in that case.

Money/Costs:
At the time of this writing, one U.S. Dollar is 2 Belizean dollars. Belize is more expensive than most of Central America and is comparable to prices in parts of the United States.

Because of the growing tourism industry, tipping has become customary. It is appropriate to tip if service has been very good from wait staff, drivers, or tour guides. Some hotels apply a 10% service charge, so be sure you aren't tipping twice unless you want to.

US currency is widely accepted and credit cards are accepted at most hotels, restaurants, and larger shops. There are several banks on the island and ATMs are available as well. Check the exchange rates at banks and ATMs as they may not give you the 2 to 1 ratio that local businesses do.

There is a USD $39.25 departure tax that must be paid in cash at the airport upon departure, althoug some airlines include this fee in the price of their tickets. There is a 9% hotel tax added on to all hotel bills, and there is an 12.5% GST tax on all goods and services.

Getting there/Around:
Belize's largest international airport is Philip S. W Goldson Airport (BZE) and is located about 30 minutes outside of Belize City. It is about 2 hours and 15 minutes by air from Miami, Florida and Houston, Texas. United, Delta, Continental, Taca, and American Airlines all service Belize.

To get to Ambergris Caye, there are a couple of options. The fastest option is to catch a 20 minute flight with Maya Island Air or Tropic Air who will fly you over in a very small plane. It is a good idea to check with these airlines about their current baggage policies in advance due to the size of the planes. There is also water taxi and ferry service from Belize City to Ambergris Caye several times a day. The trip takes about 75 minutes.

Once on Ambergris, there are a few ways to get around. Rental cars are not available on Ambergris Caye and it wouldn't be the handiest way to get around anyway. In addition to walking, taxis, and bicycles, a popular mode of transportation is a golf cart (See the services section of this guide for more information). Renting a golf cart is about the price of 4 taxis per day (US $60/day), so you should consider how often you might use one. The golf cart prices go down the longer the rental period. For example, the per day price will be cheaper if renting for a week versus 1 day.

North of San Pedro are a number of resorts that were cut off from the rest of the island when the bridge to them was washed out by a storm. This bridge and the northern road have been rebuilt, and the north part of the island can again be accessed by golf cart. You can still take a water taxi if you wish.

Entry Requirements:
For more information about entry into the country of Belize, read Belize Entry / Exit Requirements.

Weather:
The climate in Belize is tropical - hot and humid. The "dry" season is from February-May and the "rainy" season is from May-November. Humidity is about a constant 85%. Of course, inland is going to run about 10 degrees hotter than any coastal location. Belize is a vulnerable place for hurricanes. Hurricane season runs from June-November.

Below are the current weather conditions for San Pedro, Belize:



Services:
  • Emergency: 911
  • Police: 226-2022
  • Medical Emergency (ACER): 226-3231
  • Medical Clinic: Dr. Otto Rodriguez - 16-3864
  • Hyperbaric chamber, San Pedro: 226-2851 or 604-7599
  • Belize Coast Guard: 225-2125
  • The United States Embassy: 227-7161
  • The British High Commission: 822-2146
  • U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory: 202/647-5225
  • U.S. Passport Agency: 202/647-0518
Tips/Additional information:
  • The legal drinking age is 18.
  • Ambergris has internet access and a growing number of establishments offer Wi-Fi, but it can be a little slow at times.
  • Turtle grass is very common here and for the person who likes to swim from shore, this can be frustrating to contend with.
  • There are Portuguese Man o' War in the Belizean waters. They won't likely kill you, but will cause severe pain. In some cases, a feeling of overall illness may develop, or a red streak develops between swollen lymph nodes and the sting. In these cases, seek medical attention immediately.
  • Don't forget high quality repellent. The mosquitoes here can be vicious. If you plan to visit the jungle on the mainland, you may want to consider antimalarial drugs before visiting. Although there are only a few thousand cases of malaria per year, keep in mind that there are only about 350,000 people in Belize.
  • Belize is vulnerable to tropical storms, especially from June 1 until November 30 of each year. General information on weather conditions may be obtained from the National Hurricane Center at http://www.nhc.noaa.gov.
  • Violent crime exists even on Ambergris, however, it is rarely directed at tourists. Tourism is the lifeblood that Belizeans rely heavily on and most Belizeans will do whatever they can to protect tourists. Avoid walking in unfamiliar and poorly lit areas at night.
  • If you go to Belize City, be extra careful. They don't have the tourism money that the cayes do, and the crime rate is much higher.
  • Despite what other travel guides say, you may be offered marijuana and even see locals smoking it in the open. While it may seem safe to indulge, keep in mind that it is not legal and Hattieville Prison is no place to vacation.
  • The border between Belize and Guatemala is in dispute, but the dispute thus far has not affected travel between the two countries.
  • Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
  • In addition to reporting crimes to local police, American citizens should report all criminal incidents to the U.S. Embassy in Belmopan, telephone 822-4011 (after hours and weekends 610-5030).



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User Reviews (1)




Reviewed by: sloshed
Review date: May-28-2009

We spent 10 days on Ambergris in mid-2008 and had a great trip. This definitely isn't the place for beautiful beaches and good swimming, but it is a great place for incredible food, amazing people, and some very cool outdoor adventures. We stayed in a house a few miles north of San Pedro. The road had been washed out by a storm so the only way to get around was by water taxi. We hooked up with a cool dude named Genie who was our water taxi, tour guide, and did the PADI certification for my sister and brother-in-law. I would also say that he became our friend and we ate and drank with him and his girlfriend on a couple of occasions. Like most on the island, they were quality folk. We went to the mainland one day for cave tubing and Mayan Ruins at Xunantunich. Both were excellent, although you should watch your ass if tubing - I hit a rock that nearly split me in half. To get to these destinations, we had to boat to Belize city - Man, that place is sketchy and drastically different than the Cayes. No interest in spending any time there. Another day Genie took us out snorkeling at the reef and it was simply incredible. Best snorkeling ever. We saw nurse sharks, turtles, spotted eagle rays, sting rays, barracuda, giant grouper, tarpum - ALL AT ONCE. San Pedro is a quaint, but bustling town with a really laid back feel. While there are some vendors trying to sell you stuff, it is nothing like the pushiness you get in places like Mexico. I felt very safe here despite the fact that there was a shooting at a gas station during a robbery while we were there. We were assured that type of thing doesn't happen to visitors. For me, the only thing that could make this a better vacation spot is better swimming beaches - everything else was perfect. 

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