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Ambergris Caye is thirty-six miles long, stretching along Belize’s northernmost waters. The island is separated from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula by a narrow channel, dug by the ancient Mayans about 1500 years ago.
The largest settlement on Ambergris Caye is San Pedro Town, a Caribbean metropolis with a population of 7,000, distinguished by its bright-colored wooden houses and relaxed Caribbean ambiance. The rest of the island is a patchwork of sandy bays, lagoons, mangrove swamps, and tropical savannah.
What to do:
The world’s second largest barrier reef is visible from many of Ambergris’s beaches—it looks like a tiny strip of white, due to the waves continually breaking against it. The Scuba diving and snorkeling around the caye is exceptional, as well as sailing, fishing, windsurfing, kayaking, and even skydiving.
Divers can book dive tours to sites as near as the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, or as far as the famous Great Blue Hole, sixty miles offshore. The best snorkeling spot is Shark-Ray Alley, where you can swim among throngs of fierce-looking yet docile nurse sharks and stingrays!
When you’re ready to climb out of the water, San Pedro Town offers unending attractions: restaurants, art galleries, gift shops, lively bars. The town is easy to explore by foot, bike, or golf cart. The new Ambergris Caye Museum and Cultural Center showcases the island’s fascinating history.
Wildlife-lovers and birdwatchers will enjoy spotting raccoons, crocodiles, and numerous species of birds in the San Perdo Lagoon and at the Lalas Bird Sanctuary, a few miles south of San Pedro Town.
When to go:
Ambergris Caye is sunny most of the year, often so relentlessly sunny and muggy that air-conditioned room is worth the splurge. The driest season is between November and May. June and September are typically the island’s rainiest months.
The San Pedro International Costa Maya Festival, formerly called the Sea and Air Festival, is a weeklong celebration held every summer. The festival is a whirlwind of colorful costumes, theatrical dances, and live island beats like Punta, Reggae, Salsa and Soca. Carnival is Ambergris’s version of Mardi Gras, observed during the week before Ash Wednesday. On the last day, locals and visitors use tempera paint to douse each other in brilliant colors—it has to be seen to be believed!
Getting there and around:
You can book a flight to San Pedro Town through Tropic Air and Maya Airways, leaving from the Belize International Airport. Because San Pedro is such a traveler’s hub, its airstrip offers flights to and from other spots on the mainland as well.
A less expensive alternative to flying is the ubiquitous water taxi, which leaves from the swing bridge at the Belize City harbor several times a say. The ride is 75 merry minutes long, often stopping at Caye Caulker on the way.
Tips and Practicalities
Two Belizean dollars equal one US dollar, which makes figuring out prices simple. However, US dollars are accepted everywhere on the island.
Accommodations range from high-class resorts—among them, Mata Chica and Captain Morgan’s, where the original Temptation Island reality show was filmed—to inexpensive guesthouses. However, rooms are typically more expensive than those on the mainland and on Ambergris’s sister island, Caye Caulker.
Ambergris Caye is one place in Central America where the dress code is as relaxed as possible. Shorts and bikini tops are the norm here, and shoes are only necessary when the street is scorching hot!
The name Ambergris refers to the piles of whale excrement—called ambergris—that washed ashore back in the 1600s. It is said that British pirate collected it and sent it back to Europe, where it was highly valued in perfume-making!