Belize is consistently rated among the top destinations for those seeking a tropical getaway, and for good reason. Clear turquoise waters, world-class diving and snorkeling, friendly people and beautiful scenery are just part of what makes Belize special.
Most flights from the US will fly into Belize City on the mainland. For our trip, my friends and I stayed on the island of Ambergris Caye. We took a (very!) small plane from Belize City to San Pedro, Ambergris Caye’s only town. The plane was so small, one of my friends sat in the front with the pilot! Ambergris is the largest of the island, but it’s still only about a mile wide in most places. San Pedro is the economic and residential center of the island, but houses, bars and restaurants can be found the entire length of Ambergris.
The island is split into a north side and a south side by a channel and a toll bridge. Make sure to have some small bills for the toll. The northern side of the island is more remote and less populated, but still worth a visit. Some of our favorite bars and restaurants ended up being on the north side. I’m glad we stayed in San Pedro though, the town is very walkable and it was nice to be close to everything. While it is possible to walk anywhere in San Pedro in under an hour, it is hot! For longer trips, or at night, the golf cart is the way to travel. Timid drivers beware! Rough streets, pedestrians, and a general lack of attention to signs (primarily by tourists) make driving in San Pedro an adventure. The carts are open sided and have no seat belts, so use caution. The openness of the carts also means you get completely soaked in a rainstorm, of which there was one about once a day. The rainstorms were short and served to dissipate the humidity, so we didn’t mind them.
We went to Belize in med-October, before the real start of the tourist season, but after most of the restaurants were back open after the off season. If you choose to go much earlier, you may find that, on Ambergris at least, many places are closed for several weeks. Fortunately, all of the restaurants we wanted to try were open. Ambergris is a seafood lover’s dream. Fresh seafood is everywhere! Ambergris is one of the more expensive places to eat in Belize, but most prices still seemed reasonable and there are definitely cheap eats to be had. Conch is a specialty, and we were lucky to be there during lobster season. Ceviche is on almost every menu. One of our favorite meals was at Hidden Treasure, a lovely all-outdoor restaurant. Hidden Treasure is romantic and seems secluded from the rest of town. We also had great food and drinks at Tiki Maya, an amazing palapa bar on the north side. The bar overlooks the water, which can be a hazard for sunglasses as I found out when mine sailed over the side due to a breeze. Luckily some very nice teenage boys dove down and retrieved them for me!
Pirates Treasure, also on the north side, is one of the few places you can get lionfish. Lionfish are an invasive species that are causing great damage to the reef system. Dive guides try and spear as many as possible to entice the native marine life to hunt them. Lionfish are also delicious for people as we found out. While we were exploring the north side, we stopped in at The Truck Stop, a collection of shipping containers re-purposed into a few food carts and a bar. With it’s house-infused spirits, Edison light bulbs and craft cocktails The Truck Stop would be very at home in Portland. It also has one of the best docks to sit by the water. A fire pit and weekly outdoor movies makes The Truck Stop a great place to spend an evening. It is on the lagoon side of the island though, so no swimming. As the sign prominently warns, “Beware Crocodiles!”
Other great places we ate at were The Dive Bar, Waruguma’s and Hurricane’s.
You can’t go to Ambergris without getting in the water. On the ocean side of the island swimming off the docks and along the beaches is common, though there is a fair amount of sea grass close to shore. Rays and other sea life are regular sights. For the real action though, you’ll need to head out to the reef. Both divers and snorkelers will be amazed at the amount and variety of marine life. Our trip to Hol Chan Marine Reserve put us right in the reef. It can be crowded, but most dive guides have their favorite spots. The highlight of the trip for me was night snorkeling. It was both exhilarating and terrifying to be in the water at night. The only light came from our dive lights, which only penetrated the blackness so far. Eagle rays in pair would glide out of the darkness toward us. Our guide pointed out slipper lobsters, puffer fish, octopi and moray eels. It was unforgettable.
Belize has so much to offer as a destination, and I only scratched the surface. Relaxing beaches, laid-back people, stellar marine life and amazing food. I can’t wait to go back!
All photos taken by the author and used with permission.